When Holly Marshall wanted to sell a pair of dangling earrings, a popular style these days, she listed them on eBay once, and got no takers. She tried a second time, and still no interest.
Was it the price' The fuzzy picture' Maybe it was the description: a beautiful pair of chandaleer earrings.
Such is the eBay underworld of misspellers, where the clueless — and sometimes just careless — sell labtop computers, throwing knifes, Art Deko vases, camras, comferters and saphires.
They do get bidders, but rarely very many. Often the buyers are those who troll for spelling slip-ups, buying items on the cheap and selling them all over again on eBay, but with the right spelling and for the right price.
John H. Green, a jeweller in Central Florida who sells by the name toecheese1, is one of them.
He once bought a box of gers for $2. They were gears for pocket watches, which he cleaned up and put back on the auction block with the right spelling. They sold for $200.
“I’ve bought and sold stuff on eBay and Yahoo! that I bought for next to nothing because of poor spelling or vague descriptions,” Green said.
David Scroggins, who lives in Milwaukee, also searches for misspellings. His company provides entertainment for weddings and corporate events, and microphone systems for shows at Wisconsin’s casinos.
He has bought Hubbell electrical cords for a tenth of their usual cost by searching for not only Hubell but also Hubbel.
And he now operates his entire business by laptop computers, having bought three Compaqs for a pittance simply by asking for Compacts instead.
No one knows how much misspelling is out there in eBay land, where more than $23 billion worth of goods were sold last year.
The company does flag common misspellings, but wrong spellings can also turn up similar misspellings, so that buyers and sellers frequently read past the website’s slightly bashful line asking whether, by any chance, “Did you mean ...chandelier'”
An unofficial survey — an hour’s search for creative spellings — turned up dozens of items, including bycicles, telefones, dimonds (both Neil and the sparkly kind), mother of perl, cuttlery, bedroom suits and loads of antiks.
Contacted, the sellers were often surprised to hear they had misspelled their Internet wares.
Marshall, who lives in Dallas, said she knew she was on shaky ground when she set out to spell chandelier.
But instead of flipping through a dictionary, she did an Internet search for chandaleer and came up with 85 or so listings.
She never guessed, she said, that results like that meant she was groping in the spelling wilderness.
Chandelier, spelled right, turns up 715,000 times.
Some say there is no evidence that people are spelling worse than they ever did. But with the growth of instant messaging and e-mails, language has grown more informal.
And much as calculators did for arithmetic, spell checkers have made good spelling seem like an obsolete virtue to some.
Not that spell checkers are used by everyone. Indeed, experts say the Internet — with its discussion boards, blogs and self-published articles — is a treasure trove of bad spelling.