If you’re insensitive, you’re “callous.” But that thing on your foot is a “callus.”

I don’t normally spend too much time highlighting funny typos — there are entire websites devoted to that kind of thing. I keep up with some of them — it’s a career necessity. But while they can sometimes be very funny by pointing out the most amusing errors, they can also be simply cruel and mean-spirited, making them difficult to read.

Others take themselves way too seriously, and their own nitpicking notions of proper usage don’t always align with the real world, which makes them equally difficult to read (the New York Times’ “After Deadline” blog leaps to mind) .

I’m joining them — just for today — because when I had the television on recently a glaring typo shoved itself into my face and it deserves a proper ration of ridicule.

The ad was for a product called “Callous Clear,” some kind of callus remover cream for suffering feet. I was hardly paying attention (I tend to tune out during commercial breaks), but happened to look up in time to see the product website: http://www.callousclear.com.

Yes, I’ve spelled that correctly both times now: it was callous, with an “o.” Not callus, without. That’s what made me laugh, then look it up online, then write this post. I’m not the only one who noticed, as others have pointed out the error online (and the makers clearly can spell, as callus is used correctly elsewhere in their marketing).

Let’s clarify the definitions and spellings in brief:

When part of your skin gets thick and hard from use, usually on a foot or hand, you’ve developed a callus.

Callous is an adjective meaning hardened or unfeeling; insensitive or indifferent to others.

Both words have forms as other parts of speech. The usage note from American Heritage sums this up better than I could, so I’ll reproduce it here:

Usage Note: Do not confuse the adjective callous, as in Years of dealing with criminals had left her callous, with the noun callus, as in I have a callus on my thumb. Also, do not confuse the verb callous, which means “to make or become callous,” with the verb callus “to form or develop hardened tissue.”

Both words ultimately derive from the Latin callum (hard skin). Callus seems to have done this directly, while callous took a longer route through Latin callosus and French cailleux.

Some might think cringing at the use of callous when callus is meant is a quibble, but the two words have distinct meanings and spelling in contemporary English. Letting this slide would be like saying that it’s okay to eat a “pair” or a “pare,” when the only acceptable spelling is “pear.” It shouldn’t be excused.

For what it’s worth, even a cursory web search reveals a plausible explanation for why “callousclear.com” exists: the liquid product is apparently a latecomer to the market, and not a very good one (it’s easy to find complaints from unsatisfied customers). There is another product out there, a mechanical filing device with better reviews, that already had the “Callus Clear” domain name. The best that could be done for the liquid product was the near-miss domain name spelling.

If any readers are considering an Internet product marketing campaign, heed the lesson. Do your research in advance and choose a name that won’t duplicate an existing product — and one that won’t earn you ridicule from good spellers everywhere!

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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