Monday, June 13, 2011

Proofreaders Need Not Apply

In space, no one can hear you scream.  And in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream “Typo!”

The disintermediation the Internet allows for publishing ideas or advertisements—requiring fewer and fewer steps and lower and lower expenditures to get the word out—has left corporations, governments, and the rest of us in a mad dash to promote ourselves early and often.

Along the way proofreading has become a neglected skill and an unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming step.  It is to the 21st century what blacksmithing was to the 20th.

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 ecommerce 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.

English orthography is a bitch.

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.

Here are a few examples I’ve stumbled on over the last couple of months.  I didn’t set out to find these gaffes—they found me:

Citi Group Credit Cards
Now that Citi Group’s credit card unit has had a couple of hundred thousand customer accounts hacked I guess they’ve bigger fish to fry than running the nonword “dinning” through Spell Check and correcting it to “dining”.  They’re sure to spend so much money on boosting security—or at least on PR to promote the idea they’re boosted security—they won’t have a penny extra to spend on agency billings padded with frivolous proofreading charges.

American List Council

{Sigh}  I’ve been there, American List Council.  You’re typing along, you enter a short word like “with”, and a few words later you’re supposed to enter an entirely different short word starting with “w” (in this case, “who”) but, because your brain’s on autopilot and you’re really thinking about where to go for lunch, or what you’re going to do on vacation, or how much your kid’s orthodontics bill is going to be, you absently enter “with” again.  Happens to the best of us.

Mark Ecko Enterprises, Unlimited

Here’s a twin killing from the Mark Ecko Enterprises web site—two goofs in two years on the company’s historical timeline.  These are classic Internet-age errors: Spell Check will never find them.  (Note that the subhead in red for the 2006 entry is also fouled up.)  Guess that’s what happens when your hip-hop web creative crew is so busy making your site look fly they’re not going to do that proofreading shit for you, man.

IPC Systems
IPC Systems’ slogan, “Absolutely Indispensable” (mercifully sidestepping the common misspelling “Indispensible”), describes its goal of building essential high-tech electronic trading solutions for financial services firms.  But proofreaders were absolutely dispensable when the company’s web team laid out the site’s promotional copy.  And no, a word needn’t be misspelled to qualify as a typo: breaking it and misplacing the hyphen on the turnover line is, in my view, just as embarrassing.

Paul Krugman's New York Times Blog

I've never encountered a typo in Paul Krugman's blog writings, so I suppose neither the Nobel laureate nor the New York Times can be blamed for a mistake that crept into a Federal Reserve Board Bureau of Economic Analysis graph caption on this blog entry from May 2, 2011.  If you’re Ron (or Rand) Paul, though, this is one more reason to hate the Fed: flabby proofing.

TiVo Guide Listings

My wife and daughter and I love to watch Modern Family—so we’ve naturally got a TiVo Season Pass.  And I admit that, whatever the show, on the rare occasions I read the one-sentence show recaps on TiVo’s right nav I've never noticed a typographic error.  In fact, I didn’t notice this one: my wife did.  (Yeah, she used to work in publishing, too.  The industry attracts literate fussbudgets.)

The Supermarket

Let’s leave digital behind and go analog.  The supermarket is as analog as it gets—and with miles of colorful packaging, exploding type, and fine print it’s not only as visually noisy as the web it seems to be just as errorprone.  So savor this irony as Budweiser’s marketers dutifully (and I’m sure hastily) alerted customers to a “printing error” on its mail-in rebate coupons:

Yep, another goof Spell Check won’t help you find.  Well, at least Budweiser apologized for the inconvenience—and they really mean it, since they ended their apology with an exclamation point.

As it happens, I once used a web site’s comments tool to point out a typo in a sample passage from Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad posted at  All comments on the site are moderated, and while mine was never approved and released by the following day the typo I mentioned had been quietly corrected.

No need to thank me, Ms. Egan.  On the Internet information wants to be free, especially if it costs something to make sure it’s spelled correctly.

P.S. I apologize for the inconsistent leading afflicting the subheads in this post.  Looks like it's not a good idea to compose your rant in Microsoft Word and then copy it into the Blogger editor.  Too many mysterious Microsoft tags come along for the ride.

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