Typical typos

The value of a sub-editor

To avoid making a foal of yourself, enlist the help of a sub-editor.

It happens. All the time. Psychologists have warned us. The research shows that our brains frequently read what they want to read, rather than what is actually in front of them. This is especially true of words that we have read more than once.

There are some typos that have become infamous over time. My personal favourites are those that remind me of how easy it is to miss something critical. The first two are the result of the damage caused by the lack of a single letter or a swap in a single letter. Hence, I well remember the launch in Dublin in the 1990s of a new public relations agency – except that the ‘l’ was missing in public.

A little earlier than that, I was working in agricultural communications (as I happily still do) and reading the agri-press was essential. It wasn’t unusual that there were regular adverts for marts promoting sales of prime bullocks – except that one day in a national newspaper the ‘u’ in bullocks somehow got printed as an ‘o’.

And sometimes it’s not just a letter that goes astray, it can be a whole word. An item promoting a weekend retreat with a religious order was designed to help participants explore their spirituality. All fine and good except that the person retyping the advert must have been awash with hormones and typed sexuality instead of spirituality. Oh dear!

So what’s the lesson? The art of sub-editing is unseen until something goes wrong and when it goes wrong, it can do terrible damage to a reputation. Good publishing and design companies recognise and reward the value inherent in the sub-editing process. Start with a good house style, don’t trust your own eyes and make sure a sub-editor works on your copy.

Don’t let the errorists win.