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The wages of typos – in pounds and pence

Surveying the range of typographical error around her, the Monitor's language columnist is tempted to despair; but hope springs eternal.

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Dear Reader, my subject this week is errors – typographical sins of all sorts, and how they can take over if we are not vigilant.

Grammar Monkeys, a blog by The Wichita Eagle copy desk, set forth a veritable taxonomy of typos recently. Titled "When spell-check won't help: How typos sneak into writing," the post cited "the one-letter-off typo," e.g., "The pops concert, canon launch and fireworks show." The single-"n" "canon" for "cannon" made me picture a clergyman flying through the air like a circus performer.

Another category was "the wrong word" – problems with homophones, or sound-alikes: "Police taser man after he fleas" (flees). There's the "one-letter-off 'facto,' " an error committed by those who miss the factual forest for the technical trees: "troops killed in the wars in Iran and Afghanistan." Oops, make that "Iraq."

And then "the Cupertino effect": typos introduced by the very "autocorrect" software intended to save us from error. Ah, the typographical treason of these invisible servants! Why "Cupertino"? The autocorrect feature of some Apple software seems to construe just about any long word beginning with "c" as an attempt to write the name of the California city that is Apple's headquarters.

As the Language Log pointed out a few years ago, this is a particular issue within the European Union and NATO. So many civil servants there keep needing to write the word "cooperation." But since so many of them are not native speakers of English, they misspell it – "coperation," perhaps. Then boom! – suddenly it's "Cupertino."


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