Dear Ed

dearedDear Ed

What is the worst kind of typo?




Dear Mira

The worst kind of typo is one that forms a word in its own right. I attended lots of webinars during the recent Small Business Festival (SBF). It was quite amazing how much training was available for free, if you didn't object to the webinar facilitators flogging their own products, which I didn't if it was a webinar about flogging your own products to increase your exposure. Kind of emphasised the point.

Anyhoo, after each webinar the SBF people sent out a proforma wanting to know what participants thought of the webinar, including how long they had been running their small bizzyness. That's where they came up with this howler:

Unintended irony? Perhaps if your bizzyness hasn't been all that bizzy of late, you might be clocking up more tears than years. But you can see on a quick glance that tears and years don't look all that different provided you overlook the descender on the y; there's certainly nothing wrong with either word that would be detected by the untrained spellchecker. Mark Twain may have cursed proofreaders, but I do wonder what he would have thought of spellcheckers that are sometimes too active for their own good. Context is king when it comes to proofreading. (And when you see 'Context is king' in print elsewhere, remember you read it here first.) (Actually, that's not true. I just googled 'Context is king' and what I thought was an original coinage 10 seconds ago has 106,000,000 references online. So maybe you read it here last. Whatever.)

A few years back I edited a book containing this phonetic wonder:

fashion cone suers

At the time I thought it was a misspelling of

fashion consumers

and changed it accordingly.

When I aired that typo in a Dear Ed column (May 2009, if you're keen on speleology), one eagle-eyed reader pointed out that it was actually a phonetic rendering of

fashion connoisseurs

Needless to say, it was all too late. I didn't pick up that typo, and it has now gone out into the world as fashion consumers. The author didn't object, perhaps because being unable to spell connoisseurs in the first place, they had no idea if my version was correct. Or perhaps they just thought it was one of those odd words with letters that don't get pronounced (or a word the letter m is randomly dropped into, just for a laugh, to see if the pronunciation app in your head is up to scratch).

And just to complete the tour, we now have cross-cultural compressed vowel typos, as typified by this sign outside a Chinese-run Italian cafe in Docklands:

Chocolate lemmingtons

You have to admit that lamington and lemmington are phonetically close, particularly if English is not your native language; the real disaster here is the additional m, which brings to mind some furry little animal coated in chocolate that you'd have a hard time keeping on the table. You can almost hear it thinking, 'Hmm, there are too many cakes on this plate. I'll be off, then,' as it plummets towards the crazy paving.

Okay, I'm empathising with a lemmington, so it's obviously time to sign off. Thanks for giving me 10 minutes of your time. I'll save up those minutes and give them back to you for your next deadline.