“Where is Canada?”

A few days ago I messaged my sisters about some information I’d just found about the family of one of our great-great-grandmothers. We’d previously had information about her husband, but not her, except that they married in Canada in 1863 and she was born about 1843. One of my sisters replied:

Where is Canada?

This is a perfectly formed question and I can imagine a child or parent/teacher asking it in the context of learning/teaching about countries of the world, but it didn’t make immediate sense in this context. I’m sure she knows where Canada is, and meant “Where in Canada?”, so I answered that question, specifically Saint John, New Brunswick. But I’m puzzled about the typo of is for in, given that s and n are so far apart on the keyboard. (Maybe she’d typed something else and autocorrect changed it to the full question Where is Canada? rather than the elided question Where in Canada? (By itself in is more common.))

Some time ago, another sister commented on Facebook that she was looking forward to seeing one of her children (who lives some distance away) “in Thursday”. That is more easily explained: i and o are next to each other on the keyboard.


DAFT and deep fat

When I encounter other people’s typos (or notice my own), I try to understand why they’ve occurred, which is sometimes more interesting than the actual typos. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is usually abbreviated as DFAT and pronounced dee-fat. Two recent documents rendered that as DAFT and deep fat. Our legal officers can type documents or dictate them into an auto-transcription tool. Either way, their self-checking is sometimes not totally diligent, which is why my colleagues in the proofreading team have a job. DAFT is a typing error, maybe because people are more used to typing d-a than d-f. (Very possibly, autocorrect would change dfat (lower case) to daft. (In fact, Page for Mac just changed dfat to fat, but as far as I know, upper case strings are left as they are.) deep fat is a voice-to-text transcription error, maybe because the tool hasn’t been trained in Australian government acronyms. No-one ever said “daft” when they really meant “dee-fat”, or typed “deep fat” when they really meant DFAT. 

Easy targets

English on clothing designed and manufactured in a non-English country and Microsoft Word’s grammar checker are easy targets for a blog post.

Yesterday I saw a young man wearing a jacket which read:


A well-known search engine returns about 89,800 results for playung (Did you mean: playing?) and about 2,530,000,000 for playing. Most of the results for playing seem to be a simple typo, i and u being next to each other on the standard keyboard.

(Of course, this jacket might have been designed and manufactured in a certain country where a certain well-known search engine is blocked, but any search engine should return similar results.)

An article I was subediting referred to “many food and drink products”. Microsoft Word’s spell checker suggested much food or many foods.

But the grammar here is “many (food and drink) products”, not “(*many food) and (drink products)”. Even if it was “(*many food) and (drink products)”, “(much food) and (drink products)” is only a small improvement. “Many food” is completely ungrammatical, while “much food” is rare. “Much food was eaten” is possible, but most people would say “A lot of food was eaten”. Much is used more in negative statements (“Not much food was eaten”) and questions (“Did you eat much food?”). Also, “(many foods) and (drink products)” is awkward parallelism.