Dammed typos!

My colleague Tom sent me a link today about the recall of a 245-page book that had more than 90 typos and grammatical errors. “That’s just one error per three pages,” he joked. “What’s the big deal?”

All kidding aside, I felt truly awful for the author, for Princeton University Press, and especially for the “inexperienced copy editor who failed to do the job properly.” Ouch.

Here are two dirty little secrets about publishing, though: 1) Mistakes happen. All the time. 90 is ridiculously excessive, but I seldom get through a book without finding at least one error. 2) It’s seldom any one person’s fault. Everyone—from the author, to the “inexperienced copy editor,” to the publisher—shares some responsibility for the ultimate quality of the finished product. A single inexperienced copy editor is never (should never!) be entirely to blame.

So, if typos are 1) inevitable and 2) communal, what are we to do? The only advice I can offer is that the more important a document is, the more people we should involve in its review. That’s one of the many reasons I appreciate my colleague Tom, who happens to be an extraordinary proofreader.

In honor of Tom—and proofreaders everywhere—I offer these humble sacrifices:


  1. Funny!

    I was watching Ch. 9 news at work last night with Mary Lynn Smith and we were laughing at all the typos in their chatter type. Hope those of us who can spell will always have jobs! 🙂

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who laughs (out loud, in public!) at the litany of typos in those TV captions. In the GC folks’ defense, though, I’ve got to admit it’s pretty impressive that they can even attempt to keep up. If that were *my* job, the captions would look like this:
      “And in Rochestre todaysa, a nam saw rresterd fr the roabbery of a a Twin Cerets Federl Cridet Onion.”
      I’m sure you can vouch for the veracity of this statement, since you had the unhappy duty of editing a few of my stories. (Big grin!)

  2. Welllll, thank you for the unexpected kind words, H.

    In the case of that Princeton book, my sympathy is reserved for the author (and readers). But when we sentence the “inexperienced copy editor,” let’s reserve the next cell in the dungeon for the senior editor or manager who failed to ensure the soundness of the work.

    I find that if I refer to what I do as “quality assurance,” people are more likely to realize the need for collaboration on the integrity of the finished product. (The QA term also brings more hits on Careerbuilder and Monster.)

    Remember the proofreader’s motto: Does anal retentive have a hyphen?

    • Tom,

      How kind of you to respond to my lowly blog!

      There’s no need to thank me for my “unexpected kind words,” though. You’ve saved me from many an embarrassing mistake, so I owe you a debt of gratitude right off the bat.

      Second, it’s just like you to side with the reader. As someone who has been subjected to some of the worst atrocities against the English language, I think you know whereof you speak. (By the way, I have but one request: Please make sure my cell is padded.)

      Third: Yes, anal-retentive should be hyphenated, because it’s a compound modifier. I’ll be sure to add it to the Style Guide.

      Fourth, if it were up to me, you’d never again need to visit CareerBuilder or Monster.com.

      In short, I greatly appreciate your huge contribution. You make me a better writer. But—maybe more importantly—you always make me laugh.

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