One day, while sat in a large conference room with a group of clients — I started sweating.
It wasn’t because I was nervous about speaking. In fact, I was nothing more than ‘room meat’ at this particular get-together. My job was to sit quietly and nod along.
However, one of our senior people was taking the clients through a PowerPoint presentation about the business. And the beads began to trickle when he clicked onto a slide entitled AGNECY OVERVIEW.
It was a summer day, so the sweat really began to flow when he clicked onto the next slide and it had the same title. And the next. And the next. And the next.
When he wrote it, I guess he just copied the title each time, rather than type it out.
Overall, we went through about seven AGNECY OVERVIEWs. Each one lit up on a 60-inch plasma screen.
Oh well, these things happen eh?
Yes, they do happen. They happen to me. They happen to you. They happen to everybody. And they’re a right pain in the arse.
The word ‘typo’ is a truncation of ‘typographical error’ and its first known usage was in 1878.
Typos have a rich history.
Apparently there are 500 year-old bibles which say “Thou shalt commit adultery” and refer to Judas being nailed on the cross instead of Jesus.
Surprisingly, The Guardian had a massive reputation for typos back in the day. That’s why Private Eye still refers to it as ‘The Grauniad’.
So why are some typos so hard to spot?
Well, I’ll come on to that. Before then, let me just share two of my favourite typo stories with you.
The first is from one of my mates. He was working for a financial analytics company called Curation. It was his first job out of Uni, and after a few months he was given the task of compiling the weekend progress report. This report was sent out first thing every Monday morning to all the company’s clients.
And one Monday morning he was called into his boss’ office and asked to explain this…
Quite impressive really: squeezing two typos into a four-word subject line.
Anyway, he no longer works there, he’s doing a PHD now. (That’s true)
My next favourite typo story is much quicker. It comes from a friend of mine who works for Sky News.
One afternoon she received an all-staffer from her boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. And in part of the email, the gentleman tried to explain that he, and two other senior gentlemen needed to align on a certain issue. His email read: “…so Stewart, Peter and I are going to try and get our dicks in a row this week.”
You never know, maybe he didn’t mean ducks…
Anyway, I think most of you could explain why you don’t notice typos in your own writing.
And the psychology department of the University of Sheffield has investigated the very question and confirmed what you probably already realise: when you’re proof reading, you’re not properly reading.
According to the Sheffield bods— writing is a very high-level task. And as with all high level tasks, your brain generalises simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas).
So instead of taking in every detail, you take in sensory information and combine it with what you expect to be there, and then you extract meaning.
When you’re reading other peoples’ writing, this helps you arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. But, when you’re proof reading your own work, you know the meaning you want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. So the reason you don’t see your own typos is because what you see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in your own head.
That’s why the best tips are to change the typeface; point size; and even colour of your text; print it off and then proof-read. Or better still, give it to a friend to do it for you.
That way, there’s a good chance you won’t be causing impromptu clamminess in your agnecy colleagues any time soon.