Typo (4): (no) Standard English

[The task of documenting all the words in the English lanuguage] no longer seems finite. Lexicographers are accepting the languages boundlessness. They know by heart Murray’s famous remark: “The circle of the English language had a well defined centre but no discernable circumference.” In the centre are the words everyone knows. At the edges, where Murray placed slang and cant and scientific jargon and foreign border crossers, everyone’s sense of the language differed and no one’s can be called “standard.”

James Gleick – The Information

Seth Godin on fear and reassurance

The way [of handling fear] that doesn’t work is reassurance. Reassurance doesn’t work because you need an infinite amount of it. Someone can give you reassurance for five minutes and then ten minutes later you go “Ooohh no no no.” So the number of times that you need to be told by someone you trust and respect that you’re going to be fine is too high to even ask for it.

For me, the alternative is generosity. That is an excellent answer to fear. That if you are doing this on behalf of someone you care about, the fear takes a backseat. So if you want to figure out how to make books, go to a charity you care about and make a book for them, because now your fear feels selfish. If you want to figure out how to make marketing work, go and market for an organisation that you believe in. If you can find a lonely person and make them unlonely, a disconnected person and make them feel connected, you can make a practice of that. And the upside is it helps you walk straighter and stand taller.

Seth Godin – on Love Your Work with David Kadavy

Typo (3): the myth of correct spelling

Ironically – considering the frequency with which school children use it for exactly this purpose – the Oxford English Dictionary never set out to specify “correct” spelling.

For “mackerel”, the second edition in 1989 listed 19 alternative spellings. The unearthing of sources never ends, though, so the third edition revised entry in 2002 listed no fewer than thirty: maccarel, mackaral, mackarel, mackarell, mackerel, mackarell, mackeril, mackreel, mackrel, mackril, macquerel, macquerell, macrel, macrell, macrelle, macril, macrill, makarell, makcaral, makerel, makerell, makerelle, makral, makrall, makreill, makrel, makrell, makyrelle, maquerel, and maycril.

As lexicographers, the editors would never declare these alternatives to be wrong: misspellings. They do not wish to declare their choice of spelling for the headword, mackerel, to be “correct”. They emphasize that they examine the evidence and choose “the most common current spelling.”

A new entry as of December 2003 memorialized “nuclar”: “= nuclear, (adjective, in various senses).”

James GleickThe Information

All spellings are made up, and exist as dynamic parts of the complex adaptive system of language. Conclusion: we waste too much attention on typos.

Typo (2): error rate

The other thing about typos is how few we actually make relative to the attention we pay to them.

A single spelling or grammar mistake in a thousand words leaps off the page – is embarrassing – but makes no difference to our understanding.

We pay errors far more attention than they deserve as signals of the quality of a piece of writing – and in most contexts a 0.1% error rate is considered excellent anyway.

Polish is important – but not as a substitute for workmanship.

Typo (1)

I was reading an article – a thoughtful, well researched, nicely structured, neatly expressed piece of writing about something important – when I came across the typo.

“Ha!” ran my interior monologue. “This person is an idiot. I am smarter than they are.”

Of course, it’s better if a text is error-free. But typos and spelling mistakes are probably the least important problems a piece of writing can have and are by far the easiest things to fix.

Perhaps that’s why we’re trained to pay them so much attention: it’s a lot easier to teach kids to spell than to help them learn to think, to have something worth saying, and to say it convincingly or winsomely.

Inwardly ridiculing the idiot who misspelled a word or two is a cheap trick we use to feel good about ourselves – with the added benefit that it allows us to hide from the fact that the writer in question (smarter or not) has taken the time to write something, and we haven’t.

Sprinkler system

Using a garden sprinkler system is a type of outsourcing – to technology, instead of people.

The time saved is almost certainly worth the money spent.

Whether it’s abdication/dumbing down/opting out/wanton destruction of a perfectly good job or creates the opportunity to improve the garden with new and better work (finding better grass, planting new roses, adding a home-made sundial) isn’t about the sprinkler.

Friction (3): when friction helps

Friction in the wrong places slows us down and drains our energy, but it has its uses:

  • Friction in processes or emotional friction it’s often a sign that we have work to do
  • Friction is our friend when we need to be slowed down – it makes us pause, think, look before we leap and check that things are right. Getting people to agree to things, formal sign offs and purchasing processes all have their place.
  • Friction can be a filter – making something more difficult can encourage people to drop out, help them (or you) to realise it’s not for them, saving everyone time.

So what? Some questions.

  • Where are the most painful points of friction in your workflow? What slows you down – or slows others down as they work with or for you? Are there barriers you can remove to make things easier? Which relationships do you need to invest in – or end?
  • Where do things happen faster than you’d like? Add a step – a form to be completed, a permission, an audition – to slow things down.
  • Use friction to discourage people who aren’t serious. Make it meaningful and relevant (like giving you information that you always need to ask for or candidates demonstrating a skill in a real piece of work). Fewer people coming through a process allows you to do better work with those that do.