Sunday, May 16, 2010

When the going gets though, the though get going.

Some people sing with the voices of angels.  Some people run long distances quickly.  Some people coach athletic teams to win, season after season.  Me, I see typos.  As several of my previous Wordless Wednesday posts attest, many letters are being written on objects that do not move while perfectly good letter-writing paper goes unused.  Thank goodness Mrs. Bowen, my sixth grade teacher, gave us students the hint that "stationary" has an "a" in its last three letters to remind us of an "anchor," something that remains still.  "Stationery," on the other hand, is used for writing letters. 



My nickname at Healthy Kids has been "The Big Green Pen" for many years now.  Because I use a green felt-tip pen when I edit letters, and because I am, to put it mildly, generous with the green ink, the nickname is permanent and has become my identity on Twitter (@biggreenpen) and among my proofreading/copyediting clients. 

There are a few of us at the office who enjoy language, and appreciate language used with precision and care.  Therefore, when I see something egregious (like the recent "Flordia"), I send out a quick email with a "Big Green Pen Challenge."  When my coworker, Niki Pocock, participated in the most recent "Big Green Pen Challenge," she included in her response a link to a blog by Bob Gabordi, Executive Editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, in which  Bob discusses why answering his phone is always an adventure.  As part of his blog, when he refers to a caller who questioned whether the Democrat still utilizes proofreaders, he wrote:

Losing those people huddled in the back proofreading pages was part of the price we paid for technology. These days, newspaper pages go straight from the newsroom’s computers to metal plates that go on the press. Fewer eyes are looking for typos and minor grammar flaws.
Between my initial reading (on Friday) of Bob's blog and logging on to http://www.tallahassee.com/ this morning, two typos jumped off the page (first case) and screen (second case).  It was time to e-mail Bob.

In my e-mail, I expressed my hope that there can be some happy medium between those non-existent "back of the room" proofreaders and "a journalistic organization resigning itself to an attitude of "we'll catch what we can, but errors happen." 

I pointed out the on-line lead for the well-done "print exclusive" article about the fiscal difficulties faced by the LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts.  The text stated:

The recession has been particularly though on the
LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts, a Tallahassee
nonprofit that's been around for 47 years.
I also pointed out that the header to a very informative article in yesterday's Democrat, which described how to prepare for the sport of triathlon, was titled this way:

Break in new gear as part of pre-race preperation. 

Arguably, neither of these errors did any damage.  The recession is still hitting Lemoyne; athletes still need to break in their gear to get ready for triathlons. 

I once proofread a friend's resume.  I'm pretty sure the friend's career might have gone a whole different direction if the friend's original representation of her "Master's in Public Administration" had not had its "L" in "Public" replaced before distribution. 

For examples of typos that have done more than annoy, visit Eye for Ink's Typo of the Month page.  You can even subscribe to receive a new "particularly embarrassing or expensive" typo every month (if you can stand it!). 



When my new smartphone started anticipating my words for me, so that, for example, I could start typing "let's get lu...." and the phone would pop up with the options of "lunch" or "lucky," I started tuning in to the types of technology that have become an expectation of my 10- and 13- year old children.  There is very little thinking involved; your message can be composed and sent in a flash. 

But getting "lunch" and getting "lucky" are different.  I imagine there are many people out there I might want to have lunch with, but only one I plan to get lucky with!

In the final paragraph of my email to Bob, I said, "However, if we parents do manage to get our kids to read the newspaper (one can always hope) or if a teacher requires students to read an article in the newspaper for a class-related assignment, I think it is important that the writers/publishers have made every effort to show that they care about the "small considerations" of spelling and grammar in addition to the "big considerations" of what they have to say."

Bob responded within two hours of my original e-mail.  His response e-mail, in which he assured me that typos "drive me utterly insane" (yay! a kindred spirit), he also pointed out that the "online editing process is different ... than the print process."  He discussed the "nature of writing and editing so quickly for the 24-7 news cycle" and commented that, "such errors have always been a problem for newspapers."  Bob said that, "Newspapers have long been called the first draft of history ....... Now, with the Web, perhaps print is the second draft.  But in either case, we have never faced more intense deadline pressure than now and I would not be surprised if our typo-error rate is not higher than in previous generations." 

In closing, Bob wrote, "there is anything but a casual attitude or reaction to such errors in our newsroom.  If I gave that impression, it is a false one." 

I really appreciate the e-mail exchange I shared with Bob, and the articulate, explanatory nature of his response.



Writing, proofreading, and editing have always been a big part of my life.  Sometimes it has been professionally compensated; other times it has been on behalf of a cause that I love.  When I left the Holy Comforter book club tonight, thinking about next month's book, Half the Sky, it occurred to me that quibbling over "it's/its, heel/heal, peek/peak, and other grammatical no-no's," while important to preserving the integrity of the written word, is a true luxury compared to the life and death struggles the women featured in the book face from the moment they are born. 

To tell the story of the women featured in "Half the Sky," though, and other stories meant to inform, convince, and reassure, requires attention to language and detail.  It is that attention to detail and drive to be accurate that I seek to keep alive by protecting the way in which language is used. 

Maybe I'll "get lucky" and this blog won't have any errors.  Anyone want to "get lunch" and calmly discuss?




5 comments:

Karen Thurston Chavez said...

One of my j-school professors gave us these tidbits to remember a couple of spellings ... StationEry is papEr. And an oCCasion 2 C.

Working with Words is one of my fave reference books of all time.

OK, enough chitchat. I have a *though* day ahead! ;-)

Susan Fields said...

I love that! Yes, I agree - many people I'd like to get lunch with, but only one I plan to get lucky with! That is so funny. And your friend with the Master's in Public Administration owes you a great debt!

It's a shame, but I'm sure in these days of everyone being in a rush all the time, grammatical errors will increase. I'm sure that will keep you and your big green pen very busy. :)

NPocock said...

Even though it seems like a small thing, little details like grammar really can influence an organization's reputation. Great post!

jess said...

I love this. I too find the apparent disregard for language infuriating. Not just because of my reverence for the power of language itself, but also because it's indicative of an ever-growing pervasive carelessness in our world.

And um, please forgive any typos 'cause I'm typing on my phone!!! ;)

Alicia said...

Thanks so much for pointing me to this post! Yes, when I see a typo, sometimes I see red (in your case, green). My biggest issue is with business signs and billboards. It might me a minor mistake, but it's now blown up about 100 times so that it becomes a very large in-your-face mistake!