or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Here's something I think you will enjoy: a website called Curious Taxonomy. Why shouldn't biologists and botanists have some fun with their Latin nomenclature? The site lists such oddities as taxa consisting of nothing but vowels (Aiouea, a species of laurel), puns such as the beetle Eurygenius, and rude-sounding names like the fungus Botryotinia fuckeliana (named after a German botanist named Fuckel). Lots of fun stuff in there. A great place to waste half an hour.


Typos are bad for a number of reasons. They suggest inattention to detail and they occasionally force one to wonder about the intelligence of the writer (which raises the question of whether the words at hand are worth reading), but worst of all, in my opinion, they forcibly drag the reader out of the text and maroon him or her in that mental space in which they are forced to speculate about the writer's intelligence and inattention to detail as they wonder what was really meant.

In a recent Slate.com article about those yogurts that supposedly help your digestive system is the following sentence:

There are two curious aspects to this clam.

There are many curious aspects to the clam, such as that they don't have blood vessels, but oxygenate and detoxify their various organs in a sort of broth of seawater and bodily fluids. That's pretty interesting!

The correct word in the passage in question is "claim", and I certainly do apologize for saying this over and over again, but

1) no mechanical spellchecker could have caught this error, and
2) it's the sort of mistake that any writer could commit, and
3) this is why all writing needs to be re-read by the writer, and
4) as long as the written word exists, copy editors will still be indispensable.

Here's the bottom-to-top hierarchy in online writing, as far as I'm concerned:

• Comments, the letters-to-the-editor section of any website, are going to have mistakes in them, because they're usually dashed off and can hardly ever be changed once they're posted.
• Blogs have an obligation to be readable, and that means reviewing writing both before and after it's posted, with changes made as necessary; but the standards are not as high as most other published writing, because there is not usually any outside editing.
• Paid writing on a website is held to the same standards as any other paid writing: the writer must make sure it's correct, re-reading as often as necessary to ensure this, and the website must also do its part to make sure that the writing is as error-free as possible. This means hiring copy editors.

But since many newspapers and magazines don't seem to use any kind of copy editors any more, why should I expect that web writing would?


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