Thursday, September 9, 2010

day 43: i joined in the great typo hunt

Depending on your position, arming hard-core grammar nerds (or "hawks" as some might call them) with sharpies, white-out and chalk and setting them loose to go typo hunting is either a blessing or a curse.

They will cross out that unnecessary apostrophe designating a restaurant's back room for "employee's only," add punctuation to the sidewalk sign reading "please come in seat yourself," and suffer an aneurysm upon encountering the phrase "your welcome." These are the people who proofread billboards, grit their teeth at misplaced modifiers, and mock you behind your back for using lazy abbreviations like "thx," "gr8" and "b4."

While visiting the Kansas City Public Library, professional typo hunters Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson talked about their cross-country road trip correcting typos everywhere from mall kiosks to the Grand Canyon to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, at which they found both "Frances" (sic) and "Assissi" (sic) spelled incorrectly. 

this fucking sign is in the kitchen at my office.

The book that resulted from the exploits of these two mild-mannered nerds is aptly titled The Great Typo Hunt, and it's something of a call-to-arms for every armchair grammarian. 

One question I used to ask myself, and with which Deck similarly struggled while writing the book: What's the fucking point? Do sticklers really just have sticks up their asses, causing them to resist the natural forces of change?

And yes, maybe those people who get whiny about misspellings of "donut" or insist "ain't ain't a word because ain't ain't in the dictionary" (not gonna say I'm completely exempt from either category) do need to lighten up. Part of the beauty of language, after all, is that it's a living, ever-evolving beast that can accommodate advancements and changes in technology and culture. A staggering number of words exist today that were meaningless only a decade ago.

But there are certain rules that must remain static; I mean, no one argues that just because a bunch of people get it wrong, eight times eight is now going to equal 65, or that because it's tedious to learn the rules, the value of X in an equation is open to interpretation. No matter how you slice it, a complete sentence needs a subject and a verb, words have correct spellings, and the vast majority (like 99 percent) of plurals do not require apostrophes. 

These rules are important for clarity and consistency of communication, yes, but also because they're unambiguously correct. And there's something noble about fighting for what's right, even if it's as silly as preserving the integrity of the semicolon in bathroom wall graffiti (FYI, my resume could include: "Buzzard Beach bathroom graffiti editor, Oct. 2003 to July 2007").

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