MAKING THE WORK // Ending Typo Shame
I remember an incident years ago in which I’d discovered that the back cover of my copy of The Shipping News described a character getting their “just deserts.” Oh, the outrage I felt at that disruption of order! It was all I could do not to write to the publisher to express my extreme disappointment. For weeks, I told everyone about the typo. “Can you imagine?” I said in a lowered voice, as though what I’d found on the back of the book was actually scandalous.
When my friend Billie’s last book came out I mentioned to her that I’d found a typo. I said it carefully because I didn’t want to shock her. Still, I was betting she was already aware of it and figured we’d end up bonding over the hell-in-handbasket state of things when proofreaders can’t be relied on to catch typos. The typo I’d thought I’d found was card “sharp” instead of “shark.” Now you, like Billie, may know that the term “sharp” is in fact correct and that “shark” is an inaccurate usage of the original. “Shark” has become officially acceptable because so many people misused it that the OED eventually had to give in. That’s one of the reasons why typo-policing is dangerous—sooner or later you become the criminal who doesn’t, in fact, know it all.
I’m not completely stick up arse-ish when it comes to typos though. I enjoy a good one. For instance, I was rather thrilled when an attractive poet emailed me at my old office to say that he’d like to “rub something by” me. Another favourite was when one of A.’s Facebook friends posted that there was a “multi-cat pile-up on the 401” (which, for the record, read more as a snuggle pile to my mind than a pile of furry wreckage).
I recently made a typo myself that made me feel no shame because it was funny. When my new website went live, anyone who visited the About Me page might’ve read that I like to “buy a flesh flower from the local florist every week.” That’s right, a flesh flower.
My friend Kyla popped into my inbox a couple hours later with generous praise for the new site, then brought up one “teeny” thing:
“Do you really mean to say that you decorate weekly with flesh flowers, and if so, in what reality are these beauties grown and sold legally? I'm thinking William Gibson and David Cronenberg, so the literary/cinematic allusions are sound, but maybe it is just a type-o for fresh flowers?”
It was an elegant way to point out a typo. I didn’t feel typo-policed, rather I felt that I had Typo Security keeping me safe from myself. It was the same when my friend Nicolas texted me with two other typos I’d missed rushing to finish the site. Neither friend shamed me, nor did I take shame on.
The fact that I didn’t wallow in shame as I've often done was curious to me, so I thought about that. Part of making the work is making typos. Anyone who inputs text via keyboard (that is most of us) is susceptible to typo shame, but writers are perhaps more at risk because words are the tools we’re expected to have full mastery of, so we’re expected to produce pristine text all the time. The Typo Police take particular glee in pointing out typos when writers make them. That’s why, as a counter-measure, we may also indulge in typo-policing—to prove that we know a typo when we see one.
All this reflecting has led me to a new decision: I will no longer feel shame when I’ve let loose a typo. Further, even though I rarely pull it out, I’m giving up my own Typo Police badge—though I'd still be happy to do Typo Security for anyone who welcomes it.
Oh, and if you notice any typos in the Mini-Mag, just send me a private message, will ya? I’ll know you have my back.
LISTS // What We Talk About When We Talk About Typos
1 // Sloppy Keyboarding
Typos in the most pedantic sense (“typo” is short for “typographical error”), these are mistakes made during the physical process of typing. They usually occur when the victim is inputting type while tired, hurried, or distracted. They can also occur when your brain isn’t communicating properly with your hands, or when your fingers (or cat) do unruly or unexpected things on the keyboard. For the most part, they’re the dullest kind of typo—such as “teh” and “issn’t.” Humour can, however, arise from the subgenre known as “The Fat Finger Typo”, in which the key next to the intended key is accidentally struck, producing a surprising result. For example, texting your beloved late at night when he isout of town to say that you’re “just getting ready for ned” when you meant to type “bed.” The Fat Finger Typo is also to blame for any menu that lists “Human Beef” instead of “Hunan Beef.”
Impact on Typo Police: These typos will rile Typo Police because of their contempt for carelessness and the way in which they despise disorder. Their superiority complexes will immediately kick in, which, as Murphy's Law has it, will leave them open to make their own typos, so the joke's on them.
2 // Mistranscription
Typos resulting from mistranscription tend to be the most entertaining, are often Freudian, and can demonstrate what is joyful about language. There are two predominant sub-categories: atomic typos and heterographic typos. Both usually result from brain-blips. An atomic typo (a term coined back in the aughts) results in a correctly spelled word (therefore undetected by spellcheckers) different than the intended word. For example: abroad/aboard, unclear/nuclear, and sedan/Sudan. Heterographs, on the other hand, are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, such as sheik/chic and red/read; the old familiars it’s/its and they’re/their; and the ever-embarrassing glands/glans. You can become a victim of heterography from only ever hearing words aloud then mistranslating them in type, such is the case with the Moody Blues song that, quite crushingly, is actually called “Nights in White Satin,” not “Knights in White Satin.”
Impact on Typo Police: Because these typos are funny and make the world a better place, Typo Police get even pinchier-faced and humourless when they point them out because they're trying desperately to separate themselves from those good-time plebs.
3 // Misuse
These typos have to do with grammar and spelling and include things like misplaced apostrophes and incorrect use of words like laying/lying. They are perhaps most often found online in comments sections and on social media. While anyone may have gaps in their knowledge (raises hand), these typos are often made by those who are undereducated, have learning disabilities, or for whom English (or any other language) is a second language.
Impact on Typo Police: These typos bring out the worst kind of Typo Police who will use their education to enforce class boundaries and perpetuate xenophobia. Or, they simply rally the kind of Typo Police (first name starts with J, last name starts with M) who will mock you (A.) for accidentally using the word “eatable” instead of “edible.”
SEEN & HEARD // The Twitter Typo Police
Typo-shaming on Twitter is a rampant sport. Although some, like @fiercek, claim that it comes from a good place: “When I tweet a typo at you it means I’m interested in what you’re writing about.”
Others do it for the humour. One of my favourite accounts (which, sadly, has lapsed since the beginning of last year) belongs to Stealth Mountain, a Twitter bot with a bio that reads: “I alert twitter users that they typed sneak peak when they meant sneak peek. I live a sad life.” True to his/its word, the only thing @StealthMountain tweets are the words “I think you mean ‘sneak peek’” directed to an offender (including CBS and Bill Gates).
Another account that’s been getting attention lately belongs to writer and comedy actress Sarah Sumeray who runs Illustrated Twitter Typos. “I see your typos on twitter, I illustrate them,” says her bio. The third image up there in the header is her illustration of a Tweet that reads “m&m song stuck in my head omg have been listening to it too much just now.” You can check her out on Tumblr too.