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I work in the IT Security profession as an IT auditor. In communicating to senior management via a late - day email about open findings soon to be due for a response, I accidentally wrote "N-----" instead of "Bigger". It was purely accidental due to typo and I had no intention to demean. In addition, one member of the audience is African - American.

I have been praised by my manager in the past as someone who is diplomatic and poised, but also who can be effective/forceful when necessary. From the context of the sentence, it should be reasonable to infer this is a typo and not something malicious from me.

If I apologize, I feel I may just draw unwanted attention to an already embarrassing mistake, and have the reverse effect I wanted. If do not respond in a follow up email, management may think I don't care.

What approach should I take to apologize for my error?

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    Simply making the mistake should not damage your image at the company, but letting it awkwardly sit there and not mentioning it seems like something that can make the situation worse. If it's an honest mistake, an honest apology should drop the issue with no harm done. – TheSoundDefense Sep 29 '17 at 23:52
  • Reopen because a racial slur is materially different than a random typo. FTR I'd like to answer, suggesting a two line apology, and suggesting that anything longer, or short but cheeky/sarcastic, would be making a bigger problem. Right now it's a small problem that can be solved with a short apology. – user42272 Oct 2 '17 at 14:59
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    @djechlin - I disagree that it was not different. However I removed the question that asked for us to assess the damage and just focused on how to apologize. So I agree and also vote to reopen. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 2 '17 at 15:05
  • Unless you were REALLY unlucky, it should have been obvious from the context you meant to type "bigger". – Laconic Droid Feb 8 at 0:46
  • My fingers automatically type “discoc*nt” instead of “discount” which can be fun when you work in the financial industry... – Matt Feb 9 at 11:05
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I know that you want to go into panic mode right now, but take a moment and...

Relax...

The typo, although derogatory and offensive, was a mistake. Any reasonable person reading and understanding the context around the word (as well as glancing down at their keyboard) would be able to realize the mistake.

Now that you've realized it and are aware of its consequences, your next move would be to inform the recipients that you've made an error in your wording and wanted to clarify your intentions.

Apologize if you believe people's feelings were hurt, but at the end of the day, the intent of hate was not there, it was an honest mistake.

Send an email in short order detailing the change in wording and add a passage that your intent was to write "bigger" and the word that was written was a typo. Hoping that no one would notice it would only make things worse, as the thought of racism would fester.

Address the problem quickly and concisely. Reasonable and professional people would not hold you against it.

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    B and N are wayy to close each other on Qwerty keyboards. – DarkCygnus Sep 29 '17 at 23:54
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    There should be a spell checker for curse and slur words when sending emails. – Frank FYC Sep 29 '17 at 23:55
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    Make sure in this follow up email, you don't make the same mistake. :D – CrazyPaste Oct 2 '17 at 19:10
  • My late lamented email client Eudora had a feature like this, where it labelled emails with one to three hot pepper icons based on its text-match perceived "spiciness." – mxyzplk Feb 8 at 23:38
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Wow, it's like that time I saw someone else end an email with "Retards" instead of "Regards". While I've never done it, I admit I've sometimes thought about it, even prior to that case :)

More seriously though, as @GrayCygnus commented:

B and N are wayy to close each other on Qwerty keyboards

which is true and also applies to letters g and t in my coworker's slip above.

I can say it was so obvious to me that it had been a typo, that I never even mentioned anything and never observed anyone even talking about it. People around me were reasonable (and this is something I'll point out frequently). In fact, I'm not sure he's aware of his typo to this day :)

That said, just send a simple email apologizing; noting that it was typo should be enough for reasonable people. Keep it short and simple.

What approach could I take to apologize for my typo?

My suggestion is:

Hi all,

I just realized I made a typo in my previous email and wanted to make a simple correction.

While context is clear, I meant to say that [insert whatever here] was Bigger.

Thanks,

[your name]

Make sure you send it to the exact same audience.

Did I damage my professional image at my company?

I don't think so, if we can assume everyone is reasonable. Much less so if you send a simple apology noting that it was an unintended typo. Do not grow your simple typo into an incident of epic proportions.

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Just ignore the error unless it's pointed out to you, in which case excuse it as a typo. Mistakes happen, anyone who get's offended is looking for a reason to be offended rather than thinking you did it on purpose in that context.

English spellcheckers allow bad words through without any sort of flagging.

My own personal spellchecker and the one I made for schools in my own language flag them for attention. So if it does worry you, make a short list of words you want flagged and insert or delete them into/from your spell checker. Even free mail systems usually use hunspell or something similar which allows the addition and deletion of words.

For English language software that uses hunspell, I deleted all the swear words (didn't think to delete the word from the OP, but have just done so now because it's not a word I ever use anyway). So now any swear words show up as a spelling error and I notice them straight away. For MS Office products I made an autocorrect, any swear word will show up as asterixes and be easy to spot.

  • I learned that apart from the words "whether" and "weather" there is also a "wether", which is a castrated ram according to my dictionary. There are probably lots of words where a spelling checker should point them out and say "This word means xxx. Are you sure that's what you mean?" – gnasher729 Sep 30 '17 at 23:21
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I lean towards apologizing instead of hoping no one notices.

There's two factors here that can affect the fallout. One is the personality of those who read the message. This can be witnessed by the fact some answers/comments on this question are understanding while something else I read stated your career is over. Of course, I believe most people would be generally understanding of this typographical error.

  • 'B' is very close to 'N' on a QWERTY keyboard layout.
  • Your message contains context. It's not divorced from any context that makes it clear.

The second factor is how you apologize. Generally, owning a mistake and being very simplistic is the right answer here. Paranoia, fear, exaggeration, excessive apology, or preemptive groveling are contagious and sort of lend themselves to bad results. Consider certain aspects of the Streisand effect. When a person is casual and brushes something off, other people tend to not care as much.

The answer given by code_dredd to me is a great apology.

For the future, I would consider adding spellchecker rules or features such as Office 365 DLP to ensure bad language is not accidentally released. If this situation escalates, this can be mentioned as a good-faith suggestion to show that you care about this.

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