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How do you feel about typos?
I hate ‘em.
The few times I’ve discovered mistakes in my blog posts (or worse, when you’ve discovered typos and called me on them) 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, when I ran the ad agency, we’d get lots of résumés in our office from hopeful job seekers. When the agency was busy, it was difficult to wade through all of them. 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 prospects can’t bother to spell my name correctly in their cover letter then their résumés are 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,” and “they’re;” “to,” “two,” and “too;” or “your,” and “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 and “fewer” and “less” have different uses.
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 products.
Perhaps you think I’m being picayune. There are lots of blogs on the ‘net telling people to shut up about typos; calling us small-minded, uncreative, and obsessive “perfectionistas.” One woman even wrote that anyone who’s committed to writing regular blog posts knows that it’s impossible to do so without regularly publishing typos — and maybe she’s right. After all, anyone can make a mistake, and anyone can miss a typo. I certainly produce my share of errors.
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? Here’s a poem about a computer spell-checker titled, Don’t rely on it. Proof your writing. I didn’t write it so please don’t blame me for any typos you may find.
“Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.”
Great post, Bruce! Typos are a pet peeve of mine, too. You left out my favorite: “Its” and “It’s.” When I see the wrong one on a website, it’s unlikely I’ll use that business. I’ve also seen it on large signs on stores, restaurants, etc. Arrrrgh!
As you know from my occasional emails to you pointing out typos, I also hate typos. It’s a vestige of my law review days, I guess.
There is an opportunity in typos I have found which is that even otherwise busy and famous journalists will write you back and thank you for pointing out typos.
Re the spam emails, did you know that the scammers deliberately write them in that fucked up way that any intelligent person would figure out is a scam? Yep! It’s the same screening mechanism you used with the resumes in reverse. They want only the very dumbest, least attentive, most gullible people to respond so they don’t waste time on marks who will eventually get wise. Really. Microsoft did a paper on it: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/why-do-nigerian-scammers-say-they-are-from-nigeria/
Hope you have a productive and fulfilling day with unexpected pleasures and no unpleasant surprises.
Thank you for confirming my suspicions about typos in scams, Bart.
In a strange way, I love the idea of scammers working efficiency traps into their programs so they don’t waste their time. How ironic!!
And don’t forget punctuation.
A woman without her man is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
Let’s eat, Grandma.
Let’s eat Grandma.
Love this post, as do I most.
Did you know there is a high school called Picayune High School?
Why o’ why would they maintain that name?
“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 products.” Truer words never shared! Thanks again Bruce.