Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Plausible typos and homophones – the importance of human proofreaders

Maybe it’s because I’m writing this on a Friday and the prospect of a weekend tipple is looming in blatant disregard for ‘Go Sober’ October, but I seem to have encountered a lot of beer-related typos recently. The processes and products of brewing seem to lend themselves particularly well to slips that still make sense.

Plausible typos – easy (and often amusing) to identify

Here are three that I’ve particularly enjoyed:

  • as water enters, the cells grow lager
  • the ales revenue has increased year on year
  • there are three varieties of beer in North America

Not only have these brought a smile to my lips and cheered me with the thought of a pint, but they have also reassured me as to the superiority of human proofreaders over automated correction systems. No doubt a sophisticated computer program could work out by means of complex algorithms that larger, sales and bear would be more likely in the context, but as yet such analysis is beyond the capabilities of Word’s spelling and grammar checker.

Homophones – not so easy to identify

On the other hand, incorrect homophones are much harder for a human proofreader to spot as they sound right when the phrase is read out loud, and the incorrect word may make sense too. Here are some that are particularly tricky, requiring real-world knowledge that Word certainly does not possess:

  • Zimbabwe, formally/formerly known as Rhodesia, is located in south-east Africa.
  • Hessian is a type of course/coarse material made from natural fibres.
  • Deprivation/Depravation is a major problem in refugee camps.

Knowledge of geopolitical history will tell the human proofreader that formerly is correct in the first sentence, and the context of the second sentence should make it clear that the writer was not referring to student learning resources, but unless some examples follow, the proofreader might have to query with the author whether ‘lack of basic necessities’ or ‘moral corruption’ is intended in the third.

Somehow I seem to have segued from the happy topic of a weekend pint to the sad issue of refugee camps, so I’ll return to my initial subject to say, ‘Cheers! Here’s to human proofreaders!’.

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Posted in Proofreading/copy-editing, Spelling