Cosmic rays: the bad speller’s excuse

Image: Dictionary entryEureka! Vindicated! Writers, take note…

Writers often feel doomed to suffer the slings and arrows of those who delight in pointing out spelling errors that we would swear were not there when we saved our text file. But we now have the means to answer back. Some while ago on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, presented by Melvin Bragg, a bunch of scientists confidently asserted the existence and effects of cosmic rays. These particles, said to be leftover bits of atoms that arrive at our planet from outer space at phenomenal speeds, apparently pass through everything in their path including our bodies and, crucially, our electronic gadgets.

There are, say the scientists, something between tens and hundreds of these little beggars passing through our bodies every second (I can’t feel them. Can you?). They cause all sorts of effects from entertaining polar aurora to seriously worrying cancers by interfering with everything with which they come into contact. In space the effects are more pronounced, and known to cause dropouts of data in computers. I visualise these little critters coming at us like minute billiard balls, invisible and insidious, striking some random atom that happens to be part of the memory chip on which some innocent author’s text is stored. A crash, an electron or two or ten scattered to the ether like Ray Reardon scoring a one-hundred-and-eighty break, and a digital 1 becomes a 0, changing a stored letter from an S into a Z, or knocking out the U that we know should nearly always follow Q, making bumbling fools of authors the world over, targets ripe for the pedant’s grapeshot.

So there we have it: official scientific endorsement of a long-held conviction that my malicious word-processor sneakily swaps letters behind my back, so that no matter how many times I proof-read, the moment I look away another wretched spelling error appears.

I wonder if anyone has done research into the number of errors that appear in a text over time while the computer is switched off? Should anyone decide as a result of reading this to study the matter for their degree they might consider giving me a credit when writing up their thesis. But do please spell my surname correctly. It has two d’s, not one…

Feel free to let me know in the comments below of spelling errors you find in Sunset over Salhouse Broad. I might hang my head in shame or I might argue the point, but I will endeavour to fix genuine errors at the next editorial update.

PS: Since writing this article Sunset over Salhouse Broad has bee revised and re-titled Just One Mistake, but the links should still take you to the right place.

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