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I have been working on a project with a collaborator for several years. I have never met my collaborator in person but we've been a part of weekly calls and sent hundreds of emails together so I feel like at this point I know this person fairly well.

In what seems like hundreds (at least 10's) I have noticed my collaborator always misspells "a lot" as "alot". This person is my senior (he's a graduate student, I'm a pre-doc) and I am wondering if I should let him know in a polite way that he is making a common misspelling. It does not particularly bug me or anything, and I am not a particularly fantastic speller myself, but I just want to help him out in case he doesn't know already. Does it make sense to bring this up with him as a colleague or is this not my place?

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  • I moved to chat the etymological discussion and I encourage everyone to continue there. In case, please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 10 '20 at 16:50
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    Depending on your relation, pointing him to The Alot is Better Than You at Everything might help. – Paŭlo Ebermann Nov 10 '20 at 23:41
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    Alot is a small town in India. I suppose people in Alot have lots of fun with spelling checkers. Like “I come from a lot in India” – gnasher729 Nov 11 '20 at 9:51
  • If he ever reads (instead of just writing), he already knows that it is wrong. – Szabolcs Nov 11 '20 at 16:52
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    Nothing for you to gain and potentially something to lose. Let it slide – Aksakal almost surely binary Nov 11 '20 at 20:50
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Let it go, while the typo is limited to emails. Emails are frequently written hastily and certain typos can be common or made on purpose to type less, or even for fun (I do sometimes this in my language, to mimic certain dialectal expressions).

If, instead, the typo appears in, for instance, a paper or other public document you're jointly writing, then correct it as you would correct any other typo in the paper.

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    To add-on to my question, he even makes this typo in more formal emails to people who are both of our seniors (e.g., senior professors), but your point is well taken. – John-Henry Nov 9 '20 at 15:47
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    @John-Henry Some people just have bad spelling, that's fine. I have bad spelling, and I know some of my co-workers and customers have bed spelling too. It happens. I doubt anyone would ever scoff at a typo in an e-Mail. I am sure most people would just read over it and not even notice. – MechMK1 Nov 11 '20 at 13:43
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At some point you're going to edit a joint paper and correct "alot" into "a lot". It will be a very emotional moment for both of you. "I've been spelling it wrong this whole time and you didn't tell me!!" Tell them now. Tell them the truth, which is that it's starting to become a distraction for you (proof: you wrote this Q).

This isn't your great Aunt writing "the dogs were all their" on your yearly birthday card. You're eventually going to have to tell this person about mistakes in proofs, and argue with them over ideas. There should be some comfort level, esp. after years of working together.

The one thing to watch for is the special rule that any grad student can have any lesser-rank kicked-out of any program, anywhere in the world, for not showing proper respect. To be serious, in my mind you're both grad students. I had to look up "pre-doc" and read it twice and I'm still not sure how this other person outranks you (you haven't been accepted into a PhD program?)

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    If you have occasion make this correction in a joint paper, you can simply attribute it to a spellchecker (which certainly should flag up "alot", for example my browser is doing it as I type). – Especially Lime Nov 9 '20 at 16:40
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    In a paper, don't let "alot" or "a lot" slide; it's too informal, and you should replace it with "many", "often", or a specific number. – Misha Lavrov Nov 9 '20 at 18:33
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    I would be very surprised if they had that reaction. Correcting peoples' minor mistakes in informal contexts is simply not common, and he'd never expect you to have told him. – Barmar Nov 9 '20 at 19:16
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    @shoover But OP's own spellchecker will, and then they can say "I corrected it because my spellchecker told me to." – Especially Lime Nov 9 '20 at 20:04
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    About spellcheckers, some people don't use them. They can get annoying when you write in two or more languages and half the time they think every word you type is wrong. – Alexandre Aubrey Nov 9 '20 at 21:14
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I am not a native speaker and I was very happy when a colleague told me about a repeating spelling mistake of mine. If you want to do it discretly,just write him a quote were he mispelled it and say something with a lot about this quote.

Dear Mister X,
your wrote

"Alot of assumptions went into this study"

A lot of work has to been done, to make this work. We need another day in the lab

Or simply tell her.

Dear Mrs. Y, I agree with the proposed changes in your last email. I also think I noticed a bug in your spell checker, it always says "alot" instead of "a lot".

Kind regards Phd Student S.

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    I have no clue whether "an other day" was intentional or not... – David Wheatley Nov 11 '20 at 1:56
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    It was not. Thank you for pointing it out, I learned something today :). – stupidstudent Nov 12 '20 at 11:45

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