Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Typo Department



 



     You know what I hate? I hate when somebody finds an error, a typo, a factual slip, in my copy, and then waves it over their head as a general indictment of myself and my writing.
     I hate that.
     As a writer.
    However, as a reader, it is a different story.
     Sometimes I'm reading along, reading, happy as a clam, and I stub my toe on somebody else's mistake. It stops me dead. Such as what happened Wednesday, reading "POLICIES FOR PEDALING: Managing the Tradeoff between Speed & Safety for Biking in Chicago," the new report by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. Friday's column is going to revolve around it.
     I appreciate the well-designed cover. Admire the lay-out of the "Study Team" page with its four authors and three designers. I enjoy the concision of its executive summary. 
    Then on page two, the first section, "I. POLICIES AND REGULATIONS GOVERNING BIKING IN CHICAGO."This paragraph:
     Although Chicago has received national attention recently for its bike-friendliness, it is often overlooked that the city has embraced and encouraged this mode for many decades. The city has a long tradition of investing in biking infrastructure, starting in earnest with Mayor Calvin Harrison, who created a bike path from the Edgewater neighborhood to Evanston and made bicycling a prominent part of the 1897 mayoral campaign. Between the 1960s and early 2000s, both Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley also demonstrated a commitment to cycling improvements, including off-street trails and protected bike lanes.
    Did anything leap out at you in that paragraph?
    Maybe "Mayor Calvin Harrison." No? Because it sure popped me in the nose. Based on the year, they mean Mayor Carter Harrison. One of the most famous mayors in Chicago history not named Daley.
    Yes, I know, to write is to err. Yes, I know I am capable of making the same kind of mistake and worse.
    But still....
    Calvin Harrison. Perhaps because it's in the very beginning of an academic report with four authors. Perhaps because it's such a famous mayor -- really, it's like citing Mayor Harvey Washington.
    I sympathize with those behind the study -- which I found useful and interesting and write about on Friday. But c'mon guys. A thing like that calls the rest into question. And at the very beginning. If you're going to drop hair in your food, at least have it in the dessert and not the appetizer.
    Writing is a learning experience, and I've learned, from this, just how vexing those mistakes are, to a reader. Next time someone plucks a Calvin Harrison out of my copy, I plan to be less testy, less defensive, and more sincerely aghast. It really undercuts all your hard work. 

15 comments:

  1. I hate typos, as well, Neil. Such as, "The on page two," (Just busting balls. Love your work.)

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    1. No, that's apt, and to the point. That said, I still fixed it.

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  2. "Perhaps because its in the very beginning of an academic report with four authors."

    Should be "it's"

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  3. One of my pet peeves is when people misuse their/there/they're-too/to, or write should of rather than should have.

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    1. I hate it most when I do it myself. I'm still seething over the "straights" that I alluded to in a comment some weeks ago that should have been "straits."

      However, some of those mistakes will no doubt become standard usage 40, 50 years from now, especially with all the texting that goes on and is likely to continue. But Calvin will never be correct for Carter as long as some people still read books.

      john

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  4. Don't beat yourself up, John. You are forgiven. ;)

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  5. I once saw a study that claimed that when newspaper readers encounter a clear factual error in an article, they immediately stop reading.

    There hasn't been any studies on this AFAIK, but I'd be willing to bet that errors have gone up as newspapers and the publishing industry in general have come to regard copy editors as dispensable luxuries.

    Meanwhile, Breitbart and its ilk churn out "articles" that are nothing but factual errors from beginning to end, and they get Donald Trump elected.

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  6. I suppose people who should know better shouldn't make mistakes, but as far as administering condemnation goes it might be well to recall, with Alexander Pope, that to err is human, to forgive divine.
    And, if one is writing to a deadline, agree with Voltaire that the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good.

    About the reader taking small errors in stride and not giving up on the whole piece, Confucius wisely said "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."

    In many ways the English tongue is a tricky beast -- one thinks of the woman who heard a funny joke and said "I haven't laughed so hard since my husband died"-- but errors in grammar, syntax and spelling should be distinguished from factual misstatements, which may or may not be intentional.

    Tom Evans

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  7. Since we're doing pet peeves: 1) It's memento not momento, and what makes me crazy 2) "Carol is going to the movies with Bob and I". Bob and me. Easy to remember - would you say "Carol is going to the movies with I"? Stop it right now!

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    1. Unfortunately, all too many people do say, "Carol is going to the movies with I." Or "with he." And nobody, I mean nobody, uses "whom" correctly. If I'm around 40 years from now (very very unlikely), listening to ordinary conversations will be like hearing a constant screech of chalk on a blackboard.

      john

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  8. I'm not one for peeves, per or otherwise, but do find myself annoyed when journalists try to spice up their copy with unnecessary coinages, usually created by verbalizing nouns or adverbs. Not a sin committed by Neil, but one often catches Sneed in flagrante. A movie director 'helms' a new project. The President 'inks' a bill.

    I'm not against allowing new words -- being a polyglot lingo, English has at least two ways to describe almost anything, an advantage. Only ones that serve no new purpose.

    The futility of trying to arrest the growth of vocabulary, as the French do was illustrated by a lament penned in 1619. by Alexander Gill, an English schoolmaster. "Oh harsh lips, I now hear all about me such words as 'vices,' 'envy,' 'malice,' 'virtue,' 'study,' 'justice,' 'pity, mercy,' 'etc.' But whither, I pray, in all the world, have you banished those words which our forefathers used for these new-fangled ones."

    Tom Evans

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  9. My peeve, using "loose" instead of lose.

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    1. Yes, that one seems to be gaining traction. Or at least I've been noticing it a lot more.

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  10. Happy to report that today's version of the report has Calvin typographically corrected to Carter. However, the mayor in question cannot be the allegedly famous Carter Harrison - he was assassinated in 1893. Rather, it's his not-at-all famous son, Carter Harrison Jr., who was elected mayor in 1897. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, he campaigned as "the Cyclists' Champion".

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