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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 when the word they really need, she says, is . And after some research, I can attest that the problem is even more complex than her item suggests.

Let's start with , 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 , a Swedish term for a "small fairy" as a possible source for , but also suggests the word may be of Celtic origin, from Cornwall.

, 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 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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