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Spelling Police: At It Again

January 31st, 2011 by Bob Bly

As a writer, blogger, and online publisher, I am frequently visited by “the spelling police” — individuals who have found a typo in something I wrote and absolutely cannot wait to tell me about it.

Members of the spelling police vary in their reaction to finding typos.

Some are genuinely offended, and accuse me of not caring enough about my readers to proofread or edit carefully.

Others are incredulous that I allowed the mistake to happen in the first place — reacting with horror as if making a typo was on a par with original sin.

In this case, RG pointed out a typo in my latest book, and he was of the first category — genuinely offended by my sloppiness. He told me he was personally offended by the presence of a typo in a book he had paid $15 to own.

I pointed out to RG that the book contains 100,000 words. If only one of them has a typo — and he only found the one — that means 1/1,000 of 1% of the words in the book have a typo.

I can’t think of many human activities that have a lower error rate.

So next time you spot a typo, don’t get bent out of shape. Notify the author if you so desire, but do not take the attitude that the typo is the end of western civilization as we know it.


This entry was posted on Monday, January 31st, 2011 at 11:22 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

57 responses about “Spelling Police: At It Again”

  1. Ryan said:

    People must have too much time on their hands.

    On a related subject – Bob, what is your opinion of outsourcing proofreading?

    Do you do outsource yours, and how do you find a reliable proofreader? Elance?

    I’m often in a rush to find another set of eyes, and hoping for suggestions on how to buy some eyeballs for proofreading at a reasonable price.

  2. Joseph Ratliff said:


    I think because we are writers, that we get held to a higher standard for spelling errors and editing within our works.

    Plus, it’s easy to be a critic isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Lucretia Pruitt said:

    I’m that type-A idiot who notices typos. Even in my own work *after* it’s published.
    But while I might mark the book or DM the writer to assuage my inner-editor, the thought that it is personally offensive to someone? Disturbing.

    Actually, that’s very disturbing. I would suggest RG needs to spend his future dollars on therapy instead of books. There’s something seriously wrong with you if you are over-reacting to such a degree.

    Aside: I’m impressed that you didn’t pepper this post with typos to drive the spelling police to greater heights of gibbering madness. I probably would’ve.

  4. Ken Siew said:

    Well said. I used to be rather obsessed with typos myself, making sure that everything I write is error free (and it still wasn’t). However, somewhere along the line, I came to the realization that your content is actually wayyyyy more important than your grammar/spelling. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have high standards, just that you choose to focus on the 99% that matters. The 1% (or 1/1000 of 1%) – is not worth the time.

    Thanks for the reminder Bob.

  5. Annette said:

    Bad spellers of the world, untie!

  6. cort said:

    A journalism prof in college thought he was being cute and sent a letter to a textbook company pointing out all the typos he found. A few weeks later he got his letter back with the typos in it marked.

  7. clay said:

    I spent years as a newspaper editor and publisher, and as a general rule, I considered retired English teachers my worst enemies.

    However, as you did in your post, I’ll never forget a colleague who wrote a column going off on an English teacher for noticing the one word spelled wrong in his newspaper that month, but not saying a word about the flawless papers he produced every day.

  8. Ken Hoffman said:

    I agree, mostly. However, just as people judge a book by its cover, and judge a person by their appearance…too many typos indicates a lack of professionalism. It’s really easy to miss stuff with blogs,emails, and other online writing. Why? Because we are all in such a hurry. A hurry to read it and a hurry to write it. But finding the need to point it out and take issue with it is definitely for those anal retentive types and OCD people. Especially ONE typo in an entire book!

  9. designexpertise said:

    I’m dyslexic (yes, a dyslexic copywiter with a BA in English Literature – great huh?), and I definitely drop the ball from time to time. My wife proofs all of my work, but even her valuable input doesn’t guarantee flawless execution. Nobody’s perfect, this a shortcoming I’ve learned to deal with.

    The thing that really bothers me is when people take the attitude that you’re unintelligent because you made a typo or grammatical flub. I mean come on, it’s a typo, not a measure of your intelligence quotient.

    I think it boils down to the reality that most people love to be right. It feels good when you catch someone else making a mistake, and have the opportunity to point it out to them – as though they’re somehow inferior: “Ah-ha – I can spell better than you!”

  10. Melzetta "Mele" Williams said:

    This reminds me of an English teacher who took me aside after a training seminar I led. She proceeded to correct my pronunciation on several words that most of us with regional accents pronounce differently than intended.

    The funny part is that this woman was “sent” to my Communicating with Diplomacy seminar because she lacked tact.

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    I think men in gray suits who use double negatives are twice as dangerous. Bad spellers are sexy too.

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    it’s just funny how other’s react to such situation. I have experience reading a typo but i politely told the writer about it, and she even thank me. Again, No one is perfect.

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    I completely agree with what you got to say here. I have seen people who get so horrified or makes the big deal out of a small typo that can naturally happen from a printer spooler error human being. I suppose these people who make these big issues have never written anything all by themselves.

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