“If you enjoy adventurous exploits with plenty of grammatical swashbuckling, our book is for you!”
— Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, authors of “The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction
at a Time”
I suffer from an affliction. The nature of my malady is related to my profession, and I fear it is incurable.
Others of my ilk are similarly affected; some choose to suffer in silence, or to vent to loved ones. Others complain.
Still others take action.
I am speaking of typographiphobia, or a fear of typographical errors.
OK, so I made that word up — which means, ironically, I am contributing to the problem that induces my own distress.
And the distress is very real.
It’s a somewhat hypocritical condition; you’re not perfect, so you make typographical errors yourself, but it’s those made by others that make you crazy. Now, I’m not talking about mistakes in a text message or email, but those that are on public display.
It has seriously curtailed my ability to enjoy outings with my family and friends.
I will see a sign out in front of someone’s house proclaiming it to be the home of “The Smith’s,” or a business advertising “steel-belted radio tires” or a diner offering “Soup of the day du jour” or some such, and I fear I will go mad.
Nearly every day I have to endure the drive past a drugstore with a large awning announcing that it is “Open everyday,” instead of “Open every day.”
Finally, I could take it no more.
Inspired by the adventures of Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson in their 2010 book “The Great Typo Hunt” — which recounts their trek across the U.S., fixing typos on signs — I took action.
I wrote to the drugstore chain, asking, “Will you please correct the sign? It is a pretty prominent error and I have to drive past it every day.”
The response from customer care came five days later:
“The Operations Team is aware of the error but unfortunately at the time of the installation of the awning, it was not caught. We have taken steps to ensure that this error does not happen again. We will be upgrading/renovating this store soon and will correct it at that time.”
So, I continue to suffer, but the promise of relief is a balm of sorts.
And I console myself with the knowledge others are safe now that the drugstore chain has pledged it will not make the same mistake again.
Feeling somewhat triumphant, I emailed author Jeff Deck in Maine to find out how he’s been coping since “The Great Typo Hunt” was published and to ask what spurred the mission in the first place.
“I’ve had a built-in typo radar ever since I learned to read,” he told me.
“At first, I’d just laugh at the mistakes that I’d find pretty much everywhere I went: ‘Its party time,’ ‘Cappacino ice cream,’ ha ha, there’s another one. But the sheer number of typos that I noticed over the years made me start to think that this was an epidemic of error. I wished that I could do something to help wipe out these mistakes and improve the impression that people were making with their signs.
“Without even knowing it, I’d been preparing all my literate life for a typo-hunting mission across the U.S.
“My ‘Great Typo Hunt’ colleague Benjamin Herson didn’t start off with the same passion — he was more interested in the ‘crazy road trip’ aspect of the journey — but he caught the bug along the way. Anyone can, really, but I should warn you that once you start noticing these things, you can’t turn it off.”
He’s got that right.
Deck says typos on signs may seem like a minor annoyance, but they send garbled messages that undermine credibility.
“They can make you seem careless or even incompetent,” he writes.
“That’s not a good impression if you have something to sell. If a butcher shop can’t bother to get the spelling right on their signs, how can I trust that they’ve handled their meat with greater care?”
Of course, not everyone enjoys having typos pointed out.
Deck said he and Herson “tried to communicate as clearly as we could that we were targeting the typos and not the people who’d made them. Our policy was to be courteous and nonconfrontational. Still, we encountered a whole range of reactions, from the positive to the apathetic to the downright hostile.”
The strongest reaction to the pair came during a brief foray into Canada.
“(W)e unwisely chose to eradicate the extraneous apostrophe in a ‘Palm Reading’s’ sign without permission,” Deck recalls.
“As we worked on the sign, two thugs in a car screeched to a halt next to us. They told us to stop what we were doing and keep walking, or they’d ensure we couldn’t walk anymore. So, oddly enough, the only time we were physically threatened was by a couple of Canadians. I’m sure that would never happen in Newfoundland, though.”
The response they got in New Orleans was a lot less hostile.
“At a Margaritaville souvenir shop, the employees got a good laugh out of the ‘Thrusday’ that we found on their sign out front,” Deck writes.
“Not only did they fix it right away, but they gave us a free bumper sticker for our trouble: ‘Time Flies When You’re Having Rum.’ That’s a great example to follow. It’s important for us not only to be willing to fix our mistakes, but to be able to laugh at ourselves freely and often.”
As so often is the case in life, no matter what the question, rum is the answer.
Thanks for sharing, Jeff. Talking to you was like being in a support group.
It’s off to the liquor store for me.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, yes, the typo in the headline was intentional.