May 4, 2012

Book 101 - Typos

What would books be without typos? Let me rephrase this. Are there books without typos? Probably not. If I should ever come across such a rare specimen of the bookish species I shall definitely let you know. The point is that no matter how often you (or an editor) go(es) through the pages some typos are quite persistent and will remain comfortably on their page all the way to the 5th edition of the book. On the bright side, we all have the tendency to overlook minor errors, be it typographical or grammatical ones. A rogue comma here, a non-agreement in tense there ... it happens to the best of us.

Interesting to know is that a typographical error is a mistake made in, originally, the manual type-setting of printed material, or more recently, the typing process. The term includes errors due to mechanical failure or slips of the hand or finger, but usually excludes spelling errors. Before the arrival of printing, the so-called "copyist's mistake" was the equivalent for what we refer to manuscripts today. Most typos involve simple duplication, omission, transposition, or substitution of a small number of characters.
Distinct from typography is orthography, and you may have already guessed, this is the one where those spelling errors come into play. I introduce you to the orthographical error! Depending on the definition of orthography errors aren't stricly related to spelling, but may include mistakes in hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis and punctuation.

Now, let's take a little trip into history. One of the most notorious misprints that has ever been produced can be found in the 1631 edition of the King James Bible. The seventh commandment appeared in print without the word "not". Now ya all think long and hard - which commandment could that be? Obviously the one where it says (in 1631, England, anyway) "Thou shalt commit adultery." Now you might laugh about this, but back in the days this was a sign of religious heresy and moral degeneracy. So don't even ask about the poor printer who committed this awful crime (allegedly he had to pay quite a hefty fine).

Apart from this rather amusing typo, we've all found ourselves reading books that are more or less full of them. Sometimes it's the annoying ones when people are incapable of using "there" and "their" in the appropriate way, then it's less obvious ones which only induce a frown on the faces of folks working for Oxford University Press (and the likes). And despite many examples to the contrary there is still the belief that self-published books are often filled with typographical errors and in serious need of some good editing. In my experience this is simply not true. I've read books from big publishing houses that almost made me weep due to horrible (or shall I say, non existent) editing.

Either way, how about taking a look at some of The Worst Book Typos Of All Time? Oh yes, let's face it, silly typos are kinda neat! Not being able to know when to use "to" or "too" should be a punishable crime though.

And did you know that some book collectors are quite happy to own early editions that are still full of certain typos? Well, probably only the ones that will actually make you love *wink*.

8 comments:

  1. To learn about more Biblical typos, definitely read The Poisonwood Bible.

    One of the worst typos I ever found was in War for the Oaks. At one point, the heroine's name is misspelled. Oops!

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  2. This is awesome - does a copy of that bible still exist and that's why we know about it or were they all destroyed and we just have the records?

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    1. I'm not sure about this particular Bible, though there are a select few Bibles with "wicked" mistakes as this one to be found eg at the NY Public Library.

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  3. The Poisonwood Bible came to mind when I read this post, too! My favorite character, near the end, starts collecting typographical error Bibles...

    I could definitely see myself being one to collect these kinds of things. I love them!

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  4. I have a friend that works at OUP, I will have to ask her which typos make her frown ;)

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    1. I'm sure she must have quite a few stories to tell - please share if there are some particularly funny ones!

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  5. Someone once offered me 50 bucks or so for a first edition of a German Manga. Back then I was 13 and didn't believe that was a legit offer.. In hinsight I wish I woulda just taken the freaking money. XD

    Typos always amuse me, but I'm certain that I miss quite a few because English isn't my native language. v_v

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    1. What always gets me "worried" about the quality of the editing is when I, non native speaker myself, find lots of mistakes in English books. That always makes me wonder how many more there must be which I'm not even aware of ...

      And hey, maybe you didn't get 50 bucks back then, but maybe 500 today? Unless you put it in the old-paper-recycle-bin, of course!

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