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I came across the word "horicontal" in a technical paper. The context made it clear that its meaning was effectively identical to "horizontal". I looked into it, suspecting a misspelling. I found enough instances of the word in published works that I now think it is more than a mere typo.

It seems to me that I saw "horicontal" used with disproportionately high frequency in technical publications, and in publications with at least one (usually more) German authors.

I'd like to know the etymology of "horicontal"—how did this spelling originate? Does it appear as a translation in foreign dictionaries? I could not find any examples of such.

Here are some examples of "horicontal" in published work:

And a slide originally from the 1918 "Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body", whose Wikipedia Commons file description by two Germans uses the word "horicontal" while the file name uses "horiconatal" which is almost certainly a typo (natal or conatal make no sense in context):

  • There are actually quite a few examples of its usage, books.google.com/ngrams/… - – user66974 Aug 6 '15 at 20:01
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    @Josh61: There are significantly more instances of horixontal than of horicontal, which is not surprising given that X is between Z and C on a standard QWERTY keyboard; but the vast majority of Google Books search result matches for either term are simply OCR misreadings of horizontal, as choster points out in an answer below. There is no entry for either spelling in the big OED. – Sven Yargs Aug 6 '15 at 20:40
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    A corruption of horiçontal is also possible. – mkennedy Aug 6 '15 at 20:52
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    Whatever it is, it's a mistake. Sometimes there really are mistakes. People don't mean everything that they say. – Mitch Aug 7 '15 at 0:48
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it seems to be based on speculation that the word 'horicontal' might be something more than a keyboard typo or an OCR error—but without pointing to any source that offers substantive or theoretical support for that speculation. – Sven Yargs Aug 7 '15 at 7:21
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From the basic Ngram of horicontal vs. horizontal, the former has a 2008 prevalence of .0000000086% and the latter of .0019994350%; in other words, horizontal is 232,492 times more common.

Horizontol comes in at .0000000270%, more than three times as common. But Google Books is chock full of OCR errors, and we could write that off to the similarity of o and a glyphs in some typefaces, especially when ink may be faded or worn. That doesn't explain horixontal, however, with a prevalence of .0000000418%.

What does explain it is that on an English QWERTY keyboard, Z, X, and C are all situated at the far left of the bottom row, and while the first two are relatively rare (and difficult to reach), C is fairly common, and a typist's muscle memory may punch the wrong key out of habit.

I don't see real evidence that the typos are more common among German authors. On German QWERTZU keyboards, the positions of Y and Z are switched compared to the QWERTY, so perhaps someone accustomed to a QWERTY keyboard typing on a QWERTZU keyboard would hit C or X instead of Z more often— but then we'd expect at least a few appearances of horiyontal, of which Google Books has none.

  • Thank you for mentioning the possibility of automatic character recognition errors. I'm comfortable accepting that as the correct explanation. Typos make less sense when they are seen several times in close proximity in the same documents. @choster – Carl Aug 6 '15 at 20:49
  • I'm vaguely recalling that in some European languages the character Z (at least in upper case) tends to be barred, similar to the number 7. This could somehow figure into the confusion. – Hot Licks Aug 6 '15 at 21:46
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My Google-fu is not great, but the only place I've found it on the internet in a non-scanned format is this very question. It occasionally comes up from 1807 on, but half of the time, when I click on the site, the word in the book is actually hori-zontal.

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Other paces, the z is smudged or incomplete:

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I can't say I know enough about scanning mistakes, but I can see why it might be read as a "c".

  • Yes, I have seen a fair number of similar scanning mistakes when searching for other terms. – Hot Licks Aug 6 '15 at 21:47

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