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The Atomic Typo

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

The typo is the bane of the copyeditor. However careful I am, I'll invariably find a handful during my final read. It could be an extra letter in a word, a deleted letter in a word, a deleted word, etc.

The most insidious typo is what is called the atomic typo: a small change in a word that sabotages the intended meaning. Examples are "from" instead of "form," "manger" instead of "manager," "angel" instead of "angle," and so on. My very first freelance copyediting assignment had this classic atomic typo: "pubic" instead of "public."

Note that spellcheck will not catch these atomic typos. They can be very hard to spot, because the brain of the reader does an excellent job of hiding typos by instantaneously substituting the expected word. Thus, when reading "form here to eternity," the brain instantaneously fills in the expected word, "from," and the reader moves smoothly onward without noticing the mistake. This is great when one is reading for pleasure, but it's a hindrance when one is reading as an editor.



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