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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