Friends have started sending me stories about the typo vigilantes, Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson, who have a book out, The Great Typo Hunt. You may remember the Typo Eradication Advancement League from 2008. The pair went across the country, correcting typos without permission of whoever owned the sign or other item with the incorrect punctuation, spelling, or what have you. Jan Freeman, in a recent post about the book, recaps:
The three-month odyssey ended with a whimper, though, when the guys returned to Deck’s Somerville home to face a summons from the National Park Service: A sign they had corrected at the Grand Canyon was, it seemed, a 1932 hand-painted artifact, its mispunctuation protected by federal law. Deck and Herson could have gotten away with it — but they had posted the damning evidence on their own blog. Fined, muzzled, mocked in the media, and given a year’s probation, they closed the incriminating website and hunkered down.
They apparently didn't hunker down for long, but they no longer make corrections without permission. And now they have a book. I haven't read it, and I really have no interest. Last year, I was sent a copy of I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar -- based on the Facebook group of the same name -- and haven't read that either.
John McIntrye wrote about Deck and Herson in 2008, and he put it perfectly when he said:
What is annoying about the whole enterprise is that it trivializes grammar, and reinforces the public image that people concerned about grammar and usage are (a) preoccupied with trifles and (b) busybodies whose joy in life is to correct other people publicly.
Think that isn't the perception? Here's something from a Philadelphia Inquirer story this week about the pair's visit to the fair city of my birth:
Part classic road-trip narrative, buddy-love saga and state-of-the-nation survey, it's also an adventure thriller for grammar fiends, travel porn for copy editors and other enforcers of linguistic propriety.
It's not travel porn for me. My job as a copy editor when it comes to grammar, spelling, etc. is to ensure that my newspaper is free of errors and is written in a way that is not confusing to readers. We are a professional publication, and people are paying for a product they expect to be understandable and literate. Same with magazines and books. But I don't care how you speak, and I don't care what your sign says. I certainly notice mistakes outside of work, but I generally don't point them out unless I'm trying to annoy my wife.
I'm a copy editor, not a language judge. I've seen people write that when they see a typo in a menu, it makes them not want to eat at the restaurant because a sloppy menu makes them wonder if the chef is as sloppy in the kitchen. Which is ridiculous. It would be like a chef saying he doesn't want to read your newspaper because you can't cook a decent omelette or you burned a cake.
The lead of the Inquirer story called the pair word nerds, a title I like to use for myself. And they are welcome to that. But like other kinds of nerds, it takes all kinds. Please don't think we are all out there thinking ill of you if you mix up which and that.**
*Yes yes, that was on purpose.
**Did the sticklers among you catch what I did there?