What Joy, Muphry’s Law Spotted In The Wild At The Mail


Murphy’s Law we all know, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Muphry’s Law is the lesser known corollary, that in any article complaining about grammar or typographical errors a greater such error will appear than the one being complained of. The traditional defence against which is to make a deliberate error in spolling.

So, today the Daily Mail runs a piece on how a YouTube something or other is providing a guide to the sort of mistakes that people make with apostrophes and the like.

How good is YOUR grammar? English expert shares her definitive guide on how to use apostrophes – and reveals the most common mistakes people make

Yes, excellent, super. And in the subhead:

YouTuber English With Lucy has created a defintive guide on using apostrophes

Huzzah, isn’t it great to see that science works, that the universe obeys the Laws?

There’s also a little explanation that can be given. The headlines and subheads are written by specialists called subeditors. These are usually fierce creatures who guard the purity and perfection of the language from their seats of power, on the favoured side of the editor’s chair. Thus we should expect fewer errors in this part of a newspaper than in the actual text of a piece. For the text is produced by some mere journalist, not one of that Elect.

Then we’ve the impact of new technology. The mere journo now has spellcheckers in the computing system they add the text to. Fewer errors – or at least fewer typos, even if words which are correct but wrong in context still get through. However, some systems don’t have spellcheckers in those areas where the subs put in headlines etc. And of course some subs are simply too good to have to use spellcheckers. Ahem.

Finally, it’s very difficult indeed to proof read your own writing. Whatever blindness led to the initial error might well be there on the re-read. Thus subs in the first place, another eye to check – but no one does sub the subs.

All of which leads to the, to me at least amusing, result that Muphry’s Law is more likely to be seen these days in those parts of a paper written by those specifically employed to stamp out examples of Muphry’s Law.

Yes, it’s only a tee hee, nothing more, but then all insider jokes are like that.

Then there was the day when I was in an argument with a Guardian journalist (one writing about economics, one who was fired for not being good at writing about economics. Imagine, being too bad at economics even for The Guardian?) and she complained about my spelling of Muphry’s Law….don’t you proof read your stuff Tim? The pure and distilled essence there….