Out, damned snot! I mean, spot.

19Jul11

There are few things I love more than an orthographic malfunction: With the loss of a single “r,” a book can instantly go from sexy to savage!

My friend Tom (aka., The Blogfodder) reminded me of this fact today with a wonderful piece titled The Prince of Typos. Make that The Price of Typoes. Uh, typos.

In her New York Times blog post, Virginia Heffernan muses about the increase in typos—particularly in professionally published books.

For readers who find humanity in orthographic quirks, these are great times. Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; … But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere. Curious readers now get regular glimpses of raw and frank and interesting mistakes that give us access to unedited minds.

Matt Henderson Ellis goes one step further by declaring his love for typos in almost poetic terms.

But – and I am almost certain I am alone on this – to me there is something pleasingly human about a typo, like the squeak of a finger moved hastily down a guitar string, or a mole on an otherwise flawless face. It brings the author – hidden and almost deified through print –  down to a human level.  And human connections are why I, for one, read.

To err may be human (and often funny) but there are costs to making mistakes. Big ones—like substituting “people” for “pepper” in a recipe—can ruin a publisher’s reputation.

But even seemingly small errors can be enormously costly. According to one expert, a single mistake in a website can cut sales in half. Clearly, spelling still matters.

So what’s the average error-prone writer/blogger to do? First, don’t rely solely on your computer’s spell-checker. (It can’t tell you that “beast” should be “breast.”) Second, try to let your writing sit for at least 24 hours before you proof it. Third, read slowly—or out loud, or backwards, or upside-down.

About that last bit of advice: There are a million tips for improving your proofreading skills. Unfortunately, none of them is fail-safe. So experiment a bit and try to develop your own proofreading system.

And when something really, really counts, ask a friend or colleague to give your work a once-over. Especially if you’re writing a cookbook—or a romance novel.



8 Responses to “Out, damned snot! I mean, spot.”

  1. 1 Kathy

    Upon reading through a stack of poorly typed research papers, I told my high school students (in a snooty tone), “I am not a good typist, but I can manage to turn in a perfectly typed paper.” Ever since, it’s been typo upon typo. And yet, when I glance at text prepared by someone else, my eye goes directly to the one little error on the page. Years after I made my boast, I had the good fortune to marry the best proofreader in the world, bar none. If only I’d had him when I was in grad school.

    • 2 hmunro

      Ah, yes … I know only too well the agony of missing my own typos but spotting other writers’ errors as if they were a 100,000-watt beacon. (A certain saying about having a log in the eye comes to mind …) But you are fortunate indeed to have married a superb proofreader. Just as I’m fortunate to have my friend Tom (aka., “The Blogfodder”) who has also saved me from many an embarrassing mistake. As you say … if only we’d known them at university!

  2. 3 XpatScot

    It’s funny that should mention it but I have recently found two typos in the Murakami novel I am reading (published by Vintage Books). Many years ago, when I was in college, I found so many mistakes in a (recommended) Statistics textbook that I wrote to the publisher and received an updated copy in which only half of the mistakes had been fixed. And as someone who is predisposed to writing the odd piece himself, I have found that it is almost impossible to eradicate all those pesky typos. Even if I have read and re-read a piece a hundred times, those little chameleons seem to remain undetected. But now and again, they can be funny; brightening up an otherwise dull piece of prose. For example, this piece of serious dialogue was rendered ridiculous by a spurious ‘p’: “That’s the murdering, rapping, psychopath who threatened to kill my family.” (He must have been a gangsta rapper). And then there was the scene I wrote set in an outdoor cafe in Paris where I intended to describe a young man who was “hovering around the terrasse”; only an extra ‘o’ snuck in changed the scene completely. But my favourite typo (which I suspect was intentional) is one I saw in a piece of grafitti that read: “Bad spellers of the world untie!” Think about it. 🙂

    • 4 hmunro

      A murdering, rapping psychopath … hoovering around the terrasse? Sounds like a very promising premise for a short story! Grin. Like you, I’m often dismayed to discover typos even after a fifth or sixth reading. It’s both wonderful and maddening how our minds can blithely fill in the blanks.

  3. I know this was not a typo, but I was driving past a KMart one night, and the big red KMart sign was shining through the nights darkness, but… the bottom of the “B” in the (Big K) sign must have had some lights burn out. The sign glared in the night as “Pig K”. Thought it was hilarious.

    • 6 hmunro

      Ha ha! I love neon pseudo-typos like that one. I photographed a similar blooper a few years ago, when the bottom of a different “B” burned out. The resulting sign read “Pillsbury’s Pest Flour.” Mmmmm!

  4. 7 dancingbeastie

    Heaving beasts indeed. Snort. I think you may have a future in romance writing…or at least in their cover designs!

    Typos are a slippery subject. Too many, and they are exasperating; one or two, and they can be hugely entertaining; but when you make them yourself, they manage to make themselves invisible until it’s too late. I confess I do love those little slips that change the meaning completely: they add to the gaiety of nations. I’m not going to discuss them further, though, as I (seriously) keep making typos and I’m getting a bit paranoid…

    • 8 hmunro

      Lovely to hear from you, DB! Like you, I adore those little slips that change the meaning completely — when they happen to other people (surely, I would have been delighted to read “Withering Heights,” or “Oliver Twit”). In my own writing, typos are sometimes enough to make me question my sanity. Or at least my vision …


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