The perils of typochondria

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

I'm a typochondriac. I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I fixed that transposition of letters and whether I checked the spelling of "peripatetic." You might think such details are inconsequential, but I assure you they are not. A lot is riding on it.

Every once in a while — though we probably deserve it more often — one of our readers will take us to task for typos and other forms of grammatical incorrectness. Though the scolding, imperious tone can sometimes be off-putting I appreciate the feedback because it means:

a) People are reading (something I never take for granted),

b) they're reading carefully, and

c) they care fully about what they're reading.

All of these, like living, beat the alternative by a long shot (or is it longshot?).

But our judgmental proofreaders never see the miscues that never reach the paper. To prove our diligence, I keep a running list of the gaffes we manage to intercept before they end up applied to newsprint in perpetuity.

Consider a recent case in point: "The appellate court does not putt appeals on an expedited schedule very often." Maybe the judge putted this one because he was feeling the lure of the links.

That particular case involved a legal challenge against certain candidates who planned to run for office, leading to the following startling image: "Several candidates were removed from the ballet." One consolation for those thrown off the "ballot," of course, is that they'll have plenty of time to attend the ballet — presuming they promise to behave themselves.

During the course of a calendar year, I encounter innumerable verbal anomalies, such as "during the course of a colander year." I've had years like that. How about you? Very draining.

"Corps" is one of those French-derived words that induces confusion. One doesn't, for instance, want to cast unnecessary aspersions by referring to the "medical corpse" (those troubling extra letters). Neither is it spelled "corp" (the abbreviation for "corporation"). And though the word is pronounced "core," you aren't allowed to spell it that way.

Letter inversion is another nuisance. "He sued the cannabis for medical purposes" forces the mind to do back flips (or is it backflips?) trying to make sense of the sentence. Maybe he "sued" for the right, then "used" the cannabis (for medical purposes only, of course).

Copyediting is all about close calls: "My heart brakes for his family" implies that her compassion came to a full stop. We have come perilously close to accusing commission members of putting together a "Compressive Plan," the board of education of setting a "president" (on a pedestal or in cement?), a criminal of stealing sewer covers from "allies" (in the alleys), and a café of serving brunch items like croissants, sandwiches with homemade bread, classic French dishes like Sole Meuniere, and "muscles."

We almost alleged that "the testing materials were 'improperly mishandled'" and that current conditions were "lessoning" the power of the village manager. We nearly cited a video of a giant "statute" of Buddha in Japan. And we just missed reporting that "What's left over is spilt 50-50 between the bar owner and the video gaming vendor." Well, no use crying over it.

All of this gets even more messed up when Spell Check or Microsoft Word almost whimsically start changing words. My steel-trap instincts told me something was amiss when I read that "Madison Street has been blighted by vaccines." Also by vacancies, I'll wager. And residents would get downright indignant if they read that the village engineer says certain streets need to be "regarded." First regarded, then regraded, presumably.

Power outages frequently lead to "power outrages" and if too many occur, they might be classified as "power outrageous."

An article about a Taekwondo black belt who teaches classes contained this near-miss: "He was a shy kid, but marital arts brought him out of his shell. As an instructor, he's seen the same change in his students over the years." There's a euphemism for you: "practitioner of marital arts." In some relationships, of course, martial arts would provide better preparation.

And, yes, we did almost describe the River Forest Caucus slate of candidates as "the River Forest Caucasian slate," so you can see why proofreading is such an important job. Sometimes I feel like a hockey goalie.

We almost had the Collaboration for Early Childhood hosting a lecture by a "Noble Laureate," but that would be far preferable to characterizing him as a "Nobel Lariat" though he did, in some sense, lasso the prize.

Either way, he likely would be much more understanding than the OPRF superintendent would have been if the following sentence had seen the light of day: "The outgoing board members were also given a plague by Supt. Steven Isoye for their service."

Typos, it seems, can reach epidemic proportions.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 8:35 PM

Speaking of typographical errors: Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher, who made both Hizzoner Mayor Daleys look like rank novices as far as language manglers, go, had something to say about typos. It was in an interview with a newspaper reporter (remember them) about the previous day's game. He said, " Yogi,I read you went 3 for 4". Yogi retorted, "no I went 4 for 4"!. reporter said, " Oh must have been a typographical error" Yogi said, " no the last at bat was a clean hit". He meant it!

Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 8:23 PM

Ken, Is this not a reprint from the not too distant past? I seem to remember this or a VERY similar piece! Has your muse abandoned you or are you testing us?

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