On the subject of typos in books and journal articles, there are some with obvious causes and some without.  Of the ones without, substitution of one letter in a word by another with a similar shape is the most frequent.  By this I mean that ‘h’ appears in a word in place of ‘b,’ ‘c’ instead of ‘e,’ and even, as I saw today, ‘r’ instead of ‘x.’  While I can see how an untrained machine converting handwritten letters to print could make such errors, I’m fairly certain that modern publishing companies do not create typed versions of written works by having a computer attempt to translate  some guy’s erratic handwriting.  Nor is it likely that translations from faded print text to new print text are performed on old works.

So how are ‘h’ and ‘b’ confused?  I suppose those two letters are fairly close on a QUERTY keyboard, but ‘r’ and ‘x’ are located in opposite directions from the home row, as are ‘c’ and ‘e.’  Furthermore, although these pairs are composed of letters similar in shape, they are by no means so similar that they could be interchanged and still escape the notice of a decent editor.

Is this the culprit?

Is this the culprit?

Unless this is some sort of game played by publishers, I can’t imagine how these errors occur.  I have heard that people are capable of reading words with scrambled letters, so long as the first and last letters are in their proper places.  Even so, to do such a thing would be idiotic.

I don’t suppose that an editor would enjoy reading Quine so much that the actual editing of his papers would be neglected.

Brilliant mind, perhaps poor penmanship.

Brilliant mind, perhaps poor penmanship.

This is as much a question as it is a quick comment, since I know far too little about the publishing process to speculate further as to the explanation for this strange occurrence.  Any insight would be greatly appreciated.



  1. Dan says:

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Patricia, but: people are stupid.

    And how did Quine not turn to dust when the flash went off?

  2. Patricia says:

    “people are stupid”

    That may be true, but it doesn’t explain how the hell letters get substituted for look-a-likes. I’ve never gone to type an ‘e’ and accidentally hit the ‘c’ key. I find it hard to believe that even stupid people make that sort of mistake, let alone with such frequency.

    Also, I’m not a scientist or a poet, but the expression is “ashes to ashes, DUST to dust,” not “old philosophers to dust.” Then again, I think “dust to dust” is intended to mean that people die and re-enter the ecosystem at the bottom by decomposing. So perhaps your question is legitimate.

    Apparently it was not yet Quine’s time to go.

  3. Karin says:

    Actually, it may be far more innocent than you think ….

    Basically, it *could* (and in the case of a paper by Quine probably *does*) come down to the fact that OCR (optical character recognition) software just isn’t all that good. It gets us a lot of the way there, but it messes up a lot, too.

  4. lgrawr says:

    I’ve always assumed errors like these were due to faulty OCR somewhere in the transcription-ancestry, like Karin mentioned. It tends to happen especially frequently if running OCR on poor or fading copies.

  5. Patricia says:

    Thanks to both of you; I had never heard of this OCR business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: