The other day I made a big mistake. I looked at one of my journal articles that had recently been published. Almost immediately I spotted a typo on the first page. First thought – oh no, how could I have missed this? Second thought – my inferior proof-reading exposed for all to see… Third thought – how does this happen? It’s not as if I hadn’t looked at it enough times…
I’ve decided that there is a kind of reverse sock drawer process with typos. The problem with socks, as we all know, is that one of the pair just mysteriously and for no apparent or good reason disappears off into some kind of sock black hole, never to be found. The problem with typos is that they just mysteriously and for no apparent or good reason appear, they pop into your writing when you least expect them. You, like me, were reading a finished paper or book quite happily until they lurched into view. From then on, my/your reading was solely about whether the first unwelcome typographical surprise had any equally nasty companions.
There are of course different types of typos. There’s
• the type one typo where you get a perfectly sensible and correctly spelled word, but it’s just not the one that you need – like my personal bête noir ‘form’ for ‘from’
• the type two typo where the software decides, generally at some point when you aren’t looking, that there is a better way to spell a word than the way that you actually have – ize for ise a key irritation for British spellers
• and then there’s the type three typo – where you type something that looks nothing like the actual word you want and the software decides not to underline it but to leave it lurking there to see if you are awake enough to spot it later.
The typo on my journal article was a type three. Page one, and one unintelligible word – well probably vaguely understandable, but it was certainly a word not as it should be. It was a poorly word, somewhat out of sorts with itself. And it made me out of sorts with myself too.
Now I know that I’m not a terrific proof-reader. And because of that I have several ways to try to take account of my sloppiness. I often write with other people who pick up my mistakes – and if they don’t, and we both leave them glaring out at me/us from the published text, then we share the blame. I always leave a few days in between drafts so that I can come back to reading with fresh eyes. And I do read the text aloud both in its final word-processed form, and when it transforms into typeset proofs – but this of course is when someone else’s errors appear as well as my own. But even with all of these safeguards, even knowing that when we read aloud we can read what we expect to see rather than what is actually there, my typos are reclusive and hide away from my attempts to find them.
Now I also know that I’m not the only person to be struck by the mysteriously appearing typo. I see them everywhere, in books, papers, dissertations. I know that it can’t be the case that everyone is sloppy at proof reading. There must be something else going on for the typo to be so wide-spread.
On the basis of the widespread nature of the typo, on its sheer ubiquity in academic writing, I now
hypothesize hypothesise some kind of global typo conspiracy, where a cabal of experienced typos systematically survey academic writing in progress, and decide when and where to do their evil black-magic appearing trick. And I guess that, when I finally locate this hideous collection of text spoilers, my old friend form/from will be somewhere close to the seat of power.