Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tricks or Treats?

Here are some scary typos I found this week -- just in time for Halloween! 

My bank runs a continual loop of ads, trivia, news and other colorful info bits on a flat screen monitor behind the teller counter.  This week they are displaying a greeting to customers:

      HAVE A SPOOKEY HALLOWEEN!

Mind you, this is no small-text crawler that zips by in a matter of seconds -- the text is about 2-3 inches tall and part of a full-screen, full-color graphic that displays for about a minute on each pass!  I regret that I didn't have my camera with me so I could show it to you.  It was amusing and, at the same time, rather horrifying.

My handy-dandy dictionary confirms that there is no 'e' in "spooky" and shows no alternate spellings.  Interestingly, a quick Google search for "spookey" with an 'e' revealed a musician by the name of Spookey Ruben, the same misspelling of "spooky" on someone's blog, and a dog breeding operation in Croatia called "Angel's Spookey French Bulldog Kennel."

The stuff you can find on the Internet...

The second Halloween-themed bit popped up while I was doing online research for a college history class.  Regarding laws of the Roman Republic:

It was an offence to cast or have a which cast any spells on someone else.

"Offence" is the British version of "offense", so no offense taken by that.  But a pronoun does not cast spells.  Sorry folks -- that's a job for a witch.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's the Point?

Someone recently asked me why I write this blog.  The short and snarky answer is:  Because I can.

As if anything is ever that simple... <grin>

If you read my very first post, you know that I wasn't exactly born with this odd little habit of dissecting everything I read.  It developed over many years of reading, more years working as an office wonk, and kicked into high gear when I decided to take up writing as a serious pursuit. 

Now some would argue that I might take writing a little too seriously, but that's another discussion altogether...

I write this blog because I'm fed up with seeing typos everywhere:  books, newspapers, online articles, TV news crawlers, store ads.  I mean, the folks who write and edit this stuff are getting paid to do so; they're supposed to be professionals.  But tell me, just how professional is a news team that misspells "Colorado" in a prominent banner on their five o'clock broadcast?  (Yep -- saw that one two nights ago.)

My blog won't change the world.  I know that.  Even if I could keep up with the hordes of typos floating around out there, highlighting the same mistakes over and over would quickly wear thin for you as a reader and for me as a writer. 

So what's the point?

Mostly, TWNAP is an outlet to vent my frustrations about the bad writing I see on a daily basis, and the apathy that often accompanies it.  Good writing should be the standard, not the exception, for all writers -- not just "the pros."  Even if a writer doesn't have the best grammar or spelling ability, that shouldn't stop him or her from at least trying to get it right.  If nothing else, writing well should be a matter of personal pride -- and a perpetual goal.

To that end, working on this blog helps me to grow as a writer.  I am constantly challenged to dig into correct word usage, proper placement of apostrophes, or alternative spellings.  (You should see the slew of content I've archived for later posts!)  It inspires me to keep my own writing skills sharp.

Hopefully my blog will inspire others to continue honing their own writing skills as well.  If we can share a few smiles and learn something along the way, all the better.  Writing is a lifelong education.  In the words of Ernest Hemingway:

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."
 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

People tend to write just like they talk, especially in informal communications such as personal e-mails or discussion forum posts.  One mistake I see frequently is using "of" instead of "have" as in the following examples:

      "I could of done more…"

      "She should of been there on time…"

      "It wouldn't of made a difference…"

The correct usage in these examples is "could have," "should have," and "wouldn't have."  But people have a habit of running words together when they speak, which is fine if the words make a natural contraction:  "could have" becomes "could've," "should have" becomes "should've."

Spoken aloud, or even in internal thought, "could've" sounds just like "could of," and "should've" sounds like "should of."  And when people write just like they speak – well, you can see how "would of," "should of" and "could of" creep into written use.

It's still wrong, though.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wordplay Part Two

Now this is how you play with words:

The Force is with Vader: Police dog nabs car theft suspect

This was the headline of a story posted online at www.gazette.com that describes how a police dog named Vader chased down an alleged car thief.

The ubiquitous Star Wars reference is clichéd, but I still like it…

The moral of this (and the previous) post?  Humor is subjective.  Very subjective.  Writing humor, no matter the length or purpose of the work, is difficult because people are amused by different things.  Some will smile or laugh.  Others will not.  

That's just the way it is.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wordplay – or Not

I love wordplay and puns, especially when they're done well.  The following paragraph header in an article about small kitchen appliances left me a little puzzled, though:

SO WHAT DO I KNEAD, ANYWAY?

At first I found the need/knead play on words mildly amusing.  I continued to read, half-expecting a discourse on bread making machines or some other contraption capable of kneading dough.

My amusement quickly evaporated.

You see, the paragraph attached to this cutesy subtitle discussed appliances the writer felt were a justifiable expense for food prep – and bread maker or dough kneader were not on the list.  The paragraph really had nothing to do with the kind of "kneading" the header suggested. 

For a brief moment I considered the possibility that this was just another typo, albeit a well-placed one.  But the tone of the article suggested that "knead" was deliberately used, and not just a brain-to-keyboard disconnect.  I suppose some, including the author and his/her editor (if any), would argue that this particular use of "knead" was just fine for a kitchen-themed article.  It gets the reader's attention, and that's the goal, right?

To me, the wordplay fell flat.  It felt like the writer was throwing in a cute turn of phrase just for the sake of doing so.  The ploy may have worked for some readers, but it didn't work for me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Proofreader on Vacation?

I had to wonder after seeing this in Saturday's Denver Post.  These are the kind of typos I see regularly on FAILBlog (http://failblog.org/), but it's a rare occasion to experience one in person:

The images might be difficult to see, so here's an enlargement of the first one:


From there it only gets worse:


I only included the first occurrence, but "A leadin sentence will go here" is repeated on every story - a total of seven times!

And by the way - "leadin" is supposed to be hyphenated:  lead-in.

I sure hope that proofreader had a nice vacation, because it might be the last one he or she gets for a while...

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tragedy of Misspeaking

Even on a good day, the news is filled with stories of car wrecks, assaults, murders and other general unpleasantness.  All too often (because, frankly, once is one time too many) the intrepid TV reporters covering these stories botch their own overly dramatic narrative, leaving their viewers in disbelief.  Not disbelief because the story was so tragic, but because their delivery of it was.

Recently, a local reporter covering a murder told how the victim had been "shot and killed multiple times."  Unless this was some sort of paranormal undead thing, I highly doubt the victim died more than once…

Another reporter announced that a person had been "murdered dead."  Imagine that.

The saddest one I've ever seen was related to a tragic accident in which a mother and two of her young triplets were killed.  This reporter proclaimed that "two of the three twins" lost their lives.

For the sake of TV viewers everywhere, let's hope that stupidity is a condition that can be cured.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tips to Mend the Errors of Your Ways

"Never proofread your own work." - Master Gunnery Sergeant Frank Castaneda

The wise Master Gunny I once worked for wasn't the first to offer this advice, nor will he be the last.  It's hard to spot errors when you're too close to the work, and your brain only muddles the effort by putting misspelled or misused words into context, causing you to miss typographical errors.

Writers often toil in solitude and under deadline, so it isn't always possible to have someone else proofread your work.  If you must proofread your own writing, try these tips to minimize mistakes:

1.  Use the spell check and grammar check tools in your word processing program – but don't rely solely on them!  These programs have limited dictionaries, and they won't highlight a correctly spelled word used improperly (such as 'their' instead of 'there').  They also can't tell you when words are missing altogether unless the omission triggers a bad grammar alert.

2.  Set aside your writing for at least an hour, and preferably a day or more.  Give your brain a break, and reread the piece with a fresh perspective.

3.  Print the document.  Typos and other errors are usually easier to spot on paper than on the computer screen.

4.  Allow yourself quiet time, free of distractions, to concentrate on proofreading.

5.  Read the work aloud.  Make sure you pronounce each word, and don't hurry.

6.  Read it backwards, starting with the last word of the last sentence.  Work your way to the beginning.

7.  Always keep a dictionary and a thesaurus close at hand – and use them!

If you have the luxury of another set of eyes to review your writing, make sure that set of eyes is competent in spelling and grammar.  You want to present your best work to the world, and you can't do that if your proofreader doesn't have a grip on the language.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Typos in the Strangest Places

Today's featured typo is one that I can't even believe I caught.  It is either evidence of my superb attention to detail or my need to get a life.  (I really don't want to know which it is; some questions are better left unanswered.)

While watching the latest episode of "Undercovers" (which is a show I haven't been following for reasons I won't detail here), I saw this:



Here's a close up of the typo in case you didn't catch it:


The shot was on the screen for only a moment – three seconds, to be exact.  Most viewers were probably drawn to the photo of the handsome spy.  I noticed him, too, but for some reason I pounced on "Franfurt, Germany" like a cat on a mouse.

Hey, what can I say?  You can't switch a gift like mine off and on.  <grin>

Last week I almost posted about the "tendinitis" I saw in an article, but it turned out that "tendinitis" and "tendonitis" are both accepted spellings for that ailment.  (Who knew?)  So I did a quick online search for "Franfurt" to prevent a similar misstep.

I didn't find any German town with that exact name.  If you know of an honest to goodness "Franfurt" (without a 'k'), please tell me and I'll let the NBC prop masters off the hook.

Otherwise, I'm just going to snicker.


Monday, October 4, 2010

In Defiance of Proper Spelling

I'm amused that I found the same typo twice in three days.

From a posting to an online discussion group that I follow:

            "…I am defiantly returning…"

And from an online story about insurance companies deploying privatized firefighting crews:

            "…(a spokesman) acknowledged that the policies are 'defiantly not cheap'…"

In both cases the writers clearly meant to say "definitely."  I seriously doubt they were in a rebellious state of mind (although anything's possible).

In both cases I nearly missed the errors.  When a written word has letters missing or is otherwise misspelled, your brain automatically tries to "fix" it. Many times you will end up seeing what the word is supposed to be in defiance of what is actually written.

I hate it when that happens.