by Mary Beth Huwe
Click the “play” arrow if you’d like me to read this essay to you.
Remember this poor little guy?
His superpower intruded upon his ability to feel happy and safe. He was isolated, misunderstood, and attempting to shoulder a greater sense of responsibility than he could bear.
I think of him when I start feeling tragic and alone about my superpower:
I see typos.
I see them daily, even when I’m not looking for them. In grocery store signage, in emails, in official correspondence, in owners’ manuals, in children’s books, on marquees, on menus.
This is not something I can turn off. That would be like looking at a word and not automatically reading it. Or seeing your dog and not recognizing her as your dog.
I’ve wondered if typos are attracted to me, and that’s why I see them so often. Perhaps they know I can’t ignore them or unsee them. Regardless, I’ve come to understand that I like them. They used to annoy me; they came across as imperfections that would intrude on my serenity… like bacne or those stinging flies at the beach.
Now I think they’re hilarious and revealing. I enjoy their messiness and how they can bring people together.
But, like toilet paper on the bottom of your shoe or accidentally tucking your skirt into the back of your undies, there are better and worse circumstances in which for these things to occur.
In your work or business, for example, you might prefer to find other ways of bringing people together than committing typos.
So let’s dive into the types of typos and how to avoid them.
The 2 Types of Typos
1. Prim Typos
Some typos are orthographic in nature – think misspellings, grammatical errors, punctuation problems. For example:
- Confusing their, there, and they’re (or advice/advise) (or compliment/complement).
- Adding an unnecessary apostrophe.
- Confounding the i before e rule/not rule.
When we spot them, these typos might make us feel fussy, superior, and unyielding. So I think of them as Prim Typos.
They are messy, yes, but they are not going to spray your sofa or tell an off-color joke at an inopportune time. Their messiness is just mixed-upness.
A Prim Typo is like a toddler who has dressed herself. Although her pants are on backwards, you recognize that they are, in fact, pants. She managed to get them on her legs.
In other words, you still get the meaning. You can be nice about it or a jerk about it or amused by it… but you’re likely not completely confused. You can sort out a Prim Typo.
2. Perplexing Typos
Perplexing typos are grammatically correct(ish), but contain a confusing quality that garbles the message you intended to send. Depending on the severity, the reader may or may not be able to figure out what’s trying to be communicated. Perplexing typos are, in my opinion, “worse” than Prim ones.
Here’s my favorite Perplexing Typo:
There’s nothing technically wrong with that sign… nothing that spell-check would catch. But the intended message and the delivered message are not the same.
How to Save Yourself!
Two simple techniques will help you avoid or reduce your Prim and Perplexing Typos.
1. Edit your work backwards, word-by-word.
The best way I’ve found to catch Prim Typos is to look at each word individually. The easiest way to see words individually is to start at the end of your work and go backwards. When you come across words like “there” or “its,” make sure you’ve selected the right one.
This works best if you print out your work on physical paper, using a pen to point at each word.
I primarily reserve this measure for client work or work that “matters” a lot. I don’t generally do it for blog posts, though I would for an article published somewhere outside of my site. On my own site, I’m a bit more lax.
2. Read your work aloud – first to yourself and then to another person.
This will allow you to hear any weirdnesses (not a word, but not a word on purpose.) If you’ve accidentally left out a word or if you’ve broken up some sentences during the editing process, your ears can help you spot those perplexities.
The person you read aloud to should be someone outside of your immediate area of expertise or focus. This person will notice alienating jargon or assumptions in your writing that you may not have perceived. This person may also notice if you’re threatening to give people gas if they eat at your restaurant. Very handy.
3. Contact me
Okay, I said 2 techniques, but really there are 3. If you can’t or don’t want to do steps 1 or 2, give me a holler. I love to see your typos… and I love to make them go away. I will always discreetly advise you if your skirt is tucked into the back of your undies.
Have a favorite typo example? Please, make us all happy and post it in the comments below!
Mary Beth Huwe is a writer, editor, and strategist. She helps people identify, articulate, and translate their most essential messages into kickin’ content that is both communicative and practical.
These essays are forays into the art and essence of communication. They have not been subjected to the full scrutiny of said editor’s eye, and may contain typos. (But you’ll probably never find apostrophe abuse, because that’s just cruel.)