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Most recent entry - 4/3/2014

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   |  I am conflicted about typos

posted at 09:46 AM | | [7] |

Here are some things that I believe about spelling and typos:

  • Our spelling system in English is sort of absurd. The same spelling can be pronounced different ways (lead: leed, led); the same sound can be spelled different ways (right, rite).

  • Many people who are extremely intelligent are not very good spellers. I see evidence of this every day at work, where people who are in the stratosphere of accomplishment send emails that include typos that are more than just fat-fingered "teh". Or for that matter, people who know a great deal more than I do about car motors, tax accounting, water heaters, phlebotomy, electrical panels, or diminished 7th chords might not be sterling spellers.

  • Some spelling errors are so common that they’re called out in usage guides and there are entire sites devoted to the apparently futile effort to sort out the spellings once and for all.
So we have a confusing, inconsistent orthography that seemingly cannot be mastered by even accomplished people in spite of endless efforts to educate them. Anything wrong with this? Should we consider our current spelling system to be within the bounds of success? It seems sort of like designing a product that a significant percentage of users could not figure out how to use right.

And yet. In spite of knowing this, it’s almost impossible to set aside the instinctive negative reaction to typos. This has come up a couple of times recently in online articles:

Microsoft: Metro’s Not Just an Interface, It’s a Philosophy
This article originally talked about five core tenants (since corrected – see comments below the article) and still includes as of today If you want to know all of Microsoft’s new Metro Design Principals, check out the slideshow[1].

Won't buy Apple products anymore? Then don't stop there
This article referred to right of passage (since fixed) and still includes as of today diametrically opposed to the principals of the company's low-cost production model.

Here we have two articles by obviously intelligent writers writing for significant online publications (not, say, on personal blogs), and both articles include typos. Surely this should be some sort of evidence that these kinds of typos are within a standard deviation of acceptability, so to speak. The fact that the same typo (principal) appears in both articles and has not been fixed might even suggest that people don’t even notice this one.

I had a Facebook discussion about this, and among the Friends, one was laissez-faire (“I think it only detracts from credibility when it's a more substantive error”), but others not so much (“If I see two errors in an online article, I stop reading”, “I notice. It bugs the crap out of me, too.”).

I would like at least personally to be able to live in a kind of post-typo world where benign spelling mixups had no effect on my reading of an article. Not quite there yet, tho. Even so, I would like to believe that at least I do not share the “I hate people who can’t spell” attitude that seems to plague so many. Not today, anyway. :-)


[1] FWIW, the slideshow does actually name some of the principals of Metro design, namely the people behind it. But I think it's safe to assume that the gist of the slideshow is about Metro design principles.

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