“We made too many wrong mistakes.”—Yogi Berra
Writing can be an immensely rewarding endeavor one day and the most humbling of exercises the next—all but for one simple letter, or misused word.
Typo, the nemesis of every writer, can crush a masterpiece and render it a disaster quicker than you can say, “Proofreaders, untie against typos.”
There may be only 26 letters in the alphabet, but a mistake with just one within the 228,132 current words, obsolete words, and derivative words that the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary says we have at our literary disposal, will rain on even the best creative writer’s parade.
Whatever the odds, it has happened to every writer, and it happened to me last week in my day job as marketing director for Advanced Ecology. I was on a roll with our newly launched weekly e-card for sister company Bird & Crawford Forestry. Crowds were cheering, bands were playing, streamers were flying—it was deemed a success. Then in the flash of a keystroke, less than two minutes after the latest edition was released into cyberspace, someone pointed out a glaring typo. What should have read, “…long-range…” unfortunately read, “…long-ramge…”
While a typo is typically not a terminal illness, it can make any writer sick to his or her stomach. The frustration factor in this one ran higher than normal because the misspelled word was caught in the first draft and corrected, only to agonizingly reappear in a later revision.
The advent of spell check helped wordsmiths a great deal, but it’s not fool proof. Typos in any case are usually traced to lack of attention, rushing to finish, or both. I have to admit both played a role in mine.
If there can be a positive side to publishing a typo, mine was not the kind that can make a writer want to wear a disguise before going out in public—the kind that used to serve as fodder for Jay Leno’s feature, “Headlines,” on the Tonight Show. About the time Leno was born, The (Naples, Texas) Monitor publisher Lee Narramore was already collecting them. His tradition has been continued by Monitor publisher since 1968, Morris Craig, and supplemented with a few of mine in the last 30 years or so.
The following samples date back a couple of decades and more. We’ve applied some computer magic to protect the innocent and the guilty as the statute of limitations (or laughs) may not have expired. Under admissions and disclaimers, some of these were published in newspapers on my watch, and none were borrowed from social media. They were collected “pre-social media,” and I have the clippings.
Headlines can be the worst. In 30-point type, it’s like saying, “Let’s not just make a mistake, let’s shout it out in huge type.”
Like the East Texas newspaper headline on a story reporting that a Catholic School would be leasing a local building. Sure, the story explained it all, but after reading the headline, the reader’s mind has already gone down the road of thinking there’s a well-known and powerful new tenant in town.
No explanation needed in the central Texas newspaper headline utilizing a similar sounding, but unfortunately, incorrect verb.
Then there are those headlines that just should never have made it to press, like the coastal Texas newspaper headline that used an incorrect abbreviation. So many questions begging to be asked. I don’t know, maybe it resulted in a few more cookbook sales.
Sometimes, a headline can be perfect, but placed on the page in such a manner as to suggest something entirely different than was intended. Like the photo in an East Texas weekly some years ago of four people standing waste deep in water, obviously prepared for a baptism service—which is what the headline and story below the picture reported. Unfortunately, the story and headline positioned right above the photo reported on an altogether different event that coincidentally, involved the same number of people pictured.
Other times, just the combination of words in a perfectly good headline that is well written and factually accurate can still cause the reader to think, “I’m not sure I would have stated it exactly like that.”
It’s a fact that there is a Butt Street in the East Texas city where the newspaper was published. And it’s a fact that police officers raided a crack house on that street. But, I just don’t think I would have pieced all of that together in the same headline … at the top of the front page.
Typos and other things that make you wonder “why” can also sneak into an ad.
Technically, there is nothing wrong with advocating, “Knock ‘em Dead Big Red,” on any given Friday night somewhere in Texas. It’s perfectly acceptable football jargon when the gridiron competition warms up on a cool fall night. But, there are just some businesses, for which it might not be totally appropriate ad copy.
Having suffered the anguish of misprint maladies myself, I can testify that no writer is immune. Adding insult to injury, these few samples serve as evidence that once published, some typos will live in infamy for many years. Once the ink is on the newsprint, it’s there for published posterity.
The 60-plus year collection, long years ago dubbed “The Proofreader’s Bible” by Narramore, or Craig, or maybe both, contains more examples than space allows here. Plus, a number of them venture into the realms of political incorrectness and content deserving of a restricted movie rating.
While the dreaded typo can range from mildly humorous to downright hilarious for readers, the typo will forever cause writers to cringe. Therefore, should you find one in this column, laugh all you like, just don’t tell me.