News

The Great Typo Hunt

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | March 05, 2011

"Typos are very important to all written form. It gives the reader something to look for so they aren't distracted by the total lack of content in your writing."
Randy K. Milholland

Ever since I was in elementary school I have tried to spell correctly. I still have trouble with "affect" and "effect," but over the years I have kept working at it. 

Today my eyes quickly notice "your" when it should be "you're" and "in lieu of" when it should be "in view of." I often think of correct spelling as a kind of game I'm playing where any margin for error is virtually non-existent. I have a harder time finding errors in my own writing than in someone else's. 

You can imagine, then, why the book The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson captured my attention. Deck is an editor and Herson is a bookseller, both from New England. They decided to take three months and travel across America visiting malls, restaurants, museums and more in search of misspellings, misplaced or missing apostrophes and grammatical errors. 

Deck and Herson carried magic markers and White-Out, and whenever they found a typo they corrected it. They had a simple goal: "We would not be jerks. There are plenty of people who mock others for their mistakes. We wanted the errors eradicated, but it was not our place to pass judgment." 

They actually found 437 typos on public signs, notices, billboards, etc. and corrected more than half of them. They also set up a group of associate grammar geeks called the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) to help them find and fix typos. With their friends they posted their findings on a website and a Facebook page. 

Their greatest mistake took place on March 28, 2008 when they noticed that a comma and an apostrophe were missing from an old sign in the Grand Canyon. They corrected the sign, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a priceless historical artifact. They were later taken into federal court by the National Park Service, which charged them for defacing federal property. 

On August 11, 2008 Deck and Herson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and were ordered to pay a $3,000.00 fine. They were also banned from all national parks for one year. 

In an article in the November 2010 edition of The Writer, Chuck Leddy observes, "In the end, Deck and Herson may have had the last laugh." Their federal prosecution seems to have helped them get more attention and made possible their book deal which earned them a generous $150,000.00. Herson told a Virginia newspaper, "It's one of those true lemonade-out-of-lemons stories." 

We can get very defensive when it comes to our spelling. In part, I think, it's because when we are criticized we take it personally. To criticize my spelling is to criticize something about me. 

Is this problem getting worse? I think so. Even though we have "spell check" on our computers, we are in such a hurry to send our messages we don't edit them carefully enough. More than once I have re-read a message after I have sent it and just then I have noticed an embarrassing typo. 

Witch brings us back two the challenge we all face with spelling. Some words look write when we right them but other words seem rong no matter how long we sea them. 

I have a tendency, to use two many commas, but I prefer to use more, than not enough. I also like exclamation points! I now by know you probably think something has gone wrong with my grammar and spelling but I wanted two illustrate how easy these misteakes can be for all of us. 

We can even leaf sentences out there without... We can Capitalize Wear We shouldn't and We can use ALL CAPITALS Wear we shouldn't. 

The hunt for xamples like these goes on and on. 

Think abowt it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu