The Great Typo Hunt
An interview with the men who spent two and a half months on a cross-country mission to eliminate typos.
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“It certainly didn't start out as field science in sociology. It sort of turned into that. We would try, in each interaction, to convey through courtesy and good humor that we're not in this to make anyone feel bad or judge anyone. We're just trying to clean up the textual landscape,” says Deck. “When people became hostile or defensive, we would try to smooth things over. Being defensive when someone points out your mistake is a natural human reaction. But it's not actually the most productive response when fixing something.”
Herson and Deck were careful not to go after anyone who was learning English as a second language, and the Correction Kit did not come equipped with dunce caps or giant pointy fingers. “There's more than enough material to work with native speakers,” says Deck. “We focused on text put out in the public sphere, usually in businesses.
“There was no correcting the way people speak or any private communication,” adds Herson. “No rapping anyone on the knuckles.”
“There's already enough vitriol out there in the world of grammar gurus,” says Deck. “We're trying to be the more hopeful alternative.”
Besides the errant apostrophe on a sign at the Grand Canyon that landed them in hot water with the US government, the most painful moment for the duo came at a learning store in Ohio that advertised “Year Around Fun” and said children could “Play In Doors” (an impossibility unless you are a character in “Monsters, Inc.”).
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When Deck and Herson asked if they could fix her sign, the store manager got out a dictionary and tried to argue that the dot dividing “indoors” into two syllables meant it was two separate words. When another employee confirmed the mistakes, she announced she “would rather have a sign spelled incorrectly than a tacky-looking sign.” (Some of us might argue that a misspelled sign is, by its nature, “tacky looking,” but nevertheless.)
“That was the most painful one for me personally,” says Herson. “In that instance, there was nothing we could do.”
“It was just the educational aspect of the store that made that one particularly painful,” agrees Deck. “It was the fact that they carried important reference sources like dictionaries, but then she didn't actually know how to use it herself.”
Then there was a recent book signing at a store in Boston's Logan Airport. “A girl wanted to come in, and her mother said, 'Oh no, Honey. They only sell books in there,' ” says Herson, himself a bookseller for the past eight years.
“As she was dragging her away, the girl was saying, 'But I like books,' ” Deck adds.
While on tour, Deck and Herson will be scouring the textual landscape for typos once again. If you find and correct any particularly notable typos, feel free to let them know at email@example.com. There's one important contest rule: “ Always ask first,” says Herson.
They'll be featuring some of the best ones they get on their blog, and once they've received entries from all 50 states, they'll start handing out prizes.
And if you spot any of the little devils lurking in this article, feel free to comment below.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews books for the Monitor.