Typo Defeatism (Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Live with the Typo)


I was about four pages deep into a very boring eight-page publication I was proofreading, struggling to keep my mind from drifting off to some balmy beach in the South Pacific, when suddenly a word seemed to leap off the page: wtith. I circled it in red, wrote “with” under it, and silently congratulated myself.

Prepositions are the sneakiest typo smugglers. We (or at least I) tend to skim over them quickly when we read, focusing instead on the nouns and verbs that give the text its substance. It’s easy to overlook an “it” that should have been an “in” or an “if” that should have been an “of,” not to mention the combos: “in if,” “on of,” and even “in in” and “on on.”

What’s more, by the proofreading stage, the articles I edit have already been through spell-check, which catches typos like “wtith” as well as duplicate prepositions. So I wasn’t exactly laser-focused on the spelling of every word in this 4,000- or 5,000-word publication. That’s why, whenever I catch stuff like this, I’m kind of proud of myself. And by “kind of” I mean “very.”

Not two hours later, in another boring 5,000ish-word publication I’d already read several times, I caught an “aboard” that should have been “abroad.” I went home that day, a Friday, feeling like an invincible Typo Terminator.

Then, on Monday, I came in to my freelance job to learn that the publication in which I had caught "wtith" had the word “stil,” misspelled, right on the cover. Fortunately, another editor caught it before it went to print. But unfortunately, that editor wasn’t me.

Typos are the bane of my existence. They’re like little demons lurking behind every paragraph just waiting for the opportunity to humiliate me. And I’m actually quite good at catching them – in other people’s writing.

My own writing is another thing entirely. I’m a messy thinker and a messy typist, which makes for some very messy writing. My skill at catching other people’s typos doesn’t apply to my own writing – ever. I can proofread something I wrote four times and not catch that I spelled my name Juen (this has happened).

In 15 years or so I’ve been writing for community newspapers, I’ve come to accept the fact that my embarrassing typos are going to end up in print. Community newspapers operate on shoestring budgets forcing underpaid and often inexperienced workers to crank out a ridiculous amount of text in a ridiculously short period of time. If I type something wrong, there is perhaps a 50% chance it will get fixed.

Over the  years, I’ve learned to try harder to catch my own typos. The best trick I’ve discovered is to write something the day before deadline then read it again the next day with fresh eyes. Actually, this mostly helps to find problems with the writing itself – clunkiness, unclear explanations, etc. – but I do catch a few more of my own typos.

The best way to catch your typos is to recruit someone else to. Ask a word-savvy friend or family member to carefully proofread your work. Reading aloud also helps – it forces you to pay attention to every word, assuring you won’t gloss over any.

But, to me, the only way to shield myself against typo-induced embarrassment is to accept, in advance, that my next public humiliation is just around the corner.


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2 Responses to “Typo Defeatism (Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Live with the Typo)”

  1. I love your attitude! Yes, it's a little bit "defeatist" but it's also very zen, right? "Wherever you go, there you are."

    I've been trying to get a similar idea across to my students, that the first draft is never gold, and you have definitely been an inspiration to me to help them. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for saying so, Lisa. As always, I really admire your dedication to your students!