In the course of reading Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson’s charming and funny The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time (see our My Word section for the review, which discusses it along with several other recent books on words), I encountered a certain number of, well, typos—or related mistakes, at any rate.
I have a great deal of sympathy, indeed, fellow feeling, for Jeff and Benjamin. As a former copy editor—not even former, since I’m the only copy editor this website possesses; but it’s only formerly that I earned my living at it—I’m driven by much the same instinct as they are, compelled to register and bemoan the misspellings and mispunctuation that surround us in daily life. And a great job these two typo hunters clearly did—in fact, continue to do, as their website attests.
If you write a book about correcting typos, however humbly and helpfully, you are building a glass house for possible stone-throwing. After all, the authors’ declared mission was “to inspire other ordinary people to speak out when they see mistakes.” I checked the comments on the book’s website to see whether others have remarked on the errors I noticed, but didn’t find any. Here is my (quite short) tally of broken windows in The Great Typo Hunt, in the order I found them.
A bump in the road
First, a nonexistent verb: “Benjamin suggested that we begin with a late breakfast in Rockville, where we used to share an apartment, giving me hope that familiar surroundings would also help to smoothen our road.” Clearly the author had a formation like broaden (from broad) in mind, but in this case the verb derived from smooth is, er, smooth.
Second, a missing accent on a foreign word: “‘Précisement,’ Jenny declared, channeling Hercule Poirot as she gestured toward the offending sign.” Not quite as precisely as that old stickler Poirot might have liked: the French give the second e an acute accent, too—précisément; without it the word’s pronunciation would be different as well.
Sense of humo(u)r?
The third error (which in any case is merely one of British vs. American spelling) may conceivably be intentional: the pair come through a difficult moment, when co-hunter Benjamin has some form of Montezuma’s revenge (picked up in North Carolina). “The League, purged of its ill humours, could then commence its true work.” Humours here plays on both senses of the word, and because the concept of a humor as one of the body’s “cardinal” fluids is old-fashioned, it may be that the authors decided to use old-fashioned spelling as well. If so, it seems somewhat labored.
Fourth, and rock- rather than pebble-sized by this book’s typo standards, is a classic example of a spell-check error: a homophone. The dynamic duo challenge a woman in a shop over a mistake in a sign (indoors written as if it were two words); she tries to prove them wrong (wrongly) by consulting a dictionary. “In and doors were separated by a dot. Many of the other words on that page, and the rest of the pages in the dictionary, had words broken up with dots. Though he looked somewhat peaked, Benjamin graciously accepted the weighty and irksome charge that now fell to us.” Clearly the usually gracious Benjamin was piqued; the anecdote acquires even more irony a few pages later when Jeff relates that Benjamin “had identified homophones as his weakness.” He little knew how true that would become.
A pretty small total of mistakes by most standards? Yes, but most books do not center around the subject of correcting such mistakes. Yet the great attraction of the heroes of The Great Typo Hunt is their humility and earnest desire to correct typos in order to create a better world, rather than score off the less spelling-conscious among us. I hope they will take these small annotations in the same spirit. Should know better!—TAMARA GLENNY