Whatever happened to proofreading?

Word nerds are not usually considered the world’s funniest people – we’re usually viewed with deep suspicion, as though at any moment we’re going to whip out a three-ton dictionary and smack you over the head for even thinking a spelling mistake. We can hear you frantically thinking ‘I before e’. We have red pens hidden in our handbags for marking up your mistakes. You know we are judging you and probably getting off on it. We all want to be Stephen Fry.

Penelope WhitsonAnd it’s all true but occasionally we also like to break out a full belly guffaw. Usually at someone else’s expense. And what makes our glasses fall off, especially my imaginary ones, is accidental hysterical use of the English language. No doubt this is partially due to our need to feel superior. But let’s be honest – English is a bitch of a language. We screw it up every day. And then we put it in print and let others read it.

My lunch menu recently read ‘Cheery tomatoes’. I like the idea of happy little tomatoes, waiting patiently in line for the chop. At a previous job, a workmate tried to print a cover for a book called Terroism. Observed on the front page of a national New Zealand paper – vault instead of volt. A road sign reading ‘State highway improvments in progress’. And every hour of every day, an apostrophe is abused.

Underlining all of this, which might only be amusing to a few, is, of course, the importance of having an editor. Or a proofreader. Or your mum. Spellcheck? Get someone to read your thing before it goes to the printer so you don’t look like a total fool. Try not to let them do it in a hurry. If you’re putting something out there for people to read, even if it is ‘just’ a menu – it represents your brand. If you’re lax about presentation, then what other aspects of your business do you not care about?

While I’m up here on my high horse I’m afraid I can’t hear the abuse you’re hurling at me for being a totally up myself grandiloquent word nerd wanker, but allow me to admit my own shortcomings.

Possibly because I spend my life looking for spelling mistakes, I have been known to misread things. Case in point – one tired night I thought I saw a book called the Biology of Pants. Bingo thought my inner pants pervert. And then I realised it was, of course, the Biology of Plants. This is obviously a family thing because my equally well mis-read brother recently found an ad he thought said: 'Abortionist wanted' … presumably arborists need not apply.

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