Grauniad literally teases Telegraph

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As the Wikipedia article for the British newspaper The Guardian explains,

The nickname The Grauniad for the paper originated with the satirical magazine Private Eye. It came about because of its reputation for frequent and sometimes unintentionally amusing typographical errors, hence the popular myth that the paper once misspelled its own name on the page one masthead as The Gaurdian, though many recall the more inventive The Grauniad. The domain is registered to the paper, and redirects to its website at

The reputation for typographical laxity is apparently undeserved:

In fact, the paper was not more prone than other papers to misprints but because the paper was printed in Manchester, Londoners saw the first edition printed each night. National papers in Britain at this time contained large numbers of "typos" which they removed progressively as the night wore on and they were noticed. Thus a paper like The Times would have as many mistakes in the North of England as The Guardian did in London. However, because media opinion was set in London, only The Guardian got a bad reputation.

So it must have been a special treat for the Guardian's Media Monkey blog to post "Heff in a huff over Telegraph gaffes":

"Mnokey" is delighted to treat you to one of Daily Telegraph associate editor Simon Heffer's regular email missives berating journalists at the title for their spelling, style and grammatical errors.

The contrast between two papers'  political stances probably provides additional schadenfreude. As Wikipedia explains

The Daily Telegraph has been politically conservative in modern times. The personal links between the paper's editors and the leadership of the Conservative Party, also known as Tories, along with the paper's influence over Conservative activists, has resulted in the paper commonly being referred to, especially in Private Eye, as the Torygraph.

Reading Mr. Heffer's email taught me a new term of art, literal:

There have been so many literals this week that I suspect some of you either never could spell, or have given up trying. Perhaps my favourite was "hocky mom", followed by "plumb compote" (bring on the lead poisoning).

Here literal is taken literally, which I've amazingly (literally?) never seen before. For literal as a modifier, the OED gives the gloss

A.1.b. Of a misprint (occas. of a scribal error): Affecting a letter.

with citations back to 1606:

1606 HOLLAND Sueton. To Rdr., If there happen to occur some will..either pass them over with connivency if they be literall or else taxe with some easie censure in case they be materiall.

For the noun version, the gloss is

B.2. Printing. A misprint of a letter.

with citations from 1622 onwards:

1622 R. HAWKINS Voy. S. Sea [170] Errata sic corrige… The litteralls are commended to favour.
1880 Print. Trades Jrnl. xxx. 6 We noticed rather a large number of literals.

The Media Monkey's commentary also hints at a whole universe of sociological concerns that may be new to American readers, at least in detail. For example:

But far more precious than the typos and the butter-fingered typing are those precious Telegraph values: "The style book also reminds us that our readers tend to eat Christmas lunch, not Christmas dinner; this is not the Daily Star."

And fictional characters must have the correct titles: "An article on the new film Australia this week referred to the heroine as being first Lady Sarah Ashley and then Lady Ashley. She cannot be both. In the film she is the daughter of an earl, and therefore the first style is correct. Talking of names, if we have in future to refer to Nicholas Hoogstraten it will be thus; the 'van' is an affectation (this is known to some as the 'Fayed rule')." Hoogstraten is, alas, not fictional.

But does the Hoogmeister have Christmas dinner or Christmas lunch? And is the Heff invited?

For more context on the lunch-v.-dinner business, the Wikipedia article on U and non-U English is a useful resource for outsiders.


  1. Bob O'H said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 7:11 am

    The Grauniad's reputation for typos always made the crossword one of the more challenging.

  2. Sili said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 8:37 am

    Their science podcast recently pondered the collective noun for Guardian journalists. A prominent suggestion was "a typo of Guardian journalists". Others were a yoghurt and a sandal.

  3. will said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 10:53 am

    With a few exceptions, most of the "U" terms seem more lower-class than the "non-U" terms to my American ears. "Christmas lunch" sounds like you have no food for christmas so you'll just get some sandwiches from the refrigerator.

  4. Jasper Milvain said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

    As I understand it, The Guardian's old typo problem wasn't simply that London got early Manchester editions – it was that, from some point in the 1960s, operations were split between the two cities, and multi-site hot-metal typesetting (it involved a system called TTS) was nightmarishly error-prone. So a 1970 Guardian in London probably was likely to contain more typos than a 1970 Times in Manchester. There's a full explanation – of which this is a half-remembered version – in Changing Faces, the second volume of the Guardian's official history.

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

    will: … most of the "U" terms seem more lower-class than the "non-U" terms to my American ears.

    It shouldn't be surprising that the American elites have linguistic habits that are more similar to the "aspiring middle class" of 1950s Britain ("non-U") than to the British aristocracy of that period ("U"). And as the Wikipedia article explains, "The debate did not concern itself with the speech of the working classes, which in many instances used the same words as the upper class".

  6. kuri said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

    "Plumb compote"?

  7. Nik Berry said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

    Plum compote

    @Bob O'H

    'Twas not their reputation, but their typos. :)

  8. Chris Waigl said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

    On the title issue, the same thing is being played upon in Dorothy L. Sayers' Whose Body:

    Mr. John P. Milligan, the London representative of the great Milligan railroad and shipping company, was dictating code cables to his secretary in an office in Lombard Street, when a card was brought up to him, bearing the simple legend:

    LORD PETER WIMSEYMarlborough Club


    "Pleased to meet you, Lord Wimsey," said Mr. Milligan. "Won't you take a seat?"

    "Thanks," said Lord Peter, "but I'm not the Duke, you know—that's my brother Denver. My name's Peter.[…]"

    "Say now, Lord Peter," said Mr. Milligan, "can I do anything for you?"

    The Grauniad, of course, is an excellent source for near-mainstream eggcorns.

  9. Aaron Davies said,

    November 30, 2008 @ 1:05 am

    @will–that's the whole point. the classic "u/non-u" register distinction is that the non-u are desperately trying to sound refined in the hopes that they'll be mistaken for the u, while the u know exactly who and what they are and have no need to worry about what people will think of what they say.

  10. Chris Lance said,

    November 30, 2008 @ 4:56 am

    I believe that British printers routinely referred to typos as literals right up to the end of hot-metal printing. Probably proofreaders still do.

  11. Martyn Cornell said,

    December 1, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

    A typo is not the same as a literal – typos are keyboarding errors, literals are, as Simon Heffer's memo implies, mistakes caused by ignorance of correct spelling/the correct word. Newspaper sub-editors (copy editors) still refer to literals and typos.

  12. Books » Archive » Name that misprint | Open thread said,

    April 21, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    […] the Guardian's long and ignoble reputation for misprints and literals, we can only extend our sympathy. This latest instance possibly also […]

  13. John in Prague said,

    April 24, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

    When a child I sent a letter to the Guardian questioning whether it was to confuse the Russians that I had read in that day's paper that, 'eight rockets clustered in a dingle vehicle would take man to the Moo'. I got a reply saying that the Russians probably took a late edition.

  14. MyT and Moderation – MyT – MyToement - My Telegraph said,

    November 4, 2012 @ 6:33 am

    […] different proportion of stories each year. His conclusion being that even a liberal rag like the Grauniad seems to be pretty resistant to the tidal wave of filth which some might have you believe is […]

  15. Lenny Bruce meets DH Lawrence | A Serious Look At Life said,

    August 5, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    […] different proportion of stories each year. His conclusion being that even a liberal rag like the Grauniad seems to be pretty resistant to the tidal wave of filth which some might have you believe is […]

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