Wednesday, September 21, 2005


In Which I Am Revealed As An Errorist...

This is probably going to turn out to be a pretty big clue about me, but there are magazines moldering in libraries and landfills across the country that have some pretty amusing--or at least just completely incomprehensible--copy errors. And many of them are my fault.

How many? More than my share, and let's leave it at that.

I can tell you exactly how this happens. We start with a kid who never took a typing class in his life, and so types with only the index and middle fingers of both hands. At the age of 16, this kid was clocked at 98 words per minute, and that was before he became a professional journalist.

Today he still types fast (probably not 98 WPM, but fast), but because he does not type smart, his copy is prone to all the usual errors you might expect from an incomplete typing education and a mind that has a tendency to think 20 words ahead of its fingers.

Now throw in a deadline-oriented job where that person is forever being asked to bang out loads of copy, in impossible time increments up to and including The Very Last Minute. So you'll understand, then, how one or two copy errors might make their way into the magazines that make their way into your mailboxes and local newsstands.

There was a time when I thought it was funny to see typos in newspapers and magazines, and I even--during an impish moment working as a copy editor for my college newspaper--introduced a few of my own. My roommate called me a Terrorist of the Fourth Estate. I proudly wrote to another friend to crow about this title, and in my haste ironically committed another typo. I inadvertently left off the T. Now I was an Errorist. How apt, especially that it should be an error that would reveal my true title.

Today, with an issue closing and a weekend looming (soon, anyway) and, really, more distracting thoughts roaming around my head than is safe for publishing work, I caught myself making no less than FOUR copy errors. These were so egregious, I can't fairly call them typos. They were outright Freudian slips.

I can't share them all with you. I'm sorry. I just can't.

But I CAN tell you this: If I ever write about music or songs again, I will NEVER use the word "ditty," let alone ones that are "well-loved."

Throughout my career, I have had trouble words I needed to keep a careful eye on lest I mistype them to amusing or bizarre effect. We all have our words, of course. For some it's tricky double-consonant devils like "occasion" or "occurrence." For others, it's more an issue of stopping yourself from continuing to spell certain words so that they don't appear on the page as "rememember" or "bananana."

I don't have problems with those words. I have problems with simple words.

For example, I once thought I was going to lose my job over the word "busy." This was when I was working for a women's magazine. The trouble arose when I was doing a story on time-saving tips for women.

Now, the problem was not entirely my fault. If you look down on your keyboard right now, I'd like you to take note of the letters immediately adjacent to the "y" key.

So perhaps you can understand how, in my typing haste, I submitted to my editor a story that was all about "time-savers for busty women."

I'm sure for the right audience, this would have been a great story (although the mind boggles at the kinds of tips with which one would populate such a piece). But at the time, when my editor appeared at the door with the manuscript in hand, there was nothing great about it. It was one of those Hitchcock, Vertigo camera-trick moments.

Oh, the horror! Every other "busy" had an unwanted "t" in it. I had busty women busting out all over that story. "It's so hard to get anything done when you're busty..." is almost one of the first sentences. And it just got worse, a multi-car pile-up I couldn't stop from happening. This is just a handful (no pun intended) of passages from the story:

"Some women are so busty they can scarcely connect with their spouses anymore."

"'I'm so busty these days, I can't even get a decent meal on the table,' says Jane."

"In many ways, busty women bring it on themselves, says Dr. X, time-management expert. 'A very busty woman just can't say "No," but she has to learn to. Otherwise it will overwhelm her.' Here are some ways busty women everywhere can take a load off:"

Luckily, I had a VERY cool editor and although I don't think she was ever quite convinced that it was an accident, in the end it turned out not to be that big a deal (still, I'm sweating at the memory).

If you think you're seeing a pattern in my errors, gentle reader, think again. At that same magazine, I became famous for having difficulty with another simple word: "bet." Again, it was a problem with the proximity of one letter to another on the keyboard, so that I would, with some regularity, insert a man named "bert" into my copy.

You never knew when Bert would show up. Sometimes he'd make an appearance in a headline ("Best Berts in Bath Salts") while other times his arrival just made no sense. "When it comes to PMS, this remedy is a safe bert." Because really, what's Bert gonna do about PMS (except what I do, which is to stock plenty of Hershey's miniatures and a shit-load of cheese doodles in the pantry)?

Sometimes my errors are not even strictly errors, so much as an unfortunate confluence of production issues and story length, forcing a story to be continued to another page at a most unfortunate point in the narrative.

Here's an excerpt from a profile I did years ago of a 70-something tri-athlete, who was explaining his morning routine.

"I get up at 6 and run to the Y. I never counted the blocks, but it's about two miles," he says. "When I get there I hit the pool and do my laps. At first, some of the younger fellas at the Y tried to race me. They don't any more. It's a pretty good feeling to know I can blow guys half my age out of the water when I want to."

As you must surely know by now, when the story ran, the last part of this quote was continued to a distant page in the back of the magazine, so what jumps right out at you there at the end of the page is the spry old codger saying "…I can blow guys half my age…"

Lotsa people wrote in about that one.

Sometimes, my errors don't revolve so much around missing or misspelled words, but words my subconscious has added to the narrative. It reveals, I guess, how regularly my mind likes to work in the grove of puns (when it works at all, that is). Once, I interviewed a urologist about a new anti-impotency drug. It was some forerunner of Viagra, and it required the man to inject himself with the drug. And yes, he had to inject himself exactly where you think he had to inject himself.

The story I wrote for it was a pretty straightforward news brief. The doctor was nice enough, but he kept objecting every time I said the words "shot" or "injection." He didn't want to scare guys off. "Let's just call it a little poke," he said. It was a nice, innocuous enough euphemism, and he said it so often during the interview you'd think I'd remember it.

Here's an excerpt from the final piece. studies, subjects who used the drug reported a significant increase in the duration and firmness of their erections. The serum form of the drug does require men to learn how to administer it themselves using a small needle, similar to ones diabetics use to inject insulin. But Dr. X says most men who have had erectile problems in the past are more than willing to give themselves a little prick. "It's a pretty easy trade-off to make," he says.

Two days after I sent the story in, I saw what I'd done and called the editor, telling him to change the key word to "poke." But he had thought I was being witty and loved the turn of phrase, so it stayed in the story. Sometimes, you get credit for being a clever writer when you're anything but.

You'd think after 16 or so years of doing this I'd get better about catching my errors, but in many ways I just seem to get worse. For example: that story I was working on earlier? The one with the four Freudian slips? My copy chief just appeared in my office with the kind of smile on her face that made me think she'd found number five.

And I saw with a sigh that she had.

See if you can spot the error. This is from a brief entry about an unusual toy. Very unusual, I'd say.

"Even grown-ups can't keep their hands off of this woman...which sets off a stunning array of lights and sounds when you push the right button!"

"Toy." "Woman." Hey, they both have the letter "o." Honest mistake. Anyone could make it.

I sure hope that's the last error I made on that story.

But I wouldn't bert on it.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Excellent. I have worked (and would like to continue to work) as an editor recently, and I must say that now I'm much more apt to notice errors in copy. But if they're funny like those you mentioned, you can bert that at least some people got a few laughs. ;)
And of course, ArtLad refers today to 'Dads old Dick'.

Runs in the family....
OMG, Dan, you're RIGHT! I don't know whether to laugh at my son for saying it, or at me, since I typed the damn thing in!

Excellent catch, as my copyeditor likes to say.
I am so glad I am not the only one! My most memorable "typo" - I used the word "holy" instead of "wholly" thoroughout an 80 page Statement of Claim that was filed in teh Supreme Court of Canada. yet I am still employed, go figure
My personal best? In a hand-out to hundreds of teachers to market my new product I talked a lot about "pubic" rather than "public". Ouch.
I can relate, oh boy, can I. Once my copyeditor introduced an error in a photo credit. He found a creative way to get f-word in the paper.
Our newspaper has been guilty of a few slips, incuding the public/pubic mishap and a recipe for Orange Roughy with Crap (not crab) stuffing.
I spend all my free time (and trust me I have plenty) checking magazines for errors and then writing scathing letters to the editor. Not because I care, just because it makes me feel superior.
Don't worry about it.I'd rather read about busty women anyway.
I type my name wrong constantly, to the point where our HR director calls me Snadra (my most common mis-spelling). But the busty thing...just plain fantastic. And you're right - the mind does boggle at the possible tips.

I kind of get a kick out of it when people mispronounce things, too. I went to elementary school with a guy who once read an entire book chapter pronouncing the traditional, "busy" as, "buss-ee". It's still the first thing I think of when I see him in my hometown.
Every time I think you've written your best blog post ever, you go and top it. A classic! (And yes, I typed "calssic" the first time.)
I remember catching a certain copy chief's error.
I had to re-write fifteen cover letters to various publishing companies because I was looking for work in the New York metropoitain area.

Explains how I wound up in production.

What a word break! Blow guys. Couldn't have tried to flow that any better!
Yes, I made the "pubic" error, too. It was (honestly) in a story about legislation regarding sex education in schools, in which I transformed the Public Act into the Pubic Act. Naturally.
Personally, I think you can chalk up all those Freudian slips to DNA.

Your sense of humor is so genetically entrenched that your subconscious sees and creates the funny, while keeping your conscious mind completely oblivious.

Blame it on your parents, by Gorry.

Surely, anyone that can use "egregious" properly in a sentence can be forgiven for "well-loved titties".
I think I need to stop reading your blog entries at's hard to restrain myself from BUSTing out laughing and having everyone nearby wonder what I'm doing.
My nickname came from a typo. My name is Kevin but I used to sign my assignments in computer class with "Kev" then send them. Notice what letter is near the "V"?
I did it once and it has stuck for fourteen years!

Oh, you have just inspired me to write an entry about my former place of employment and the joy of fractured international English. You can bert I'll be posting something tomorrow, despite being a pretty busty woman...

Oh, and do you remember the fake SNL ad for Apple Computers where the little boy edits the "Visiting the Public Library" brochures to read "Pubic Library"? Stupid, but it still makes me chuckle like a 12-year-old...
the fact that you said that they both have an "O" is blasting funny ... as my friends then to you use "O" as a replacement of Hole ... :P

one of the reason why I started learning to type with my eyes close is because I wanted to train myself to think the word before I type it.

and I can still spell my name wrongly.
On a somewhat related note, I had the hots for my german prof in college and when he asked how I was (in German of course): Wie geht's? I responded with: Ich bin gut (I am good) *instead of* Es get mir gut (It goes well for me). Evidently I had told him I was good in bed.
Ah yes, I'll take responsibility for saying something was "indecently audited", rather than "independenly audited".

That, and for using the "anus", instead of "angus".
Last year, a large university in the suburban Washington, DC area had an Institute for Pubic Policy. For about 2 hours, when the administrators noticed the mistake and took down all the newly put up signs and markings. Fortunately, every student within a 10 mile radus of the buildings was able to grab his/her camera and capture some truely fabulous moments before it went back to being the Institute for Public Policy.
My regularly misspelled word is "necessary." Clearly I need to step it up. ;)
Oh my GOD!! I am reading here, as my two month old sleeps peacefully, and I can barely contain the laughter. Now, I am living on a collective 7 hours of sleep over the past two nights, so perhaps that has something to do with it....

But still, MM, you crack me up! I can't get enough of the humor. Keep up the typos. They are way more fun than the "teh" I constantly type.
I once asked a Judge for "medication" instead of mediation. Try and live that one down. It was three years ago... ;)

This is one for the "best of" column.

Would do business with again!

uh, yeah, haunting the newsstand...

Ok, so not really, but if I had the time I would be
I was working on a site plan that was about 4 years old once. I noticed one very bad typo on the plan that had been submitted, approved and recorded at the registry of deeds. Rather than being labeled a flagpole, there was a fagpole located in front of the building!
My worst two (that I remember) were 1. Certified Pubic Accountants
and 2. "Dear Gays & Gals" (instead of guys & gals). The Gays and Gals was in a government email that didn't go over well. Innocent mistake.
I think I just passed out from coughing so hard from laughing. It was dark, there were stars. Love it. Some of my worst errors - conslutant,and turning my name into muf.
I have made the same bus(t)y mistake...

In an email to a colleague who had previously apologised for responding slowly to a request, I reassured her thus: "That's no problem, you can't help being so busty."

And she just happens to be a very busTy young lady. Oh dear.
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