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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Monica: The Proofreader

Typos give me nightmares. 
Really they do. 
In my early days as the PR Guy, you would have to get your news releases printed at an offset printing facility. You would have to collate multiple pages together, staple the pages neatly in the upper left hand corner, make a tight z-fold and stuff them into an envelope and mail them out to the media. I did this quite a bit for the Lakers and Jack Kent Cooke in the early seventies as a kid. (If you want these details, you’ll have to buy the book, literally!) Yet I digress as usual.

Anyway…If you noticed a typo, you would have to re-type your work and deliver the new manuscript to the printer and wait for a day for a reprint. It was expensive and your entire release schedule would be blown.

Today, big agencies employ proofreaders who read copy all day long. That’s all they do. They check for typos, grammatical mistakes, and general copy screw-ups. I used to do that. I was pretty good at. Still am. But, it’s a real drag. And the worst part is, it’s nearly impossible to proofread your own work.

Monica? You may never know. She's undercover.
This blog has a proofreader. Her code name is Monica. I’m on my third Monica, much like Roy Rogers had a bunch of Triggers and Elizabeth Taylor had husbands. I still get nightmares about typos and when I get a text or an email from a reader pointing out a typo, my face sports the ass of the baboon (meaning I turn bright red). I don’t get mad at Monica. After all, you get what you pay for; in this case: nothing.

She’s a great lady. Fun, passionate about her work, and damn smart. She’s undercover and never shows herself to the world. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to let her vent about proofreading and her life analyzing words.

MEDIA GUY: What happened to the long lost art of proofreading and editing? I've seen so many spelling errors on major news sites it saddens me. It wasn't this bad when most of the news was via the newspaper.

MONICA the PROOFREADER: They say in outer space, no one can hear you scream.  And in cyberspace, no one can hear you screech: “Typo!” The Internet is all about speed of spreading the word. Grammar, sentence structure and typos take a backseat in the mad dash to promote ourselves often and early.

MG: When did proofreading become a non-starter?

MtP: Let’s blame the Internet. Everyone else does. Proofreading become a neglected skill and an unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming step.  It is to the 21st century what blacksmithing was to the 19th. Of course, typographical errors online come in a variety of flavors.  I may flinch when I stumble on one in the New York Times online or in print, but I acknowledge that it’s the price I pay to get reasonably good reporting on the 24/7 Internet clock.  I make the same allowances for the comments I read online attached to e-Commerce product pages or news site articles, now that I know there are thousands who think the verb “to lose” is spelled “to loose” or that “disappointed” packs two ses and two ps or two ses and one p.

MG: Please don’t get me started because English orthography is a bitch.

MtP: Still, you’d think that image-conscious businesses or government agencies would take a slightly fussier stance.  Spelling stuff wrong on an authorized web site or official communication suggests haste or carelessness or indifference.  Those aren’t impressions you want to leave on customers or constituents. But there’s a cost to correctness and clearly it’s too high for some entities in the information business.

MG: Has a typo of yours ever gotten you into trouble?

MtP: I have, and it wasn’t anything obvious! I sent an email to a colleague / ex-boyfriend. It was innocuous, but I signed it with a wink. That’s a simple semi colon and a parenthesis.  Big deal, you say. I say it too. However, I meant to sign it with a smile—that’s a colon and a parenthesis. So long story short, I created this all-day fight for him and his trashy new girlfriend—honest it was really a mistake ;) — all over a semi-colon.

Who would have guessed the semi-colon would have that effect on a life? I mean it’s been sitting on the keyboard since the invention of it. Barely working. Barely making ends meet. Every now and again it would have to work in a bibliography just to pay the rent. But you have to give the semi-colon credit, don’t you? It’s a persistent punctuation mark who never gave up.

MG: Yet you digress…

MtP: Yes, sorry. You get me all revved up over copy! Anyway, he found his way into this argument and, you know, if it had been a colon -- with both eyes open -- and a parenthesis, it would have been a smiley face and not a problem. So a simple typo and it became a wink and she told him, “You’re still sleeping with her aren’t you?”

“Or her shift button is broken…” he said.

The semi-colon. The bastard child of the period and the comma. “Ah, some day,” the semi-colon must have said. You know, it literally has to look up to the colon. There it is below the colon on the keyboard staring up at it all day long biding its time. I can see it saying “Someday, I’ll separate email addresses and independent clauses and screw up budding relationships.”

The semi-colon is very powerful. Get a wink at the wrong time of the day and it’s on. That never happens with an exclamation point. You could say it’s the Viagra of grammar.

MG: What’s the worst editor you have ever had to work with?

MtP: I had a boss that used to keep me late a lot. When I would hand in my work he always tell me in a creepy voice, “"When God closes a door, he opens a dress." Yeah, real nice.

MGS: What are some of the biggest mistakes you noticed recently?

MtP: The list is endless. Here are a few:

At a United Kingdom McDonald’s—Yes, grammar issues give me incontinence as well:

Another Walmart home run:

An unnamed framing store:

This is quite a gaff:

MG: What’s the feeling you get when you really crank out a good edit?

MtP: Have you ever had sex so good you say to yourself “someone is going to have a heart attack right here”? That’s the euphoria you get when you catch a really out-of-the-way mistake.