(OCTOBER XXV) It’s a mistake!

The song by Men At Work was perhaps one of the reasons I chose the title for the post.  But, as I was working today, I found another good reason to think about the title of this post.  Indeed, as I have worked in my research, I have felt the necessity to check everything very carefully.  This is not only for my sake, as I tend to make a lot of algebra errors (particularly involving powers of $i$), but I notice a lot of typos in the published papers… and these are errors not just in spelling, grammar, and English usage, but errors in the formulae!

I have always been a little bit of a nut about proper writing, at least when it comes to the mechanics.  When I was in elementary school in Fort Dodge, I applied to be a proofreader at the Fort Dodge Messenger (their daily newspaper).  I even got an interview, despite the fact that my age (in years) was in the single digits at the time!  Even though I did not get the job (for many obvious reasons), Mom offered to pay me five cents for every spelling error I found in the paper from there on out.  And I found quite a few!

I made few mistakes on spelling tests in elementary school and middle school.  The final time that I erred on a spelling post-test was on the word (phrase?) “tympanic membrane” in fifth grade.  Granted, they significantly dumbed down the spelling test curriculum later in the year, possibly across all grades, and it was always easy from there on out.  (Of course, that did not leave me immune to failures in the spelling bees.  Tenacity! Heifer! Russet! (Forgot the word that Alexander Lin spelled correctly before winning with “regurgitate” in eighth grade!))

The grammar that I use is probably not as rigid and regimented as the spelling.  Still, when writing, I attempt to use appropriate grammar.  Even though I write online, I avoid shorthand and abbreviations.  I am actually more likely to use abbreviations when taking notes or writing by hand, since typing can happen at a more rapid pace.  As you probably know, I do not hide under a different personality online.  And people say that you speak how you write.  I would prefer to have said convergence!

Still, I do not want to disparage people who choose not to use correct grammar and spelling.  There are enough trivialities over which are argued, but it is interesting how unnatural “correct” grammar and usage can be.  For example, “A preposition is a terrible thing to end a sentence with.”  As far as I know, the correct way to write that sentence would be, “A preposition is a terrible thing with which to end a sentence,” which sounds wrong.

That is enough talking about pet peeves.  The more annoying thing is typos in equations and mathematical statements in academic papers.  Although the editors should be able to catch the major errors, sometimes a typo can lead a person down the wrong path.  It has done that to me several times, and has given me a necessity to basically verify every statement, sometimes in order to find the mistake, and sometimes just to convince myself that I can do the math.

Today is the twenty-fifth day of O.C.T.O.B.E.R.  That makes three weeks and four days.


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