You know, I really epxose myself to risk writing this blog. I make much of my living corecting and otherwise tiyding up people’s prose, and any typo or other slipu-p I make in writing is here on pubic display. Every pecadilo is like cutting open a vien and spiling my copruscles and sphalma.

No, no, not plasma. I really did mean sphalma. All the other errors in that paragraph are mere samples, a few shreds of the sphagnum of orthographic mishaps that afflict even the best and most careful of us from time to time. And of course I make a bit of my income tidying it up for other people – but I don’t have a budget to hire someone else to tidy it up for me! (Fortunately a few people volunteer unbidden to let me know of my errors.)

What is a sphalma? In Greek, σϕάλμα is a noun meaning ‘false step, stumble’, or ‘fall, failure’, or ‘error, fault’. In English, when it’s used (as it seldom is), it means, according to Oxford, “An error or slip in writing or copying.”

That’s a pretty broad definition. It includes not just typos but a whole sphere of faults. Usually if you put, for instance, stationery for stationary (or vice versa), and someone says “You have an error,” you might defensively say “Oops, it’s a typo,” because you’re miffed that they seem to think you don’t know the difference and you want to make sure they know it’s a mere fault of reflexes, not a deficiency in your knowledge. But if I make a sphalma, it may be my fault, but it’s not my failing.

What’s more, sphalma sounds like some biological thing, either a bodily fluid or some kind of small-scale crawly slimy entity. So people who speak of it can direct their disgust at the word rather than at the person who generated the textual mishap. And a proofreader can hang out a shingle: SPHALMA EXTERMINATOR.

3 responses to “sphalma

  1. https://everything2.com/user/Tem42/writeups/Sphalm describes a related word (no trailing ‘a’ but same derivation) with a meaning extended to cover heretical (or at least unorthodox) thought.

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