(Obviously I used a published cartoon as my illustration. It was too perfect not to use.)

Typos. We all make them. Sometimes I think there are typo gremlins, just waiting till I do some editing and slipping a few typos in for a treat (for them, not for us). Sometimes it’s just that my brain goes faster than my fingers even though I touch type quite rapidly. The main thing is to make sure you and your editor/proof reader check, check and check again. The odd one will still slither through. I’ve noticed that since the big publishers decided to rely more and more on authors using some kind of spell checker, there are typos in books by people who would never in a million years have had typos at the start of their careers. Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, and others.

However, there are typos and typos. There are the kind like ‘teh’ for ‘the’ which are pretty obviously just that: typing errors. The same goes for triple or single letters that should be double. Or mis-spellings of place names, especially in foreign countries, when elsewhere in the text they are perfect. Then there are the ones that actually annoy me and if too common in a work can throw me out of the story completely.

I think this sort are caused by writers with a less than stellar grasp of spelling placing huge reliance on their spell checker. Now, we can’t all be brilliant spellers, but we can all learn to be less in awe of spell checkers and go with our own instinct or knowledge. Word and Google Docs often disagree, especially over things like correct hyphenation or other punctuation. They are not omniscient!

I use Word’s spellchecker and it hasn’t a clue about the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, or ‘bear’ and ‘bare’ or ‘lead’ and ‘led’. It thinks it has but it hasn’t. It gets very agitated about ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ and the advice it gives tends to be wrong. It is puzzled by unusual names or names that are similar to actual words. For instance, the dragon in my Skilled Investigator series is called Scratch and Word is horrified that I should capitalise this… One of the investigators is called Raf when he is under cover, and Word would like him to be RAF. Yes, well…

Contrary to the apparent assumptions of some writers, spellcheckers are not really intelligent and can’t always work out the context of a word. So we get errors like ‘reign’ for ‘rein’. The first is for royalty and the second implies control, particularly for horses but also in such phrases as ‘reined in their feelings of aggression’ or something like that. Sometimes the writer accepts the spellchecker’s advice because they don’t know any better. They may only have heard the word or phrase and never seen it written. They may have no idea of its origins. Another common mistake of this nature is ‘past times’ for ‘pastimes’ which are to do with passing the time and nothing whatsoever to do with yesteryear. Admittedly some shops and manufacturers have added to the confusion by using things like this as a play on words, thinking all their customers will know the difference. I have news for them…

Spellcheckers don’t seem to have grasped the issues with regard to the various forms of the verbs to lie and to lay. These muddles are in fact exacerbated by things like the old prayer that starts: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’. The verb in that is being used reflexively and does not mean you can go ahead and lay on a bed, unless you’re a chicken. Nor should you use ‘lay of the land’ instead of ‘lie’. Though I think that one might be caused by confusion with ley lines.

Sometimes the problem lies with the local dialect that the writer hears all around them and assumes is the norm. Or with one they hear in a show that might not necessarily reflect the reality of the region they’re writing about. I was thrown out of a story recently because the writer insisted on its Irish character using ‘yous’ at all times and for both singular and plural people despite the fact that they were an educated person and that in any case would be unlikely to use it when addressing a single listener.

The bottom line is that we can all type things like that – I managed to mis-spell aggression in the first draft of this post. But – and it’s a huge BUT – we can learn to check and there’s that button on Word’s spellchecker that lets you click ‘ignore’. I don’t think it actually teaches the program anything (going by its attitude to Scratch throughout six novels) but at least you can tell yourself you’ve considered the advice and rejected it.

My own most common errors (outside the occasional total typo) are extra spaces or missed spaces. Spell checkers pick those up beautifully. But then I do some editing and the gremlins have the last laugh.

2 thoughts on “Typos.

  1. Oh I totally get what you’re saying!… And being mother tongue Italian and having learned English firstly and foremost from books rather than the spoken word I tend to make fewer spelling mistakes than a lot of the ‘natives’. But more in general I count myself lucky that my mother tongue (together with Spanish, I think) is probably one of those (at least in Western Europe) with the highest correspondence between the written and spoken form. We don’t even have a word for “spelling” (we usually borrow the English term *g*), because the native term “ortografia” doesn’t have quite the same implication. A mistake in “ortografia” in Italian is usually done out of poor knowledge of grammar, whereas a spelling mistake is more linked to a language having lots of possible written version of the same pronounciation of a word/syllable/letter etc. which is more the case with English, but also French – for different reasons – etc.

    And I agree about the unreliability of Word spellchecker, or most software spellcheckers really.

    P 🙂

  2. One of my friends, for whom I quite often beta, has Finnish as her first language but her English is often better than that of native speakers. But it’s easy to see when she has only come across a word either spoken or misused in fandom/badly edited books.

    Until our fire and displacement, I was learning Portuguese and the written version doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to the spoken one. I think the rules are more hard and fast than in English. I know the same applies in German and French, which I speak and write. English borrowed from so many languages that confusion was inevitable. Not sure about Portuguese’s problem! I just know it was often a relief to reach Spain on our way back and be able to read basic signs and ask for directions.

    Spell checkers can’t do the job that a lot of hopeful writers wish for. I think the main thing is to accept that and use them for the things they actually can do!

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