Posted by: cochinblogger | September 30, 2016

Unmarried Mangrove: Anatomy of a Typo

unmarried mangroves.jpg

I usually ignore typos. At the most, I might sigh ruefully. As one who works with language daily, I meet typos often enough that they've stopped evoking any kind of reaction in me. As with a doctor who works in the casualty department (ER in America), even gross mutilations are par for the course. However, when a typo, instead of cowering on the page, leaps from it and hits me between the eyes with something blunt, even jaded me reacts. And that's the effect this one had on me. It's blatantly out there in the middle by itself in bold capital letters. A typo that has the temerity to announce itself like this, I find hard to forgive. The ones that nestle amid the hustle and bustle of word traffic on a page I can understand — and forgive. But not one as crass as this.

Now, despite the high horse I clambered onto in the previous paragraph, I must confess the first thing I did after the abomination blasphemed me was to check the construction on the Net. I've seen many a strange technical term in science, and I wouldn't put it past those who coin scientific terms to come up with "unmarried mangrove." A quick Net check turned up no hits, thus presumably justifying my righteous indignation.

And yet — there's the question of ethics. Is it right to ridicule someone for a typo — even a monstrous type? No. But I haven't gotten personal here, and an obscene typo must be called out for what it is. A typo in a heading or title sticks out like a sore thumb, and in this case, it's the only text on the page. There's not even a fig leaf of cover.

Now for the most interesting part, the detective work. What could have led to this typo? What was going on in the writer's head? The most likely explanation is that he or she selected "unmarred" from a thesaurus or a Malayalam-English dictionary. Then at the next stage, perhaps at the printer's, someone unfamiliar with "unmarred" cleverly corrected the spelling to "unmarried." Not that "unmarred" was the best choice; I'd perhaps have gone with "unspoiled" or "pristine."

Some context: This is from a brochure produced by a small tourism company, not a big corporate house, so errors like this are perfectly understandable. This one glaring mistake apart, it's a great brochure with beautiful photos of the location, as you can see above. Actually, I'm sold. At the earliest opportunity, I'll be using their services. And I will then tactfully tell them about this blooper so that it won't be repeated in future print runs.

Some subtle typos can be well camouflaged, but once detected, they can leap off the page and hit one between the eyes as rudely as "unmarried mangrove." I will give one example from an article in one of India's best magazines. I'm a subscriber and admire the general quality of the writing in the magazine. But in one long piece I found this amusing beauty : "The woman said that Pachauri described to her, in detail, the fascination that Nath held for women's breasts ." (Pachauri is the author of a novel whose protagonist is Nath.) I wrote to the magazine thus:

Now, unless the novel that Pachauri wrote (of which Nath is the protagonist) is in the genre of magic realism and features animated breasts, I think the sentence should read: "The woman said that Pachauri described to her, in detail, the fascination that women's breasts held for Nath."

Whoever read my letter at the magazine's end was evidently not amused, because I did not get a reply.

Now, I found myself looking at the mangrove photos again, and was struck by the following thought: "The mangrove in the bottom pic does look unmarried — single — in its splendid isolation."

Is more going on here than I will ever fathom? 🙂

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