This article first appeared in 2003 in Marty Cantor’s fanzine No Award.
No title in fanzine history has ever made a promise more certain of being kept than “Typos by Mike Glyer.”
This article is really about fandom’s great and infamous typos but after I put the word at the top of my draft as a placeholder I realized the letterhacks will be circling my own mistakes like sharks. Just let it be said no attempt is being made to dishonestly inflate the count with deliberate mistakes. I’ve shied away from that sort of humor since an embarrassing experience in junior high school.
Back then I used to write a daily journal in a spiral notebook that I carried in my shirt pocket. Another student, Lee Pierson, thought something so secret must be worth knowing. He grabbed my notebook out of my pocket and ran off to read it. Lee was probably the smartest kid in school — he graduated as a National Merit Scholar – which may help explain why he thought the teasing would be even more delicious if he copyedited every page of the journal before he gave it back. Having no comeback for his critique of my grammar, I weakly countered another point, claiming, “Some of those misspellings are intentional!” This merely invited Lee to have the last word: “Intentional misspellings are meaningless when true errors abound.”
I’ve taken Lee’s axiom to heart, filing it alongside other famous rules of writing like those given by Mark Twain in “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” Whether or not I decide to obey any of those rules in this piece – would you notice if I did “eschew surplusage”? – every typo in this article will be genuine.
More than that, every one will be mine, a rarity in my experience with No Award. This time Marty Cantor will actually cut-and-paste the article from my word processing file. Previously, it’s been his inexplicable habit to print out a copy and retype my entire contribution from scratch. I shudder to think about those past experiences. Can you imagine anything more difficult to decipher than something I’ve allegedly copedited, filtered through Marty’s typing? Not even those 10 million monkeys with keyboards trying to produce Shakespeare can randomly equal that mess.
Fortunately (and here we finally arrive at the original topic: surplusage definitely has not been eschewed!), Marty and I publish our work in the fanzine medium, where readers tolerate a certain number of typos.
What is that number? I don’t know. You should ask the scientist who tells the FDA how many bug particles are allowed in a hot dog. Today scientists can be trusted to make these kinds of measurements. On the other hand, America’s 19th century men of science could not. David Peck, lecturer on the medical aspects of the Lewis and Clark expedition, says Captain William Clark spelled mosquito three different ways in his journal — never once getting it right! Clark’s guesses were musquetors, misquitoes, and musquitor. Of course, such mistakes are completely overshadowed by his great accomplishments and all the hardships he endured. If Marty Cantor routinely killed and ate grizzly bears for dinner nobody would say a word about the typos in No Award, either. Or much of anything besides “Yes, sir! How high, sir?”
Fanzine readers don’t merely tolerate typos. They actively exploit them as if they were the cultural equivalent to chromosomal mutations. The right typo can lead to immortality. Fans always sang parody lyrics to well-known tunes, but America’s resurgent interest in folk music during the 1950s opened the way for Lee Jacobs to make the typo that fans have embraced as the name of the activity. He submitted a manuscript titled “The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music” to SAPS. Official editor Wrai Ballard declared it unmailable, triggering a controversy that helped make this typo a permanent part of the fannish lexicon.
Walt Willis’s typo “poctsarcd” also earned enduring fame, as Harry Warner explained in A Wealth of Fable:
“While [Walt Willis] was corresponding at a great rate with Lee Hoffman, brief messages were crossing the Atlantic almost daily on postcards. For some reason Lee failed to mail any postcards for several days. Walter concernedly sent her one with the query, ‘What, no poctsarcds?’ Lee explained to him that she had been unable to find any ‘poctsarcds,’ after looking for them in every store in Savannah. Willis, publishing fanzines by a printing press at this time, immediately produced an ample stock of poctsarcds, clearly identified as such in the imprint, kept some for himself and sent the rest to her.”
Filk has become the common label for a popular fan activity, while poctsarcds keeps its place in the lexicon as one of the passwords fans use to show they are initiated into a deeper level of fannish knowledge. Besides dropping references to fanhistorical typos, the other ways fans demonstrate their great knowledge is by being able to answer questions like “Who sawed Courtney’s boat?” and avoiding the convention hotel where the Association of Narcotics Agents has started moving in.
Fandom’s occasional transformation of typos into hallmarks of sophistication is a contrast with the mundane world, though it only extends so far. The typos that are adopted into the regular fannish vocabulary are as rare as lottery winners. And Lee Pierson’s comment that intentional typos are devalued by too many ordinary typos, a writer’s equivalent of Gresham’s Law, helps explain why very few fanwriters are clever enough to profit from deliberately using them. Though the possibility that it occasionally works is implied in a passage from The Enchanted Duplicator by Walt Willis and Bob Shaw:
“’Horrible?’ laughed Kerles. ‘Everyone fights shy of me on account of these Typos, but actually they are quite agreeable fellows. Look, they will even do tricks for me.’ So saying, he stretched out his Shield of Umor, which was large and brilliantly polished, and gave a word of command. Instantly several of the Typos jumped neatly over the Shield, performing somersaults and such other odd antics that Jophan burst out laughing.”
Mostly, though, typos just make the writer look dumb. If he happens to be writing something that annoys anyone, critics will quickly find a way to point that out because we are trained to interpret sloppiness as evidence of sloppy thinking, even when it’s only sloppy typing.
It’s never wise for me to post my first reaction to a hot topic on an e-mail listserve anyway, and less so because I inevitably sabotage the effort by overlooking typos or the presence of extra words that ought to have been erased when a line was rewritten. I should stay out of arguments with fans who are also professional editors because in no time at all they make me sound sillier than monkey #10,000 on the Shakespeare project.
Typos routinely turn into comic relief for readers on the sidelines of these arguments. LA fans who devoted thousands of words feuding with Charles Korbas, the white supremacist contributor to APA-L, weren’t above noticing the time he missed the comma and hit the next key over, giving himself a Korbasm.
It doesn’t require an argument or feud for mistakes to come under the magnifying glass, a friendly rivalry will work just as well, like the one between LASFS and NESFA. One year the LASFS voted the Forrest J Ackerman Award for Lifetime Achievement (the “Forry Award”) to Hal Clement. When the plaque arrived in Boston they noticed it actually said “Liftime Achievement,” tarnishing the effect, though it was a science-fictional sounding typo. Then a fanzine reporting on Hal’s win got another part of the name wrong, referring to it as the “Folly Award.” After that both coasts had a lot to say about the Folly Award for Liftime Achievement.
Typos committed by corporations, even the LASFS, are always regarded as blemishes on their image. Fans also can tend to be overbearing about mistakes of English usage by those for whom it is a second language. When some fans read Japanese animé subtitles they dread examples of “fortune cookie” English. On this very point, Fred Patten reported in his Apa-L-zine ¡Rábanos Radiactivos! an ironic fact: “Pioneer [Entertainment] has a minor public image problem due to a unique situation regarding its horror TV series Hellsing. Several characters’ names are deliberately spelled in ways that look like clumsy mistranslations…. Of course Hellsing itself looks like a misspelled reference to vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula. This is at the insistence of Japanese author Kouta Hirano, who also does not want it revealed that the apparent misspellings are a requirement. No explanation; he just wants it that way.”
It’s impossible to think about typos without recalling my most humbling fanpublishing experience: editing the 1998 Mythcon progress reports. The committee was full of scholars, research librarians, and plain old perfectionists, every one of them an infinitely better copyeditor than me. I might have graciously admitted that from the start and appreciated the extra help. But I seemed to be having trouble navigating my zeppelin-sized head through doorways at the time. Each time I e-mailed a draft progress report to the committee I cringed to see the huge e-mails full of corrections coming back. Of course, the bottom-line improvement was well worth it.
Far beyond any copyediting I endured, though, is what John Hertz righteously committed on behalf of the late Rick Sneary.
Sneary’s idiocyncratic spelling was a fannish legend. As Harry Warner gently wrote, “Illness in childhood prevented him from suffering the subjection to old, tired ways of spelling words that afflicts most of us. As a result, he frequently improvised novel spellings that often cast a new light on a word or entire phrase.”
Whether Rick wanted his text kept intact or not, most faneditors could not help cherishing the opportunity to participate in his legend by laboriously transcribing every word as he had typed it. Actually, Rick’s close friend Len Moffatt is quite certain that Rick hoped the editors would clean up the mistakes.
When John Hertz was working on the memorial collection of Sneary’s writing, Button-Tack, Mark Manning forwarded the text of a letter where he had painstakingly reproduced all of Sneary’s misspellings. Obedient to Sneary’s preference, John Hertz copyedited all of them away.
We should all have such a friend. In fact, I do!