In commemoration of PA’s two-year anniversary (November 2016), I’m republishing one of my first-ever posts on the original Proofread Anywhere site. Writing well takes time to learn, and it was clear when I revisited this post how far I’ve come as a writer and blogger. I thought you all might get a kick out of this post after it had been edited.
Oh, and if you’re considering getting started in a new career, too, be encouraged: You don’t need to be perfect to make progress. You just need to take action!
The human brain is wired in such a way that we are constantly making connections without even realizing it.
Perhaps that’s why proofreading can be such a difficult task for non-nerds. “Proofreading” and “reading” aren’t synonyms, as we know, but even proofreaders’ brains can switch to autopilot and we can lose our normally meticulous focus.
Spelling errors, typos, punctuation mistakes and an over-reliance on technology have all resulted in some pretty serious proofreading disasters. Smartypants like us see these “fails” and shake our heads wondering, “How did no one notice that?”
How Do Typos Happen (Even to Proofreaders)?
Sometimes typos in proofreading result from eyes just glazing over a word. Sometimes it’s from a lack of knowledge in general. Other times it’s just a case of a big, fat typo.
Take an eBay auction for a still-corked, 1852 bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale. While the spelling was correct in the auction description, it was missing a “p” in the title. The result? No exposure. With only two bidders, the buyer took advantage of the mistake and, after purchasing the stale ale with a winning bid of just $304, resold the same bottle for half a million dollars.
See?! Next time someone downplays what you do or the importance of accuracy in print, show them this post!! Typos can totally screw you over.
Here’s an even bigger “Whoops!” which came from NASA in the 1960s. A tiny mistake in their code—a missing hyphen, to be exact—caused the Mariner 1 to explode shortly after takeoff. The typo cost them a hefty $80 million.
When Typos Pay Off
While these cases of typographical errors resulted in extraordinary losses, sometimes typos can pay out big time!
You may have fallen victim to this on several occasions when quickly typing in a keyword to Google or YouTube: a missing or extra letter directs you to a site that is full of advertisements or—gasp!—pornographic material. This is the result of something called “typosquatting.”
Seriously, this is a real thing! People make money off this stuff! Anyway, “typosquatters” purchase domains that share similar spellings with websites that generate high traffic. Google it if you don’t believe me 🙂
Big businesses use common typos and misspellings to expose consumers to their advertisements. Did you know Google earns nearly $500 million annually from the mistyping of popular website names? Yep, I’d like that paycheck. Anticipating the typos, Google calculates its moves proactively to generate revenue.
Smart, smart, smart.
Snickers (sorry to those of you whose mouths are now watering) teamed up with Google and misspelled its own name in an advertisement as part of a brilliant marketing campaign. Banking on the idea there must be a lot of hungry folks searching the Internet, the Snickers/Google dream team bought up ads for 25,000 mistyped and/or misspelled search words (targeting people who misspell their Google search terms), and displayed a Snickers ad with the correct spelling and the tagline “you’re not you when you’re hungry.”
Genius, right? Spelling mishaps occur so often (it’s the hard truth) that ad campaigns are using them like a boss to draw a crazy profit.
When Typos in Proofreading Just Make You Look Dumb
There are countless crazy examples of spelling errors that are not the result of some bizarre trick of the mind… somebody just effed up.
Check this out: in 2010, the Australian Parliament misspelled “Barack” by adding an extra “r” on commemorative mugs, making it “Barrack.” The mistake resulted in extreme embarrassment and a $2000 loss in revenue.
Name misspellings are fairly common, particularly when the name is unusual (even if the subject is the President of the United States). Even when names really aren’t that unusual, spellings still vary greatly. For example, my own clients have spelled my name in three or four different ways!! So be sure to Google that stuff… twice.
Here’s another example of a super-embarrassing error. Miller Brewing Company (now MillerCoors) looked mighty dumb when they erected a gigantic billboard on the side of a Missouri interstate advertising Miller 64 which read, “A tasty contraditcion.”
Oh, the irony.
And I can’t forget to include my personal favorite signage slip-up: a CVS sign that read, “Two Ho’s for a Dollar!” At first, I suspected a disgruntled employee. Nope. Just the unfortunate result of a less-than-stellar education.
…which brings me to a subtopic I think deserves its own special section…
If you google advertising blunders, you’ll no doubt be met with a nice list of results from sites like reddit and Buzzfeed.
I’ve laughed myself to tears over the ridiculous lists of grammatical absurdities on these sites. My favorite lists of errors are the ones that display a profound confusion in how to use apostrophes.
Apostrophes are near and dear to my heart and the hearts of many other super-nerds. Although it’s hilarious, if you’re like me, you look at this stuff and sometimes your skin heats up and starts to itch because you just don’t understand how people can let this stuff go unchecked. Sometimes it’s downright infuriating to see that you can get half-price appetizer’s on Tuesday’s. ::fuming::
People mix up singular possessive, plural possessive, and standard plural forms so often that now there is such a thing as an International Apostrophe Day (I don’t think it’s working).
To commemorate this special day, The Huffington Post dedicated an entire article to these ridiculous mistakes. I’m not trying to single out or ridicule the non-nerds here, proofreading for nerds and non-nerds alike can be a truly daunting task, especially when the material is lengthy or dense.
The poor guy responsible for the missing NASA hyphen — okay. I get it. I can only imagine the difficulty I’d face if I had to sift through a mountain of programming code. And it’s not exactly something that a grammar or spell-check would flag for correction.
The State of the Onion Union
What I’ve just shared with you in this post paints a somewhat sad picture of the way things are, doesn’t it? But take heart! It’s undeniable proof that proofreading is still a necessary skill!
People oh-so-OBVIOUSLY need us.
They might not use us, but they sure as heck need us.
Just like court reporting, our proofreading brains are a tool irreplaceable by technology. They (whoever “they” are) can try their darndest to develop artificial intelligence to detect tons of errors, but nothing will ever surpass the sheer magnificence of the human brain at not just makin’ stuff sound good… but makin’ stuff sound human.
Same goes for the eyes! Yes, those beautiful orbs we so often take for granted… I shall sing a song of praise to them!
Oh, eyes, the vastness of thy abilities is inconceivable! I sometimes have nightmares about losing my sight or my eyes themselves. What technology could ever help me spot the errors or inconsistencies in my transcripts if I were to somehow lose my vision? ::shudders::
On a Lighter Note…
On a final (and lighter!) note, I leave you with one last “funny” to prove my point that we proofreaders are simply irreplaceable.
The first edition of the Pasta Bible cookbook, published by Penguin in 2010, called for a rather unusual yet easy-to-find ingredient in one of its recipes. The cookbook instructs the reader to season a pasta dish with salt and…
wait for it…
…“freshly ground black people.”
The oversight resulted in the destruction of 7,000 copies and a loss of $20,000.
Don’t you forget it, folks! Errors can be costly. And embarrassing.
Any crazy stories to share about how typos have been a helper or a hindrance in your life? Share below!