For years, it seems, it’s been impossible to find a language-related post or article online without a stickler making trouble in the comments section. Even on political, social, and retail sites, outraged commenters love to point out a missplaced apostrophe as a way to challenge the writer’s intelligence, education, or morality.
I’ve never believed that typos are that revealing. Anyone can be distracted or in a hurry. No one catches every single error. One study on human error rates concludes that “the best performance possible in well managed workplaces using normal quality management methods [has] failure rates of 5 to 10 in every hundred opportunities.”1 (Read that again: “the best performance possible”!)
And are we not human? Why shouldn’t we err?
At the University of Chicago Press a whole staff of editors makes a living finding typos and grammar goofs in book and journal article manuscripts, and no one thinks those writers are ignorant or corrupt.
It’s simply wrong to assume that anyone who types your when they mean you’re doesn’t know the difference. And in any case, is it right to point it out in a rude, public manner?
I’ll confess to taking a little evil pleasure when a grammar shamer commits a typo, falling victim to Muphrey’s Law [sic]: “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”
What’s your take?
1. David J. Smith, Reliability, Maintainability and Risk, 7th ed. (Elsevier, 2005), app. 6. DOI: 10.1016/B978-075066694-7/50031-4.
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Editor’s Corner posts are the opinion of Carol Fisher Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and author of The Subversive Copy Editor. Find Carol on Facebook and Twitter (@SubvCopyEd).
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