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‘Too’ Err is Human: Joe Applegate, Typo Hunter

January 23, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Typo hunter Joe Applegate gets his kicks tracking those sneaky grammatical glitches and misspellings that creep into books, newspapers and magazines.

″It’s not out of spite,″ said Applegate, who works in a law office. ″I’ve never written to an editor pointing one out.″

The 36-year-old former reporter has spent five years hunting down typos. His all-time favorite quarry turned up on page 110 of the April 15, 1985, issue of New Yorker magazine.

″About halfway down the third column on the right is a string of sentences with quotation marks at the end, but none at the beginning,″ Applegate said in a recent interview. ″My masterwork.″

In Applegate’s hierarchy of blunders, some errors are worth more than others.

Newspaper and magazine typos ″can be funny but they don’t really count,″ he said. ″They’re just everyday glitches.

″Just up from there is the paperback novel. Paperbacks are so riddled with mistakes, you can usually find one every 10 pages or so. Hardback typos I find more pleasurable because recent editions are approved by the author.″

At the top of the heap are reference books, including dictionaries and anthologies, plus the New Yorker, a weekly famed for careful editing.

Applegate has bagged several favorite trophies.

″Here’s one I swapped with an editor at the Los Angeles Times,″ he said. ″It’s in the 9th New Collegiate Dictionary by Merriam-Webster, 1984 edition. On page 448, ‘familiarize’ is spelled ‘famillarize’ with two ‘l’s’ and no ’i.‴

″That, to me, is a real find,″ Applegate said.

″We’ve corrected it already,″ said Fredrick Mish, editorial director of Merriam-Webster Inc., in Springfield, Mass. ″We were making changes on that page and all of a sudden there was a typo there.

″Gremlins. I don’t know what else to call it.″

When landing a typo, Applegate said, he usually circles the page number and corrects the mistake with a pencil. If it’s in a reference book, a note goes in his file.

One of the dangers in stalking the elusive typo is losing a fresh find with the flick of a page.

″I lost one recently. I think it was a misspelled word in one of my favorite reference books, The New Columbia Encyclopedia, 1975 edition, a really fine book,″ Applegate said.

Although the book has 3,052 pages, he’s sure he’ll run across the typo again.

Another problem occurs when the correct spelling of an uncommon word is camouflaged as an apparent error.

″I once came across a word in a New Yorker article about China where the author was describing a kind of soil, ‘loess.’ I thought he had misspelled ’loose,‴ Applegate said. ″But the joke was on me.″

Applegate admits having made typos himself while working as a reporter in San Diego.

″I misspelled a doctor’s name, Dr. Shipman, in the worst possible way,″ he said. ″There were phone calls to the paper the next day.″

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