Join 3,420 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


When the Real Nazis Start Teaming Up With the Grammar Nazis
June 10, 2014 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Author John Higgs explains why we shouldn’t fix typos.

With a modest proposal to form The Typo Defence Leegue. And just for the record, 'defence with a c' is NOT a typo, it's the British spelling from a British website. Even MeFi's Own Languagehat recognizes both spellings. So their.
posted by oneswellfoop (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a Typo Queen (Typpo Queeen?), I really appreciate that link...but my problem is I think faster than I can type and I don't see the typos until it is too late...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:07 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Frist!
posted by chavenet at 3:09 PM on June 10 [12 favorites]


First they came for the misspellings...
posted by vorpal bunny at 3:14 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Typos and misspellings are different things.
posted by cribcage at 3:18 PM on June 10 [11 favorites]


finally my time to shine
posted by The Whelk at 3:22 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


At first I was skeptical, but then he slyly referenced the Principia—and I was enlightened.

Hail Eris! All hail Discordia!
posted by narain at 3:31 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Does this idea also apply to those who, for whatever reason, lack the will to use any punctuation? I mean, I can point you to large, popular boards where the lack of differentiation between their, there, and they're have melded with an utter refusal to use even a single period. And, no, they aren't writing Joycean prose. They're writing about plasti-dipping their Jettas.

I ask because this little idea seems ready-made to quickly descend to the lowest of the common denominators.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:34 PM on June 10


If the American Nazi Party are right in thinking that good presentation subconsciously grants them legitimacy, then maybe we shouldn’t value correct English quite so highly.

Nazi: People take us more seriously when we wear pants.
John Higgs: EVERYBODY STOP WEARING PANTS!

Is this satire? I can't tell anymore.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:35 PM on June 10 [29 favorites]


I'm not convinced. Of course to err is human, and no one wants to produce something with inhuman perfection. But our humanity is not only shown through our mistakes; in my case, I think my humanity is shown in a lack of mistakes, because it expresses what I value, and shows that I am detail-oriented and capable of recognizing, admitting, and fixing errors. I'd be glad if that showed through in my writing.

If a document has errors, one may be left wondering whether the author:

A: made the errors and didn't notice
B: made the errors and noticed, but didn't care
C: made the errors but didn't know the difference
D: made the errors and chose to leave them, with expressive intent
E: made the errors on purpose for some reason

and so on. Of course spelling variations and the like, and purposeful playfulness with language are a whole other issue. Not correcting typos, though, sounds a bit like "let us not wash dishes. We were born dirty, why should our plates not reflect that?"
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:37 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


Uhm, its "type o's."
Sheesh.
posted by Floydd at 3:42 PM on June 10


so the question is whether to be type O positive...or type O negative?
posted by Earthtopus at 3:45 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


If the American Nazi Party are right in thinking that good presentation subconsciously grants them legitimacy, then maybe we shouldn’t value correct English quite so highly.

Nazi: People take us more seriously when we wear pants.
John Higgs: EVERYBODY STOP WEARING PANTS!

Is this satire? I can't tell anymore.


I knew there was a blatant fallacy in that argument. 10Q.
posted by jwhite1979 at 3:49 PM on June 10


Is it going to turn out that John Higgs is the deep cover anti fascist who makes sure no British train ever runs on time?
posted by biffa at 3:51 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Nazi: People take us more seriously when we wear pants.
John Higgs: EVERYBODY STOP WEARING PANTS!

Is this satire? I can't tell anymore.


That's because pants means underwear in the UK so you wouldn't be able to tell.
posted by srboisvert at 4:01 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I've got a bit of a crankish pet peeve regarding the use of "unprofessional" -- from my perspective it ought to mean primarily "performing one's core work functions in accordance with legitimately applicable professional standards", perhaps secondarily "expressing oneself in the work environment, both verbally and nonverbally, in a way that interacts wisely with local norms", and generally not "ninnying people, particularly people who are not paid well and do not have a lot of discretion in how to perform work tasks, over stupidly trivial details of their conduct which do not pertain to their core work function or perhaps to their work at all". Unfortunately, common usage seems to be more or less the reverse. Hence, I am a crank. I accept this, I suppose.

The issue here is kind of parallel, in that the plea was for literal Nazis to communicate in a "professional" fashion online -- meaning, speleled correctly, rather than not full of racist bullshit. And the sad thing is, if they could pull it off (ha), that sort of thing probably actually would have a detectable impact on their credibility -- it's somewhat disturbing the horrible things folks will nod and smile about, provided it's said in accordance with the proper "polite" social form.
posted by sparktinker at 4:04 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


It depends entirely on medium, mode, and rhetorical function. Are you printing a hundred thousand copies to ship with your product? Please hire an editor. Are you sending something for consideration by a conference or publisher? Please edit carefully.

But are you composing informal email, blogs, tweets, and instant messages? Do the best you can with the time you chose to spend in the space you have.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:10 PM on June 10


Nazi: People take us more seriously when we wear pants.
John Higgs: EVERYBODY STOP WEARING PANTS!


There was one style of pants that went totally out of style because the Nazis wore them (not to mention those double-brested long coats)

Then again, anything to make not wearing pants more acceptable is OK with me. (Though some of you may not like to see the efects of 50 years hiding my legs)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:20 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


MISSPELLERS OF THE WORLD UNTIE
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:28 PM on June 10


Leaving typos -- and I mean true typos, mis-keyings -- unfixed is probably okay when it's clear that it's a hurried communication, but in anything more formal, where the recipient or reader might expect some level of proofreading to have happened, it demonstrates laziness and might be easily construed as contempt. Showing someone that you haven't bothered to proofread is something I'd recommend doing only at your peril; it can very easily be misread as a sort of dominance display, the written equivalent of coming in and putting your feet up on someone's desk, since you are telling them that they need to take the time to read what you clearly couldn't be bothered to read yourself.

That's different than a reasoned, consistent disagreement with an aspect of grammar. There are aspects of "conventional" written American English that I disagree with and simply refuse to abide by. (My personal hill to die on is the wrongness of putting punctuation inside quotation marks. Unless you're hand-setting metal type it's a stupid anachronism, it leads to inaccurate quotations, and it's just wrong.) Other people are pro/anti Oxford comma, pro/anti semicolon, em-vs-en-dash, one inter-sentence space vs. two inter-sentence space, etc. These are all matters of taste, or personal style, and it really is obnoxious to "correct" people on them based on some Dead White Guy's style guide, except in instances where there really is a hard requirement for consistency with that style guide, and you're the person designated to make the correction (e.g. their editor).

The argument in TFA, about mistakes making us "more human" or somesuch, doesn't hold much water with me. Anything built by humans is going to be inherently imperfect, so there's no reason not to at least try to correct the really obvious errors.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:53 PM on June 10 [15 favorites]


The UK spelling is 'pance' with a 'c'.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:58 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


If anything, a few mistakes can make the author feel more present in the work. They also make the reader feel closer to the moment of creation.
The ghost of Elmore Leonard would like a word with you.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:01 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


(My personal hill to die on is the wrongness of putting punctuation inside quotation marks. Unless you're hand-setting metal type it's a stupid anachronism, it leads to inaccurate quotations, and it's just wrong.)

I have such a high-five here for you.
posted by rifflesby at 5:04 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


(My personal hill to die on is the wrongness of putting punctuation inside quotation marks. Unless you're hand-setting metal type it's a stupid anachronism, it leads to inaccurate quotations, and it's just wrong.)

Which is more of an issue with the Grammar Sith...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:09 PM on June 10


Could we get the mods to disable the edit window for this post?
posted by mbrubeck at 5:10 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


If anything, a few mistakes can make the author feel more present in the work. They also make the reader feel closer to the moment of creation.

And sometimes an increasing number of them towards the end of some dull tome can make the reader feel closer to the poor, beleaguered proofreader who was also bored out of their mind halfway through the damn thing.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:24 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Do you know who else tried to fix typos?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 5:37 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Does this mean my book is already finished and I can stop with the self-flagellation?
posted by sonascope at 6:11 PM on June 10


There was one style of pants that went totally out of style because the Nazis wore them (not to mention those double-brested long coats)

Also England. Well, Wodehouse England.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:37 PM on June 10


Its post's like this one that makes me love Metafilter.
posted by 4ster at 7:05 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


I've noticed a phenomenon with some upper management types with whom I occasionally communicate. I am not sure, but suspect it falls into one of the categories BlackLeotardFront described. It's a combination of abhorrent grammar and a complete lack of effort in spelling, punctuated by a Sent from my iPhone that seems to say, "Fuck you, I'm too important to actually read the email I'm sending you." Am I reading into things too much, or is The Man that much of an asshole?
posted by goHermGO at 7:45 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


As a Language Arts teacher, who came across this post in the midst of correcting the grammar mistakes of my students' papers, I have a few thoughts on the matter. Actually more like one overarching thought: context matters.

There's a scale of acceptable sloppiness in writing, from the drunken texts you send to your equally drunken friends (highly acceptable, and even expected and appreciated), to writing the cover letter for an interview for your dream job (highly unacceptable and extremely inadvisable).

Those are the extremes, and there's a lot of grey area in the middle, so blanket statements that prescriptivists want everyone to follow at all times is just dumb.

Now, back to the red marks. (Grammar mistakes on a paper for your Language Arts class? Highly unacceptable).
posted by zardoz at 8:16 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


There's an incredibly annoying trend in academic book reviews to do the listing of typos in a book (even when it's just one or two typos) or to say 'there were no typos in the book that I could find.' It drives me bonkers because, yes, typos where the meaning is affected or where they're there every line are noteworthy, but otherwise it's just irritating and adds nothing to the review except that I discover you are the person who reads the table of contents from start to end and have read the bibliography for appendix 7.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:20 PM on June 10


Y'know, just because the Nazis like something doesn't make it automatically bad. As indicators go it's not worthless, but they can say something like errors aren't great and not have the reaction be 'Nazis don't like errors, so we must!'

Mistakes are mistakes, and seeing them in text doesn't make it more human. It just obfuscates meaning and makes it harder to read, and can even undermine attempts at immersion.

But I attempt to spell and punctuate my texts properly, so perhaps I'm in the hateful category.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:53 PM on June 10


Dwon flingers.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:24 PM on June 10


A: made the errors and didn't notice
B: made the errors and noticed, but didn't care
C: made the errors but didn't know the difference
D: made the errors and chose to leave them, with expressive intent
E: made the errors on purpose for some reason


The correct anwser is:

F. All of the above!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:44 PM on June 10


ut, surely, it is the message that we should be focusing on, not the professionalism of its delivery? I

Yse< its teh messag ethat we shoudl b efocussing on, butt i oftenf ind itshard too prase text wehn tehre are typo's. Their distracting. There confusing.

Teh massage cna get's lots int he delivry.
posted by qcubed at 10:46 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


On a more serious note, the whole thing about legitimacy also bothers me. People who look foreign (that is to say, those who look like they aren't native speakers), as well as other minorities, are frequently assumed to butcher and mangle English.

It's also, however, one of the quickest ways to prove facility with it, as well as provide some legitimacy--even if it then gets beaten down with the whole, "You speak so well/You have no accent!" line.

So I'm still really not sold on this notion of not really caring about typos.
posted by qcubed at 11:13 PM on June 10


Related...
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:40 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


My spelling was great until I started to study other languages, especially Russian - some of the letters have the same shape as Latin letters, but stand for a completely different sound. Then I started to study phonetics, and that made it worse; I often end up switching some letters for the IPA representing sounds.

It's really not necessary to care about typos. I mean, people get along without standardized spelling - English did! But since other people care, it's hard not to care. I still have an instinctive I take this person less seriously reaction when I see a post with a lot of typos, even though I know it's baseless.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:53 AM on June 11


There's a biological basis to all this.

We use language cues to determine who is linguistically like us and who is linguistically different. Birds do this too. All the birds in one valley twitter with the same accent. A few hundred yards out the birds in the next area twitter in a subtly different manner. When a bird who twitters in the wrong accent flies into the valley and perches on a tree and starts vocalizing the other birds react with indignation and fury and swoop over to peck at the interloper.

You may have noticed that feelings run high when it comes to correct pronunciation or spelling or misuse of the comma. This is because when someone uses different language they mark themselves as sufficiently different from your social group that you get a trigger to defend yourself by harassing them. "Don't talk like that here!!"

There is a range in the degree of reaction, with "O God, what a sexy French accent!" from an exogamously wired person at one end and genocide at the other where the discomfort induced by hearing a foreign accent leads to an appalling level of violence which is justified as being retaliatory because after all, "We must protect ourselves and our children!"

Accents are used to make sweeping generalizations, for example in Canada a Newfie accent getting used to identify the speaker as stupid.

It's not just humans and birds that have this trait, other primates and cows and many more animals show sensitivity to language as a trigger for aversive or aggressive behavior.

Once I learned about this from reading about social behavior in animals I started to be embarrassed by being over sensitive about commas or an O being drawled longer than felt familiar to my ears.

And yet, there are only two language mistakes that are utterly unforgivable. At least that's what I think. The first is when someone misuses the phrase hoi polloi by adding the word the to the front of it as in "the hoi polloi" which can be translated as "the The People" with a extraneous word the inserted by someone who hasn't yet learned the meaning of the Greek word hoi. The other inexcusable mistake is when someone puts a period after the title Ms as if it were an abbreviation like Mr. and Mrs. instead of a stand alone word like Miss. Both of those solecisms bring thumping waves of red rage into my head and cannot in good conscience be tolerated by any person with the smallest degree of education or good-upbringing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:14 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


And yet, there are only two language mistakes that are utterly unforgivable. At least that's what I think. The first is when someone misuses the phrase hoi polloi by adding the word the to the front of it as in "the hoi polloi" which can be translated as "the The People" with a extraneous word the inserted by someone who hasn't yet learned the meaning of the Greek word hoi. The other inexcusable mistake is when someone puts a period after the title Ms as if it were an abbreviation like Mr. and Mrs. instead of a stand alone word like Miss. Both of those solecisms bring thumping waves of red rage into my head and cannot in good conscience be tolerated by any person with the smallest degree of education or good-upbringing.

Satire, yeah?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:27 AM on June 11


Not correcting typos, though, sounds a bit like "let us not wash dishes. We were born dirty, why should our plates not reflect that?"

The fundamental difference is that using dirty dishes can pose a health risk and an aversion to filth seems to be instinctual in human beings. Writing, on the other hand, is a technological innovation whose manifestation varies by culture.

A more appropriate analogy would be, "let us not use forks and spoons, but eat with our hands." Using cutlery isn't inherently superior or more natural. Many cultures do eat with their hands. Others have eating utensils, but they're different than the knife, fork, and spoon set that we're used to. In fact, the standard cutlery set is a relatively recent invention.

The reason I don't eat with my hand in the US1 is that other people don't eat with their hands; it's ingrained that you use cutlery. If I saw someone eating with their hands at an Italian restaurant in the US, I would probably be all, OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING? But when I'm elsewhere, I eat with my hand. The reaction is entirely due to culture.

1 This is a generalization. Some foods are okay to eat with your hands, especially foods eaten in a casual setting. Hmmm.....
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:47 AM on June 11


There was one style of pants that went totally out of style because the Nazis wore them (not to mention those double-brested long coats)

Not to derail, but jodhpurs are a special kind of horse riding pants that are still used today. They don't flare at the hip anymore because we have stretch fabrics nowadays. I'm not sure they were ever "in style" for anything other than riding, except as a military uniform, and cavalry-related fashions went out of style for the military because we stopped using horses. It's a bit like suggesting that wearing baggy pajama-like clothing went out of style because of the Black Sox scandal.
posted by slkinsey at 5:49 AM on June 11


The reason I don't eat with my hand in the US1 is that other people don't eat with their hands; it's ingrained that you use cutlery.

The reason I don't eat food that was meant to be eaten with a fork and knife with my hands is that it is usually messier, less practical and less enjoyable. I'll skip the knife and fork if it makes sense to skip it, or use chopsticks or whatever when it makes sense to do so.

It's not some meaningless habit I picked up without realizing, and the same goes with grammar or proper punctiation: it makes the text easier to read, and helps me communicate better. As a bonus feature, if you know the rules and follow them, you can break them for effect and convey an extra layer of meaning.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:14 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


It's not some meaningless habit I picked up without realizing

That's not at all what I said. I said that having standardized spelling is cultural, and I used the analogy to cutlery because there are a lot of similarities.

If you think that you eat with a knife and fork solely because it's more practical and enjoyable and that this has nothing to do with the culture you were raised in - well, that's another similarity. We often accept cultural practices as a given, even though they often aren't once we step outside our own perspectives.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:51 AM on June 11


https://twitter.com/AndyBreckmanMan/status/393798702558892032
posted by crazy_yeti at 6:53 AM on June 11


When I worked as a cataloger for a local public library system, I cataloged a LOT of self-published books. As they came across my desk, I would typically flip through them to see if I could find any typos. Oddly enough, there just weren't that many, mainly because so many folks use software that catches misspellings and typos.

However, there were always a number of words used incorrectly. Like a lot. So many in some books that it made it almost impossible to read. At first, I thought they would just be homophones, but then I realized that it was more than that. It was authors using words they'd never actually seen written down. Finally, I started reading the more problematic paragraphs out loud and then I was able to make sense of them.

My favorites were:
"She climbed out of the window cell and jumped into the butches."
"Don't argue with me about this. I don't want to get into a Tick for Tack with you."
"The same wife he had lost because of the bad choices he had mad."

I think typos that are missed letters or incorrectly spelled words aren't that much of a problem when typing in a word processing software. But incorrect words? They just make it harder to understand what you are trying to say.
posted by teleri025 at 7:24 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


We could all druve in whatever side of the road we felt like. Sure, it would be a lot harder and take a lot more time to get where you were goini, because you;d have to looke closely at each car and weave arund it. you;d have to dive really slowly to maneuver around traffic dirving the other way in the same lane. Traffic laws are completely arbitrary, but they mae our lives a lot easier because everybody knows what he's supposed to do, has a reasonble expectation of what everybody else is going to do, and doesn;t have to agonize over every little thing instead of just getting on with his business in a more or less automatic manner once he's mastered the rules.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:31 AM on June 11


He should found an organization to promote cigarette smoking.
posted by John Cohen at 8:43 PM on June 11


« Older When money's tight, humans define 'people like me'...  |  What to do when you are stuck ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments