A road trip to end typos
Two grammar buffs set off on a cross-country journey to correct typos. Not everyone was pleased.
This story was originally reported by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.
A simple, red-and-white sign that read, "No tresspassing," inspired copyeditor Jeff Deck. "The glare from the extra s seemed to mock me," Deck and Benjamin D. Herson write in their book The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction At A Time. "I stared at that no tresspassing sign, and I wondered: Could I be the one? What if I were to step forward and do something?"
The two young men set out on a road trip across the country, "armed with Wite-Out and black marker, waging a campaign of holy destruction on spelling and grammatical mistakes." In town after town, the two tried to correct as many typos as they could, debating grammatical minutiae as they went.
The pair also created the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), an organization dedicated to the destruction of typos everywhere. They separated the members into two groups, generally: grammar hawks and grammar hippies. The grammar hawks, also known as prescriptivists, believe language can be right or wrong. The grammar hippies, also known as descriptivists, believe that language is more changeable.
Outside Chicago, the two saw a sign that proudly stated "Milwuakee Furniture" as opposed to the more standard, "Milwaukee Furniture." Deck told PRI's Here and Now, "The people inside, when we told them about the mistake, did not really react with the drive to improve the impression that their store was giving that I had expected." The employees told the authors that they would alert management, but Deck left with the impression that "It didn't really seem like anything was actually going to happen."
The typos are "not only clouding and impeding the communications itself of whatever message they're trying to convey," Deck told Here and Now, "but they're distorting the impression that the store gives off."
Some people who had their typos corrected got defensive. And Deck understood why. He told Here and Now, "to some extent we are our text, and so it's only a natural human reaction for someone to get defensive when someone points out their mistake." At the same time, the authors tried to make it clear, "we were only going after the mistakes themselves, not the people who made them." They emphasized, "to err is human. We're all going to have typos." They simply wanted people to take a little extra time, think about their writing, read it over again or ask for help.
Not everyone took their quest to stamp out typos so lightly. Inside the Grand Canyon National Park, the two saw a sign that had an errant apostrophe and was missing a comma. The two tried their best to correct the sign, adding a comma and smudging out the apostrophe. Unfortunately, according to Deck, "the sign had been created about 70 years ago, and was considered by the park service to have historic and aesthetic value." The pair was fined $3,000 and banned from all National Parks for a year.
The fines couldn’t stop the authors in their quest to destroy typos. "I think typos are a form of pollution. Much like pollution you're seeing more of it today, because there's a sort of a general apathy. One of those tragedy of the commons type things," Herson said. It's important to realize, "you can get rid of pollution, if everybody makes a concerted effort, and you can get rid of typos the same way."
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