Monday, November 12, 2012

The typo problem

I've just been chortling over a choice selection of typos detailed in a newspaper recently.  There's the three-foot instruction painted at a road junction which sternly orders,'SOTP; the sign which engagingly states, 'Illegally parked cars will be fine'; the topical political one from the Republicans accusing Obama of suffering a 'crisis of comptence.'  Best of all are the thousands of Chilean coins minted two years ago with the legend CHIIE.  The manager of the mint lost his job but they're still circulating and have become collectors' items.

Actually, it ill-behoves me to laugh at anyone else's typographic mistakes.  I am a self-taught (i.e. incompetent) typist anyway and careless with it {spell-check just picked up that I had spelled this 'carelss'!}. Friends have become accustomed to getting emails alarmingly signed 'Alien'.  It's even worse if I click on spell-check too slavishly and find my full name rendered as Alien Template.

I taught myself to read too - though rather more successfully - by instinctive use of the now-discredited 'look-and-say' method where what you recognise is the shape of the word, rather in the way the Chinese learn their pictograms, instead of using painstaking phonetics, where children must sound out each letter to read the word.

The eye is very easily fooled.  In what is known as the Stroop effect, when RED, BLUE, GREEN, YELLOW are printed on cards of a different colour, it becomes bizarrely difficult to read them accurately.  We see what we expect to see.

The problem becomes acute when it comes to proof-reading.  Like most obsessive readers. I read fast,  which of course means using eye movements that only skim the page to catch the sense.Once I think I've understood a sentence, there will probably be several words I don't actually read at all. 

If you see a passage written only with the consonants, it's almost as quick to read, making an intelligent guess at the vowels, as it is to read in its ordinary form.  It's even possible sometimes with only the first and last letters, given a context.  A highly developed ability to do this is key to solving crossword puzzles..

So there are all sorts of things that militate against accuracy and I'm in awe of my brilliant proof-reader who picks them up when I haven't, even going through the manuscript line by line with a ruler.

It's a bit humiliating.  On the other hand, I'm very good at crossword puzzles!


Charlotte Hinger said...

Oh me too. I finally got it. My agent was going to boil me alive and my editor would light the fire if I didn't do something.

I did my best on the latest book, Hidden Heritage. Proofed it mega-carefully, then had two outside proofreaders. They both caught tons. I CANNOT spot missing words.

Aline Templeton said...

It's bizarre, isn't it! I used to think an error must have crept in later and gone back to check. Never found that yet!