« Wannabe Editors: Can You Pass a Proofreading Test? | Main | And the Winner Is . . . »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Charles Brower

On a project years ago, I neglected to notice that the spellcheck routine had changed references to the Mississippi's infamous Parchman Prison to "Pac-Man Prison." The editor I was freelancing for noticed, though.

Adrienne Montgomerie

Just last month, I noticed a "polo bear" on a late-stage proof, after it had been approved by at least 4 sets of eyes, including my own. And yes, I'm sure it wasn't a new twist on an old sport; but that's a worthy query.

Flubs seem to be more common when I've been line-editing the same material for months. It becomes so familiar that I can't see it clearly anymore. Repeated elements, especially complex or detailed ones such as a person's name, page footers, and URLs, start to "fuzz over." I couldn't possibly enumerate all of the things that someone on the team caught in the nick of time.


A month or so ago I let a headline for an online magazine stand with "payed" instead of "paid." That article was the only work I had that day, which reminded me of when I used to wait tables and did everything right when we were busy, but could easily mess up when we were slow because I wasn't "on."

Jennifer Boynton

Years ago, I was editing a museum magazine and we went to press with Pissarro conquering the Aztecs. I was mortified, but the European art curators loved it.


It was the lead feature article in the launch issue of a pharmaceutical magazine. I checked the proofs for the 85th time. I failed to notice that 'µm' (the symbol for micrometres) had been replaced by 'mm' (millimetres) throughout, making long sections of the article nonsensical. The author didn't seem to care that much... but that's probably because he knew no-one would read it anyway!


The fall issue of a nonprofit's quarterly newsletter went out with "Summer 2009" in the footer of every page. (We fixed it for the pdf version.)

Same organization, different publication: the foreword was titled "Foreward" until the designer noticed at the last minute and saved the day. At least four other people had "proofread" this at that point.



I'll go with the most recent rather than the most glaring (which I've repressed anyhow): In a cookbook I edited last month, the steps for a particular recipe were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5. The author missed it, the development editor missed it, I missed it, and the proofreader missed it.

Linda Lowenthal

When I started at the magazine I work at now, the first issue I worked on had a column by a science fiction writer who is well known but not to me. His first name was spelled wrong on the cover.

At my last job, in a review of a book with a subtitle something like "The Court of the Red Tsar," in the little box showing the title it got changed SOMEHOW--spell check??--to "Court of the Red Tiger." I suppose if one had no idea what the book was about, it could seem like a poetic reference to something or other, and no one noticed.

At the job before that, there was once a headline that said something was "under siege," and for some reason someone in the art department retyped it--as "under seige"--instead of copying and pasting, and the brilliant but dyslexic news editor approved it, and the whole copydesk never thought to check it again because it had been fine last time we looked.

I wish those were my only confessions but they are not.

KC Summers

Remember the Iran-Contra scandal? It was about that time that I wrote a detailed caption for the Washington Post arts section about "Oliver North's new movie, 'Platoon.' " That one made the New Yorker.


I'm chagrined to report that on the first page of a lengthy cultural memoir that I edited, I missed the error in this passage:

"The man was lying facedown in the vestibule of the [temple]. ... Devotees looked at him with curiosity and went [around] his prostate body. ..."

Sigh. I will try to console myself by thinking about how much came out right in this 600-plus-page book.

Jennifer Boynton

Another one. We almost went to press with a photo caption identifying Count Basie as Louis Armstrong. I was proofreading the words and just glancing at the pictures. The designer was looking at the images and not the captions. Thank god the press guys were jazz fans. They caught it and we fixed it.


I'm an American working for a British publisher, adhering to B.E. spellings. While reviewing a list of proof amends on the ms I'd edited, I saw that a proofreader had marked a change from 'practice' to 'practise'. I panicked, thinking this was an issue like ise instead of ize, so what did I do? Did a find and replace and marked all instance of 'practice' be changed on the pdf proof. The file was sent to the typesetter, who sent back a note essentially saying, 'Um, no.' And THEN I looked it up and realised B.E. uses 'practise' only for verbs, whereas A.E. does not distinguish, and it was only the single instance that the author had mistyped. Talk about feeling embarrassed!

Kristi Hein

Never agree to be the proofreader for a project you copyedited. Well, I do that for tech marcom clients, and I reluctantly agreed to do it for a prestigious research institute's annual report. It was a messy, pressured, multi-author undertaking, using placeholder copy and repurposing other authors' pages for format, and I CE'd AND proofread in chunks, not all at once . . . you see where this is going. In the printed report, a study title (headline) was repeated for a different study on a different page. They had to print multiples of the correct title and glue a cut-out over the wrong one on each individual copy of the report. The in-house reviewers missed it too, but still -- ouch!

Joanna Dinsmore

Many years ago when I worked in house for an STM publisher, I was asked to distribute one of the first copies of the final bound book of a slim volume titled Earth Magnetism. The first thing I notice? The spine, where the title appeared as Earth Magentism. At least eight of us had signed off on the routing cover with the error fully visible. Oops.

Henry Ricardo

In going over the proofs for my own book (a college mathematics text), I didn't notice that in a footnote I described a lynx as a kind of weasel rather than as a cat-like animal. A user of the text called the error to my attention. I corrected this mistake for a Spanish version of the book.


In an e-mail promotion I copyedited, I somehow missed three typos: acheive, predicitive, and discrimitate. To this day I am baffled about how I missed them. It's nice to know so many other people have had "off" days! Thanks for this post.


Years ago when I first started working at a publishing company specializing in illustrated books, we did a special edition calendar and sold thousands of advance copies to businesses nationwide. The day after shipment a client called to say her birthday appeared on April 33rd. Although several of us had thoroughly checked the images and captions, no one thought to check the dates in the boxes. We had to reprint and reship them ALL!

Eva Kaminski

I work for a large church, and I just saw an error I made in this Sunday's Easter bulletin.
The current sermon series, "The Parables of Jesus," has been running for six weeks, and I've only been looking closely at each week's subtitle. Somehow, in the Easter service, the most-attended service of the year, a "the" got inserted into the main title. This Sunday's sermon will be on "The Parables of the Jesus."
We print 3,500 pieces for Easter, most of which end up in the hands of visitors (vs. regular attenders). Not a great first impression.


I failed to notice "coalition" spelled as "coaltion" in 70pt type at the top of a front page. Also wrote a headline about "Noble" prize winners. No matter how many brilliant catches you make, it's these moments that are remembered forever...

Maria Duryee

I carefully "fixed" each instance of the issue number for the magazine I edit. However, I should have used my fingers to do the counting because I was off by one. I am still mystified about the process my higher-ups had to go through to get the magazine delivered.

Kristin Anders

I line edited, then copy edited (RWA definitions) an anthology earlier this year. There was no proofreader, so I became the proofer. I tried; I really did. I took breaks between stories. I printed them on paper and changed the font and background color.

So help me, but somehow almost every writer who meat "pour" wrote "pore" and I caught it half of the time.

And three dialogues are missing quotation marks.

But, oh, the clarity, em dashes, and delivery looks great. *sighs*


In a journal I used to copy-edit, one passage from one article is featured on the cover of each issue. We once got an email from that featured author thanking us very much for featuring him on the cover, but where the $*&# was the second half of his article? It had vanished during typesetting, and the editor swore it had been there in his page proofs, but he'd recycled them by that time, so there was no evidence either way. After that I overrode the editor's preferred policy of not sending proofs to authors.

Years ago I worked on the notes & bibliography of, and later proofread, a book about ceramics. Raymond C. Yarbrough was repeatedly cited, sometimes spelled "Yarbrough" and sometimes spelled "Yarborough," and I changed every instance of "Yarbrough" to "Yarborough" without looking it up, only to discover after th fact that "Yarbrough" is correct. I have no excuse for this except that I was young and foolish (I may also have had pregnancy brain).

Recently I opened up an old issue of another journal I used to copy-edit -- an issue that I worked on -- and immediately spotted a ?? in an endnote where I had expected the author to fill in a page number at proof, but s/he evidently hadn't.

I could go on, but I think I'm sufficiently covered in shame now...


As a very junior sub on a local paper I missed an error in the word 'county', which I'm not going to explain because it would cause offence.

I was told that the last time that word got into the paper was twenty years previously and the person responsible got the sack (though he had done it on purpose because he was feuding with the management).

Julia Bodie

I was proofreading a menu for a client last year and missed the word liqueur which had been spelt without the first u. I don't know how, as I did notice it had been spelt wrong elsewhere in the menu.

Was not very popular with my client and have felt bad about it ever since.

Rose Burke

Confessions on a Good Friday, no less!

For a global business article, I mislabeled a big company as based in the U.S. instead of U.K. (Slip of the Excel cell.) Now over a dozen people signed off on the article and didn't see the typo ... review fatigue ... we'd been reviewing and adjusting the article for more than two months. But the readers weren't fatigued. They jumped on it instantly!

I definitely need to clone myself to do the proofreading for that second pair of fresh eyes!


Years ago, as the editor of Performance magazine, I was proofing the flats and didn't notice that a full-page ad had been stripped in upside-down. When the advertiser called (they would, wouldn't they?), I exclaimed, "So what do you think? Now THAT'S gonna get some attention!" Thankfully, they agreed. If ya can't dazzle 'em with brilliance...


Copyediting a recipe for Steak and Eggs for a breakfast cookbook, I was so concerned with making all the egg cooking instructions consistent that I somehow missed that there was no steak in the recipe. Oops!

In my own defense, there was a death in my family that week, so my mind was elsewhere. But a freelancer has to make the deadline, no matter what happens in their personal life.

That editor never assigned anything to me again. But then she left the company so I eventually made it back on that publishing house's copyeditor list.


I also once let a "Foreward" slip through. I bruised my forehead when I saw it in print.

In a concert program I was pretty much doing by myself I've both advertised the lineup of the "2012-2012 season" and listed a composer as being born a few decades after he died.


I wrote an email about a big report that I was project managing as well as copyediting and proofreading. I listed the main dates in the schedule and asked everyone to make a note of when they'd need to do what.
I also stressed how important it was for any late copy changes to come to me for checking.
I sent the email to several colleagues, including my boss, my boss's boss and my boss's boss's boss.
Three minutes later, my boss's boss's boss replied - actually, she replied-all - to query something. Where my schedule had gone from late November back to early November, should that be early December?


Just last week, I removed the descriptor "beatnik-hippie" from a line about Ken Kesey to solve a copyfitting issue. When I got the space back due to another cut, I added back "beatnik-hippy" instead. And of course spellcheck didn't flag it, because that's an approved alternate spelling... but not for our publication. Nobody caught it until the matchprint stage.


After copyediting a final report to a funder, I suddenly noticed during final proofread that the "planning stage"of the project focused on six elements, but only five subheadings followed. It was too late to get more text (or fit such text into design), so I had to write two elements into one subhead to fudge the whole issue. Very embarrassed.


I was editing a magazine article on wine and food parings. Thankfully, before it went to print, I found "lack of ram" where "rack of lamb" should have been!

Nancy Kruh

Many years ago, I meticulously changed "pre-Columbian" to "pre-Colombian" in several references in an art critic's copy, and I felt oh-so-smug that I knew how to spell a commonly misspelled country name. After the story was published the next day, I received a terse lesson in art history from the critic, who was far more gracious than the occasion warranted.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)