Committing a McKean

Michael Covarrubias in a comment on my posting yesterday “In the land of supertitles”:

mckeans’s law at work in #4

Michael is pointing to Evidently they longer teach grammar in college, with its crucially missing no. As an instance of a phenomenon that’s been discussed under various names. The name I prefer is a McKean, from McKean’s law — just because I actually know Erin McKean.

From Wikipedia:

Muphry’s law is an adage that states: “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.” The name is a deliberate misspelling of “Murphy’s law” [“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”].

Names for variations on the principle have also been coined, usually in the context of online communication, including:

– Umhoefer’s or Umhöfer’s rule: “Articles on writing are themselves badly written.” Named after editor Joseph A. Umhoefer.

– Skitt’s law: “Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself.” Named after Skitt, a contributor to alt.usage.english on Usenet.

– Hartman’s law of prescriptivist retaliation: “Any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror [sic].” Named after journalist Jed Hartman.

– The iron law of nitpicking: “You are never more likely to make a grammatical error than when correcting someone else’s grammar.” Coined by blogger Zeno.

– McKean’s law: “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error.” [named for Erin McKean]

– Bell’s first law of Usenet: “Flames of spelling and/or grammar will have spelling and/or grammatical errors.” Named after Andrew Bell, a contributor to on Usenet.

Further variations state that flaws in a printed (“Clark’s document law”) or published work (“Barker’s proof”) will only be discovered after it is printed and not during proofreading, and flaws such as spelling errors in a sent email will be discovered by the sender only during rereading from the “Sent” box.

History: John Bangsund of the Society of Editors (Victoria) in Australia identified Muphry’s law as “the editorial application of the better-known Murphy’s law”, and set it down in March 1992 in the Society of Editors Newsletter in his column “John Bangsund’s Threepenny Planet”.

The law, as set out by Bangsund, states that:

(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;

(b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;

(c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault;

(d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

Now go back and look at Michael’s comment above. There you will find the deliberate McKean mckeans’s (instead of mckean’s).

All this is error in text intended to correct, or even just describe, an error. A related error phenomenon is text intended to correct what is in fact not an error at all. From my 9/3/12 posting “Incorrection”, identifying

the annoyance of being corrected for having done something that is not wrong.” That is, the annoyance of being incorrected, a k a miscorrrected.

(Examples in that posting.)

One Response to “Committing a McKean”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    The phenomenon has been independently “discovered” any number of times. I can claim to be one of the “discoverers”, in that the it is still known as “Coren’s Law” in some obscure corners of the Internet.

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