Do Typos Matter?

Newspaper Clipping. i

Is there a proofreader in the house? Andrew Huff/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Andrew Huff/Flickr
Newspaper Clipping.

Is there a proofreader in the house?

Andrew Huff/Flickr

As I type this post, I'm simultaneously reading The Slatest — Slate.com's morning, noon, and night rundown of the top news stories. And what do I spot in the brief on the fate of Richard Blumenthal's career? An incorrect spelling of the state of Connecticut in the first line (although I'm sure it'll be corrected by the time you check it out...). Will I trust the online magazine less for placing the first "t" before the "i"? Probably not.

But it got me thinking — people care a lot about typos. A quick search on Flick for the picture above brought up over 8,700 results (and no, I didn't transpose the numbers). In a piece for the Weekly Standard, author Joseph Epstein asks the question, "Why do people take such pleasure in discovering typographical errors—typos, in the trade term—especially in putatively august publications?":

My own pleasure in discovering typos is, alas, less than complete because of the typos readers have found — and too often reported to me — in my own published scribblings. I am less than a demon proofreader, especially of my own writing. I have published books with smaller publishing companies in which I found it necessary to hire a professional proofreader to go over my galley or page proofs. This, though, didn't ensure the books in question were typo-free. Few things are more demoralizing than a letter from a reader, even a friendly reader, who, after praising you, notes: "By the way, on page 273, where I think you meant the word content the word context appears. I mention this, not in a spirit of gotcha, but so that you can correct it for the second edition of your fine book."

Is Epstein excusing the copy editors and proofreaders of the 21st Century for the occasional extra "0" in a statistic or misplaced apostrophe? Not quite...

There's no precise way of knowing, of course, but it often seems there are more typos today than ever before. Books published several decades ago had a feeling of solidity, of permanence about them that didn't allow for typos and other editorial slovenliness ... The secret of excellent proofreading is caring intensely about getting things right and loathing error with an intensity that perhaps only fascism or an alimony-collecting ex-wife deserves. Such people appear to have departed the earth, and don't figure soon to return.

Grammar Nazis and spell checkers — I'm on my A-game. Trust me.

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