No one is an impeccable speller. Proofreaders and copy-editors are no exception. We all have weak spots; there are some rogue words which seem designed to to catch us out. And there are some which we adopt as our very own problem words; no matter how many times we check them in our dictionaries we are never sure.
Proceed and Precede
Rogues for Copy-editors and Proofreaders
When we are learning to proofread and copy-edit, these words are something of a nightmare. We’re fine until we see the words on the page and then the niggling doubts creep in.
Often when we look up the root of a word the reason for its spelling becomes clear. But in these cases the etymologies don’t help at all. Both precede and proceed have their roots in cedere. And until the 17th century proceed was usually spelled procede. Gradually, proceed became dominant and is now, of course, the only acceptable form.
No proofreading or copy-editing course can eliminate all spelling problems. We can show you the pitfalls and traps which are well-known to us. But only your own vigilance can prevent errors. (Remember that many authors hate spell-checkers and turn them off.) Often those learning editorial skills compile their own lists of troublesome words. A very helpful tip, however good a speller you think you are. Proofreaders and copy-editors can never afford to be fairly sure about a word. You are the backstop: you simply must be right.
Incidentally, what word caught me out earlier? Was it a misspelling, or something easier to overlook?