Friday, August 22, 2008

Maybe Worth Thinking About

A friend in sunny Arizona sent us this article about some guys who don't like "typos." According to the article,

[Jeff Michael] Deck's diary account of the Grand Canyon incident was submitted as evidence in court. It says the two men climbed Desert View Watchtower while on holiday from their typo-enforcement duties "and discovered a hand-rendered sign inside that, I regret to report, had a few errors. I know today was supposed to be my day off from typo-hunting, but if I may be permitted to quote that most revered of android law enforcers, Inspector Gadget, 'Always on duty!' I can't shut it off....Will we never be free from the shackles of apostrophic misunderstanding, even in a place surrounded by natural beauty?"

After correcting a misplaced apostrophe and comma, Deck reported, he was aghast to discover what he described as a made-up word: "emense."

"I was reluctant to disfigure the sign any further, so we had to let the other typo stand. Still, I think I shall be haunted by that perversity."

While it may be fun to talk about what idiots these guys are, it may be more productive to use this as an occasion to reflect on the behavior of our colleagues--perhaps even on our own behavior. A typo is an error that has to do with, you know, typography. This was a manuscript sign--manuscript in the original sense--and this guy is having vapors about the typos. A manuscript is nontypographic. A manuscript has no typos. This is embarrassing. But we often embarrass ourselves in similar ways, showing off our own ignorance while acting superior (something I've done more than once). Like the person (I'm not making this up) who filled a manuscript (in the modern sense of the word) on the dirty war in Argentina with queries, increasingly snide, asking since when disappear is a transitive verb. And having hissy fits about trivial errors, some of which may not even be errors, when a logical or factual flaw kicks us where it hurts to be kicked and we don't even notice. (Or, arguably, like some doofus who gets all riled up by a supposed misuse of "typo." But I was trying to make a point, what with this guy acting like he's such a precisionist.)

An editor once told me that we're the accuracy department. This, like these guys' vandalism, is emblematic of editorial arrogance at its worst. We take care of the dangling modifiers, and those people who write the stuff, all they care about is getting the Krebs cycle right! I'm saving the public from a misplaced apostrophe, and these people are worried about a unique (in the pedantically acceptable sense of the word) historical marker! O injustice! O apostrophicity!

Some of us sometimes need to get some perspective.

1 comment:

The Ridger, FCD said...

Amen. Copy-editing is an honorable and much-needed profession. But sometimes (I know a few) copy eds get so hung up over the adverbs or the neologisms or the apostrophes that they confuse their style guide with Natural Law.