April 06, 2009
Teh taxonomy of typo's
I've been soliciting thoughts about blogging from various people, and one of the questions I ask has to do with how important it is that you get all the spelling right. People sort of agree that email and blog writing is in general held to a lesser standard than production writing, but they also sort of agree that spelling errors detract from the text, even so. This was stated most succinctly by Scott Hanselman about his blog: "Hopefully folks don't think TOO poorly of me when I misspell words. Of course, I think horribly of YOU when YOU misspell." Or as John Scalzi once wrote "Here's a good rule of thumb: For every spelling error you make, your apparent IQ drops by 5 points."
It never hurts to spell correctly 100% of the time. I was thinking about Scalzi's observation, though, and I realized that it's more subtle than that. I decided that there is a kind of taxonomy of typos, and my reaction to a typo depends on what type of misspelling I encounter. Here's what I've come up with so far:
1. Mechanical. Typos that result from simple fumbles. You obviously know how to spell the word, but got it wrong in haste: teh or alreayd; more generally, transposed letters or missing spaces. (Another way to characterize these might be that they're typos that Word's auto-correct feature would catch and fix.)
2. Language mastery. Typos that confuse words where you should ("should") know better. This includes its/it's, their/there/they're, most apostrophe errors, etc. You didn't mistype; you typed what you intended, you just wrote the wrong word or used the wrong punctuation.
3. Hard words. Typos in words whose spelling isn't obvious. Some words are often misspelled. Plus everyone has an idiosyncratic collection of words that they just can't seem to remember the spelling for.
4. Creative. Misspellings that seem to be deliberate, for effect or from personal taste. These might be words like tho and nite, or further afield, O hai and for realz. For a misspelling to be perceived this way, it has to be clear from the rest of the text that the writer does know what they're doing. (This does not apply to YouTube comments, for example.)
5. Due diligence. Generally speaking, these are misspelled proper names (people, products, things) plus foreign words. They're words whose spelling you'd know for sure only by looking it up. There are two subcategories here: a) clearly you know the name or word, you just don't know how to spell it, or b) it's not even clear that you know what you're trying to write (wallah!).
Speaking for myself, I have differing reactions to these typo types. Here's a summary of my reaction in terms of IQ perception to typos:
Mechanical: Meh. +/-0
Language mastery: Ouch. -5
Hard words: Dude, use a spell checker. -1
Creative: Nice! Within limits, of course. +2
Due diligence. Hmm. a) -3 b) -10
To be clear, I'm talking only about informal writing -- the aforementioned emails and blog entries. In production text the bar is much higher, and for something like a resume, zero tolerance.
I'm curious to know other people's thoughts (thots) on this. Are there other types of typos? What are your reactions to different typo types?