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English is a funny language, just don't blame the typist alone!

J. JEYES

English is peculiar language. You change the spelling and the meaning changes. A missing character in a word makes a lot of difference. Seeing the damage caused, you are ‘spellbound.' Especially when a ‘Show-cause Notice” becomes a “Showcase Notice' and ‘insulating material' turns out be an ‘insulting material'. Never mind. You did not want to insult anyone. It was only a typographical error.

The image of an organisation depends largely on the style of its communication. Typists can make or mar it. Errors slip in when there is inattention while typing. Normally, the boss is annoyed at a spelling mistake; sometimes, errors trigger off ripples of laughter too, in an office setting.

But, one can't blame the typist too. Years and years of typing drafts and further re-typing make her job monotonous. And, typing becomes a reflex action. Here is a scientific fact that goes in her favour. Reflex actions or routine operations in a living creature can be handled by low-level mechanisms that do not involve thinking in the central brain.

The reflex comes to work especially after lunch hour. That is precisely when a ‘Turnkey Project' becomes a “Turkey Project” and a ‘Pump house' changes to ‘Pump hose,' and the ‘world' is reduced to a ‘word.'

The story of stenos is quite different. A lot depends on the pronunciation of the boss, noise pollution around, etc. And above all, the logic of the steno is transcribing her shorthand scribbling.

For a sleepy steno, most of the project would be ‘sleeping' (slipping), salient features of a machine are ‘silent' and the most ideal manpower is the ‘most idle'.

The problem assumes greater dimensions when similar syllables appear in the dictation. Sometimes, 5 MT bullets go empty, the Sole Distributor is a Soul Distributor, peace is in pieces and pray falls a prey. What is more, the Indore Office may become an indoor office.

It would be an injustice if mention is not made here of the printer's devil. The circumstances under which printing errors occur are no different. The difference is in the publicity they receive.

In a rare case, an error was really a terror. Just think of the laboratory in-charge, who was sent a sample of contaminated kerosene and asked to ‘taste' it. If he did what the letter asked him to do, it was his own fault. He was merely asked to ‘test' it.

By keeping strict vigil, the number of errors in our communication can be greatly minimised. But you can never reduce it to zero. After all…. to err is human.

(The writer's email is jjeyes@rediffmail.com)

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