The few times I’ve discovered mistakes in my blog posts (or worse, when you’ve discovered a typo and called me on it) I die the death by a thousand cuts. Humiliating and eternally painful, typos are the shorthand indications of sloppiness, carelessness, tardiness or all of the above.
Yet, awful as they are, there are times when typos are useful. For example, we get lots of résumés in our office and when the agency is crazy busy it’s difficult to find the time to wade through them all. Typos are a great way of thinning the herd. After all, if a potential employee doesn’t care enough about their own work to check it for errors, what’s going to happen when they’re being paid to do work for our clients? If a prospect can’t bother to spell my name correctly in their cover letter then their résumé is going directly into the circular file under my desk.
Another time I find typos useful is when filtering out phishing emails. I don’t have a Bank of America account but I do get an awful lot of emails from BoA, or from someone pretending to be them. If I did do business with BoA, I might feel the need to open all those emails to check if they’re legit. But since almost every scam email I come across has a spelling or syntax error in it, typos serve as a very effective spam filter. My guess is that most of the professionals creating online promotions for BoA (or Chase, Citi, AmEx, etc.) are scrupulous about their text.
Typos are particularly useful when you’re buying something on eBay. Because lots of sellers aren’t careful with their typing, they often post products with misspelled titles. That means that people searching for those products won’t find the offers and the prices don’t get bid up. Believe it or not, there are websites where you can put in the names of the things you want to buy and the sites will search the goods with their commonly misspelled names. For illustration’s sake, I searched the word “basketball” on TypoBuddy.com and got back over 140 viable searches with words such as, “hasketball, baskegball, basketbalp, baxketball, basketbalol, baskeftball, baskretball, nbasketball, baskeytball, baskertball,” and “baskdetball.” How many aspiring hoopsters do you know who would search for a brand new baxketball?
When I teach marketing classes, I spend the first day talking about typos. Specifically I tell my students that I won’t accept assignments that misuse “their,” “there” or “they’re;” “to,” “two” or “too;” or “your” or “you’re.” I remind them that “imply” and “infer” don’t mean the same thing and neither do “ironic” and “coincidental.” Also, that the words “that” and “which” are not interchangeable.
Am I being too picky? Maybe so. After all, the point of the class is to teach the art of creative concepts, not grammatical correctness. But one of the most important parts of the creative process is the ability to sell great ideas and if you can’t convince people of the quality of your thoughts then it’s awfully difficult to excite them with the quality of your creative product.
Perhaps you think I’m being picayune. There are lots of blogs on the ‘net telling people to shut up about typos; calling us perfectionistas small minded, uncreative, and obsessive. One woman even wrote that writing without typos is totally outdated — and maybe she’s right. After all, anyone can make a mistake and miss a typo now and again.
But if the whole point of written communication is to build a relationship with regular readers and establish thought leadership, then the roadblocks that typos create get in the way of easy understanding. As I see it, presenting a document replete with typos is the grammatical equivalent of making a presentation with your zipper open.
Want more? Gually Mata, the eagle-eyed proofreader who keeps our work – and these blog posts – on the straight and narrow, sent me the following poem about computer spell-checkers titled, Don’t rely on it. Proof your writing.