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Watch out for all that pixie dust!

With so many 'pix-' words to keep straight, writers need to take care that their spell-checkers don't lead them astray.

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If copy editors have pet peeves – as they do, I must tell you, dear reader – they also have favorite errors, errors they are fascinated to see people fall into. Dawn McIlvain Stahl posted an item at copyediting.com a few weeks ago on how people are writing pixilated when the word they really need, she says, is pixelated. And after some research, I can attest that the problem is even more complex than her item suggests.

Let's start with pixie, which Merriam-Webster Online traces back to 1630 and defines as a "fairy; specifically: a cheerful mischievous sprite," and secondarily as "a usually petite vivacious woman or girl."

The Online Etymology Dictionary identifies pyske, a Swedish term for a "small fairy" as a possible source for pixie, but also suggests the word may be of Celtic origin, from Cornwall.

Pixilated, meaning "mildly insane, bewildered, tipsy," goes back to 1848, and is traced to "pixie," plus "-lated" as a verb ending, analogous to "titillated." There's thought to be a bit of influence from "pixie-led," a term used to mean "led astray by pixies," as well.

The Online Etymology Dictionary also notes that pixilated is "a New England dialect word popularized [in] 1936 by [the] movie 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.' " Imagine the white-haired guy in the old Pepperidge Farm ads as a tweedy professor knocked off balance by the new hottie at the college library, and you get a good visual for "pixilated."

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