Printer’s devils

I discovered a interesting term today for misspellings, missed words and other mistakes in a text – printer’s devils. This term originally referred to apprentices working in print shops who did things like mixing ink and fetching type. The origins of the term are uncertain, but printers believed that their shops were haunted by a particular type of devil who made mischief by misspelling words, setting type the wrong way round, and making words and whole lines go missing [source].

So if you spot any mistakes on Omniglot, maybe the printer’s devils have been up to their old tricks.

6 thoughts on “Printer’s devils

  1. In Slovak / Czech, the expression is “tlačiarensky škriatok” / “tiskařský šotek”, the noun meaning “imp”. I haven’t seen it used in a while, though. And these days, shouldn’t we speaking of “digital devils”? 🙂

  2. I’ve heard of a pub in London, in an area that used to have a lot of printing presses, called The Printer’s Devil.

  3. we have a very similar concept in Dutch, the so-called “zetduiveltje”. Whenever a spelling mistake (in a newspaper, magazine or website) leads to an unpleasant misunderstanding – like when the wrong date or location of an event is displayed – this poor little Printer’s Devil will be pointed the finger.

    It’s even used in childrens books: “the Printer’s Devil has mixed those words up. Could you rearrange them and make a proper sentence?”

  4. There is a demon responsible for spelling mistakes, named Titivillus, but I would not call him a printer’s devil, that means the young apprentice.
    There is an interesting word in German ‘Zwiebelfisch’ (onion fish) for a letter in the wrong place in a printer’s workshop.

  5. In Polish there’s “chochlik drukarski” with ‘imp’ being as good a translation for ‘chochlik’ as anything else. According to wikipedia (caution: wikipedia) other terms exist but I don’t remember coming across them and haven’t seen chochlik drukarski very often either.

    Also interesting is that one term for a typo in Polish is ‘ czeski błąd ‘ (Czech mistake) as the results are imagined to look like Czech…

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