There it is. Staring at you. Taunting you. Making you feel like a fool. The typo. The misspelling. The bonehead how-the-^%$-did-that-get-there “it’s” instead of “its.”
Everyone who writes anything for public consumption has been the victim of a groaner typo at least once—and more likely several times—in his or her writing career. If they say they haven’t, they are liars, and you should check that their pants aren’t on fire.
Here at mtl these typos are often head scratchers… we have a good team of proofreaders and the entire staff routinely reviews the entire magazine multiple times before we release it to the printer. By that point, we are confident we caught every mistake. Then the magazine arrives, we flip it open and there it is… the “nodles” instead of “noodles”… plain as the noses on our faces, which now have egg all over them.
I once read a story at least 20 times before it was printed, but when the magazine was issued, I found “music” had magically become “musice.”
Blame it on a last minute addition that didn’t get thoroughly reviewed, blame it on text being rearranged during the editing process, blame it on my abominable typing skills, blame it on being distracted while writing (multitasking makes us stupid), blame it on Murphy’s Law. It doesn’t matter…it’s still there, in print, for all eternity.
I’m not talking plain old mistakes—names, facts, figures. I think mtl does an exceptional job in avoiding the we’ll-never-live-this-down goofs, although over the years several have sneaked through. To this day, years after the story appeared in print, I feel horrible that I spelled someone’s name as Maddie when her name was actually Maddy (although, in my defense, when I conducted the interview I had the flu and a 102 degree fever, so I wasn’t exactly focused).
But with the big mistakes, you can apologize and run a correction. For the typos, you just have to suck it up and hope no one will notice or at least will ignore it if they do.
In the last few years, I’ve started avoiding everything I’ve written once it’s been printed because I’ll obsess until I’m physically ill over any typo. Avoidance, however, hasn’t worked because some spelling/grammar fanatic smarty pants will inevitably bring it to my attention. Once a man called to tell me I wrote “lightening” instead of “lightning” in a story for Carnegie Magazine. I assured the elderly gentleman that I knew the difference between the two words, and it was a typo that the copy editor should have caught. I kept the conversation pleasant (I didn’t even ask how he got my number or suggest he find a hobby), but inside I was screaming,
“What, you never, in your whole life, made a freakin’ mistake??!”
That doesn’t mean I don’t think spelling and grammar are important. I gave up reading online chats and product recommendations because all I could concentrate on was the atrocious spelling peppering every comment and remark. I branded everyone who used “there” when they meant “their” too stupid to have a worthy opinion—a huge liability when you’re writing a critical review.
There is no cure for the typo—the more you reread things, the more you miss because your eyes begin skimming over the now-familiar text. And don’t count on spell check… pheasant and peasant are words, but can radically change the meaning of a sentence if accidentally switched.
So here’s my suggestion: When it happens once in a document—a “your” instead of “you’re,” for instance—and the rest of the story/press release/invitation/whatever is correct, Let. It. Go. Believe me, it was probably an honest mistake and the writer is already horrified enough. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t say, “Hey, did you know you have a huge pimple on your face?” would you? However, feel free to walk around for the rest of the day with a smug smile on your (not you’re) face while inwardly congratulating yourself on being smarter than the ignorant, obviously poorly educated writer. Just keep it to yourself.
If you agree to this, I agree that on that day—that horrible day—when you accidentally post on your Facebook page: “whose going to the event at the pubic library” I won’t make a snarky comment.