Typos, eh? They’re sneaky, and they happen to the best of us. But we can’t blame our keyboards for everything…

Technically, a typo is a mistake occurring through misuse (or failure) of the machinery used for typing. It is short for typographical error – the kind of thing that happens all too often when large or inexperienced fingers tap rapidly at small plastic squares for a long time. You might hit the key next to the one you meant, or press letters in the wrong order. (My own finger-fumbling frequently produces the word proofraeder – the irony is not lost on me!)

It’s very easy to dismiss something as ‘just’ a typo, as if it didn’t really matter. Or as if it simply wasn’t your fault, because ‘accidents happen’.

But there is a difference between gobbledygook that appears because your fingers slipped, and genuine mistakes that you might not even realise are wrong.

When it’s a spelling mistake

There may be words that you know you have trouble spelling. There are some real humdingers that catch lots of people out – necessary, accommodate – and others that are personal to you (I was well into my 20s before I knew with certainty that develop does not have an E on the end). With these words, you are likely to look them up or ask a trusted acquaintance before you type.

But there may be others that you are blissfully ignorant about. Maybe you don’t know that alot is not a word. Or that definately should definitely not be spelt that way. (Luckily, now you do!)

If you type a word wrongly because you simply aren’t secure on how to spell it, it’s more of a problem than a typo.

For a start, it’s likely to appear that way everywhere in your writing. Also, you probably won’t notice it so easily – you are already hazy about the correct way to write it, so it won’t leap out at you as being wrong.

When it doesn’t mean what you think it means

Words that sound the same (or nearly) but have different spellings are called homophones. Whichever spelling you use, it’s a real word… so if you’ve chosen the wrong one, spellcheck will probably not flag it up. Common examples of such mistakes include bought/brought, complement/compliment, its/it’s, faze/phase.

Other pairs of word don’t sound the same… but people think they do. For example, advice/advise, lose/loose, flaunt/flout. I’m afraid spellcheck is often no use here, either. And if mis-used words slip through, they aren’t typos – they’re just language errors.

 

When autocorrect doesn’t know what you mean either

Autocorrect does its best, bless it, and it can only work with what it’s given. If your mind goes completely blank at some particularly obscure bit of our glorious language, why do you think an algorithm will do any better than you? It will give you suggestions (some more helpful than others) but it’s up to you to check that any changes say what you intended.

Of course, as an autocorrect ‘fail’ is technically a problem with the machinery used (see the first section), you might choose to call it a typo. Or you might choose to blame autocorrect when you know you made a blunder – after all, who will know otherwise? Either way, it really is best to double-check it before you send it out into the wide world.

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You’re knowledgeable about your own field of expertise – no-one expects you to be an expert at language too. But are you serious about the thing you are writing? Does it have an important job to do? Then it’s not OK to let your mistakes go public. And it’s time to stop taking it out on the typos.