Muphry’s Law

Among the many and varied hats I wear in this life is the editor’s hat. Of course I edit my own writing, but I also get hired to edit other people’s work. I don’t know if I can say that I enjoy it—so few books that cross my editing path are ones I want to read (for example, a book on the spiritual side of mathematics!), and there’s always the stress of wondering how many mistakes I missed, even after repeated read-throughs—but it is satisfying to correct mistakes that would otherwise have sunk the book.
At any rate, I came across this little piece someplace and nodded until my head ached. So very true.  And the misspelled title kills me.

Muphry’s Law

Muphry’s Law is the editorial application of the better-known Murphy’s Law. Muphry’s Law dictates that:

1. if you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault in what you have written;

2. if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;

3. the stronger the sentiment in (a) and (b), the greater the fault; and

4. any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

Muphry’s Law also dictates that, if a mistake is as plain as the nose on your face, everyone can see it but you. Your readers will always notice errors in a title, in headings, in the first paragraph of anything, and in the top lines of a new page. These are the very places where authors, editors and proofreaders are most likely to make mistakes.
It always pays to allow for Muphry in anything you write, or anything you are checking.

Nigel Harding

[From The Canberra Editor, Volume 12, Number 10, November 2003. Canberra Society of Editors Newsletter.
(This story first appeared in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s internal bulletin.) Acknowledgments to John Bangsund, of the Victorian Society of Editors, who first coined the term.]

 

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11 thoughts on “Muphry’s Law

  1. Chautona

    The first thing I saw in my inbox was the misspelled title and I almost instantly sent you an email and BEGGED you to fix it before people saw it… thankfully I kept reading.

    And without you, my poor book of examples of Murphy’s law would have been a fine, risque example of it. What an editor!

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  2. Robin Helm

    This is too funny and absolutely true! Invariably, people who correct the grammar or mechanics of others will have errors in statements – and I just love to find them!

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  3. Gayle Mills

    Sometimes readers forget that editors only make suggestions. Ultimately, it is the author who decides if those corrections will be accepted.

    Loved the article. Thanks!

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  4. Susan Kaye

    But here’s the up side, Barbara, you may miss a mistake, but the poor schmo you’re editing for probably won’t.even.know!! I say this as a complete slave to the editorial skill of others. Barbara knows.

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  5. Laura Hile

    Oh.

    See, I am so tired that I automatically saw “Murphy’s” … and I think I tweeted about it as such. Great article, Barbara.

    And such happy students I have. When a tired, rushed teacher grades their short stories, stuff gets missed! (Until I read the piece aloud to the class and gasp.) Except as Susan Kaye says, they. don’t. know.

    Never mind. It’s Friday! 🙂

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  6. LucyParker

    As someone who published a time sensitive report with the wrong date on it Friday, a report that I read line by line – with a ruler under each line – I claim these rules for my own. Amen.

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    1. Laura Hile

      Lucy, I swear my brain “autocorrects” with what I write. I tell students to read their work aloud to discover missing words, typos, and “clinkers” (awkwardly-worded stuff). Deal is I see the missing words! My brain says they’re supposed to be there, so they are. Like with your wrong date, which you saw as right.

      *eyeroll*

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    2. Gayle Mills

      Oh, Terry, did it turn out all right? I mean, will the results be cataclysmic or merely inconvenient? Did you reveal some fact that should have remained hidden until a certain date? Were you signing a warrant for my arrest?

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      1. LucyParker

        It’s my internal Charybdis’s whirlpool that makes me feel like small mistakes are pulling me under, as I’m my harshest critic. I’ve learned that every now and then things are going to go to crap and I’ve got to wait it out. Yes, my brain autocorrects and I need to learn how to disengage that mode, right after I learn how to turn autocorrect off in text messaging. You’re lucky, Gail, my mistake meant the statute of limitations had expired on your warrant!

        (I love this site! Have I told y’all that? Intelligent people writing fun, thoughtful, and witty things. Y’all Rock!)

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  7. Gayle Mills

    When you find out how to turn that annoying autocorrect off, let me know. It’s made me look foolish more than once. The first time it happened, I thought I had actually MADE the mistake. Well, at my age, anything’s possible. I no longer say, “I’m sure that I did that.” Now I say, “I think that I did that.” Soon it will be, “I wish I had done that.”

    At least I’m off the hook for whatever crime I committed that I no longer remember.

    Thanks for joining us here. I’m always anxious to see what caught the attention of the “girls.” And I love the conversations we have here.

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Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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