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There is a technique for dating hand-copied documents, or placing them in the correct chronological order at any rate, by analysing the mistakes in them that are inevitably made when a new copy is made.

Does anyone know what that is called?

(Putting a search involving "dating" into Google generates a lot of hits but not much that is relevant.)

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I can imagine the kind of "dating" sites Google coughed up. :) – Robusto Mar 22 '11 at 12:50
+1. Any question that I don't know the answer to is a good question. – JSBձոգչ Mar 22 '11 at 13:05
Are you talking about this method? It seems its name is 'print clock'. – Edwin Ross Mar 22 '11 at 13:05
Textual criticism? Although that's more about working out which is more likely to be the original text and which the error. – Peter Taylor Mar 22 '11 at 13:36
up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are at least three terms that cover this:

I don't think any of these terms are used specifically to mean 'dating documents by the mistakes [found] in them', but they are all related.

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I think one of these must be the correct words, but I have a vague impression from somewhere of another term redolent of musty antiquarians and retired clergymen. Thank you. – Brian Hooper Mar 23 '11 at 21:01
@Brian Hooper: Within the link to 'stemmatics' are some other terms that may be what you had in mind: Recension, cladorama, and eclecticism. – oosterwal Mar 24 '11 at 2:18

I don't know any specific academic term for this in relation to literary texts, but much the same process is used to analyse accumulated "random" errors in DNA replication to establish chronology and evolutionary paths. In that context it's called the molecular clock.

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