Since late 2019, a savvy Twitter account at @nyttypos run by a man somewhere in the USA who describes himself in his Twitter bio as “appellate lawyer and persnickety dude” has quietly been pointing out typos and ”atomic typos” that he hopes editors at the New York Times will correct online when time permits.
Call him “Mr Persnickety” but know that he remains anonymous and nobody knows his name.
Well, one man, a newspaper detective named Ben Lindbergh knows his name but Ben says he is sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal the government lawyers’s name. Not now, not yet, not ever.
Here’s Lindbergh in his essay: “On October 19, @nyttypos spotted a “happened” instead of a “happen” in a story about Brexit; a missing space and a picture of three people captioned with five names in a story about TikTok clubs; a missing comma and a “statue” in place of a “statute” in a story about U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempt to host the G7 Summit at his own Doral resort; a subject-verb agreement error in a story about Venezuela’s water quality; a misplaced comma in a story about Bernie Sanders accepting an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; and a missing space between quotation marks and a quote in a story about Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
According to Lindberg, Mr Persnickety has enough time on his hands during his free time to ”editorialize about the supposedly sorry state of the Times.’
“It’s kind of a shame that virtually each and every piece of content the Times produces, even the pretty great ones like this, has a typo in it,” @nyttypos tweeted about an opinion piece that contained a wayward word, Ben shares, adding: ” On the same day, a story about a German YouTuber that contained a duplicated phrase prompted an observation by the man who tries to deliver first aide to the newspaper: “At times I really have a hard time believing that this paper is edited at all.”
“While working for a government office on appeals for the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court, he has diligently, competently, and caustically grammar-policed the paper of record in his spare time, producing more than 20,000 tweets over the past 11 months,” Lindbergh shares. “His account is a cross between an ego trip, a crusade, and a compulsion. His quixotic quest to flag the words that weren’t fit to print has attracted roughly 8,000 followers, yielded countless corrections, and made its anonymous owner the object of some fascination within the walls and Slack chats of the Times, while exposing the trade-offs in copy quality that competitive publishing in the age of algorithms demands.”
Some of the editors at the Times are paying attention now.Two of them even told me recently that almost everyone at the Times has read the Lindbergh piece.
“He’s obviously a smart, well-read, knowledgeable person,” Jason Bailey, an editor on the national desk at the Times, told Ben. “And he’s almost always right … [and] for the most part, if it comes to grammar, he’s correct. And to be honest, I’ve learned some things from him, because I’m not an English major or a grammarian in a traditional sense. I kind of edit by ear a little bit. So some of those more technical details, he’s been helpful with.”
And there’s this: Lindberg reveals that “despite his proficiency and apparent command of syntactic arcana, @nyttypos is self-taught, too. Studying Latin in high school helped him learn the parts of speech, but he majored in philosophy, and his experience in journalism is limited to a short-lived column in his college paper. “I don’t think that I have a terribly great grasp on grammar, to be honest with you,” he told Ben on the phone. “I think I intuit some things.”
Lindbergh notes that “sometimes [Typo Man] researches rules before tweeting, lest the master of spotting mistakes commit a mistake of his own.
“I don’t like to be wrong about things,” he told Ben.
Mr. Persnickety is in his 30s.
He has revealed his identity to Ben, but asked not to be named. So far, Ben has kept his word.
By the way, what’s an atomic typo? See this note here.
And please note that some readers will spot some typos and atomic typos in this blog post above. See which ones you can find.