The Last Word
Typos ... not a way of life
Ahem. Let me just get this soapbox in the right place. Up I go. Okay, here goes. I hate typos. I mean, I take offence at them. Is it my imagination, or are typos becoming more allowable? Not just transpositions, or egregious punctuating errors, which, after all, are only human, but those errors in grammar and punctuation that sully our signage, our correspondence, and our public ways?
An invitation was received in our household a couple of weeks ago for a fund-raising event for a good, nay, great, cause. Striking format, clever concept, and a whacking big typo in a critical word. I won't repeat it here, so as to not embarrass the harassed, but really folks. Check your work before you send it to the printer.
Most students are taught keyboarding, which is a descendant of typing. There are those adults above the age of forty who have learned keyboarding as an adjunct to learning to use computers and otherwise have no formal education in the technique which accommodates all ten fingers, and are perfectly happy using two fingers. The current generation clearly has computer literacy (an interesting term) and are proficient in getting words on a screen. However, familiarity with keystrokes seems not to have encouraged accuracy; rather, sloppiness. I don't think we can blame the text messaging mindset of today's youth on their spelling problems. Texting, a nifty new action word, is a shorthand method of communicating which is really very clever. Shorthand is an old skill that women of a certain age will remember as a very desirable talent when looking for that first job. Gregg was the curlicue method, and there were several others than made use of lines, slashes, and missing vowels, just like texting. A good stenographer was a deeply valuable member of any organization. She, and it was mostly she in those days, took the truncated squiggles off the pages of her steno book and transcribed them into commandingly punctuated, perfectly spelled typewritten pages. With the advent of the word processor, it should be easier to achieve perfect pages; instead, we are too fast, too inaccurate, and too dependent on spell check to get it right. Write. Wright. Half the problem may be that everyone is his or her own typist. Gone are the days when a manager depended on his secretary (and, yes, they were secretaries) to translate his spoken language into excellent missives. With today's do-it-yourselfers, errors that would have been edited away by the gentle hand of our Miss Brooks, are there to distract from the message.
Homonyms are tricky fellows. There, their, they're, trip up even the most experienced of fast typists. Spell check isn't going to help you there, their, they're. It's up to the owner of said booboo. Check your work, read it backwards, spot the errors by reading every word. The hard part of proofing one's own work is that it's already in your head. Note that I use the 'it's' with the apostrophe. Not its, sans apostrophe - a conjunction, not the possessive pronoun. Pay attention to the details. A sloppy sign, or a typo on your very expensive invitation, is distracting to the very person whose attention you're seeking. Now, I'm not churlish enough to avoid an event because of a typo in the invitation, but it did make me LOL. (Okay, what I really thought was: "there but for the grace of God, go I").
Aside from errors in correspondence, it is more egregious to me that errors persist in public signage. To err is, as above, human. To transpose two letters absolutely forgivable. I've been guilty of that myself - often; but, to allow those mistakes to live on in a posted warning sign, is just plain careless. "All dogs must be on a leash, No Execptions." That's a real sign. I couldn't make that up. I don't know if the property owner doesn't want executives, or exempted persons wandering around with unleashed beasts. Or to get the name of the town in which you are performing wrong on the poster advertising your event. Oak Bluff. Yup, it's right there on a pretty good size ad stuck on a local window. Locally, we all know the famous annoyance of another correspondent to this paper at the oddly punctuated original name of the local brew pub. City, Ale and Oyster. That intrepid reporter still questions the significance of that awkward comma on a very beautiful, handcrafted sign. What were they thinking? A little wood putty would have made all the difference.
There is hope for the future. Kate McCulley is a 22-year-old self-proclaimed Grammar Vandal. A fervent blogger on all topics grammar and punctuation, Kate has taken certain matters into her own hands. She travels with stick-on commas and a Sharpie pen correcting the signage in and around Boston. I wonder if she has anything to cover up the misplaced comma? Check out her blog at Grammar Vandal.
The point is, proofread. Then have someone else proofread. Even if it's an eight by ten rules of the path sign, for goodness sake, have some pride in your work. Dyslexia notwithstanding, slow down enough to get it right.
P.S. I highly recommend The Camel Bookmobile, by Masha Hamilton. This little book about a New York librarian determined to bring literacy to the nomadic tribes of Kenya is a gentle and beautiful illustration of what it means to be educated.
Susan Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Oak Bluffs. Visit her web site at susanwilsonwrites.com.