Thanks to Laura, who wrote in a comment the other day, “So, what is the difference between a typo and a grammar goof?”
It’s an interesting question. Strictly speaking, a typographical error is a very specific kind of error. It is, by definition, “a mistake in printing, typesetting, or typing, especially one caused by striking an incorrect key on a keyboard.”
I’m going to take “grammar goof” to mean an innocent mistake by your average writer (not a word nerd, although we make them, too). To me, the difference between this and a typo is somewhat subjective and sort of depends on how rigidly you apply rules of language to all or some parts of your life. To a prescriptivist, a rule is a rule is a rule. To MRP, there’s room for forgiveness.
For example, the same spelling mistake came across my computer screen twice in two days. One was in an e-mail from a friend. The other was on boston.com:
Okay, here’s the deal: He spells it Scorsese. In referring to my friend’s e-mail, I called it a misspelling (I’m thinking akin to what Laura calls a grammar goof). When I saw it on boston.com, I called it a typographical error.
Why? Because in one case, knowing my friend, I was pretty certain she just didn’t know how to spell Scorsese. To my editorial mind, however, boston.com printing Scorcese without fact-checking the spelling is a typo.
I think this is a good chance to share a little tidbit I found on Blue Pencil Editing.
Ode to the Typographical Error
Paris in the Spring
The typographical error is a slippery thing and sly;
You can hunt till you are dizzy, but it somehow will get by.
Till the forms are on the press, it is strange how still it keeps.
It shrinks down in a corner, and it never stirs or peeps –
That typographical error, too small for human eyes –
Till the ink is on the paper, when it grows to mountain size.
The boss, he stares with horror, then he grabs his hair and groans;
The copyreader drops his head upon his hands and moans.
The remainder of the issue may be clean as clean can be,
But the typographical error is the only thing you see.
Now the question of how to deal with grammar goofs versus typos is also somewhat subjective. This blog addresses many different kinds of grammar errors, all of which can be interesting, instructive, and entertaining.
Other editor types: please chime in.