June 7, 2008
Editing has its occupational hazards. Because it trains the eye to find every mistake on the written page, there comes a point when editors just can’t turn it off. As annoying as this is to family and friends, we do save you from national embarrassment should Jay Leno catch your errors. Here are some funny pix where editors were not involved.
While working on a huge piece, that I’d already gone over a few times, on the next pass I discovered I had edited a quote, rephrasing it for better readability. (Okay, maybe only editors will snicker at that one.)
A few years ago my brother turned me on to Snopes, which debunks urban myths. This is especially useful for those email forwards that we all get, which usually tell some fantastic story. Fantastic and untrue. When I cited Snopes to debunk some recent emails forwarded within my family (one ascribing xenophobic comments to Australian former Prime Minister John Howard, but actually written by a home-grown racist), the family closed ranks in support of urban mythology.
(Not to defend John Howard – who is now facing war crimes charges in the International Criminal Court – he did make some of the comments in that viral email.)
But admittedly, pointing out factual reality when a storyteller is at work can feel a bit like raining on a parade. I appreciate fine storytelling, and am ever amazed at human capacity for drama and exaggeration. I just come from a place where I established a web reputation for factual accuracy, in a culture that predominantly gets its “news” from the corporate propaganda machine.
The best I can do with this critical eye, then, is focus it on the more humorous results when editors are ignored. Here’s one that caught my eye today:
Westlake High School misspells ‘education’ on diplomas (June 5, 2008) Ohio Principal Timothy Freeman says he sent the diplomas back once to correct another error. When the corrected diplomas came back, no one bothered to check the things they thought were right the first time.
While entire volumes have been published on the issue of misprints, typing errors, and malapropisms, Jay Leno takes funny headlines to an art. Carnegie Mellon University provides 14 pages of some of the best from The Tonight Show.
I must reproduce some here, along with some from my own collection. I’ll start with stupid xenophobes, like the truck driver above, who objects to non-English speaking immigrants. I guess its okay just to be able to speak it. To write English correctly is beyond him.
Speaking of illiteracy:
I’ve been taking a lot of knuckle dragger heat for confronting sexism in our ranks. Margaret Basset recently featured this video report on sexism in the media, but this headline should be added, just for the sake of levity (notice her surname):
And since this is a political blog that COTO folks will fully appreciate, we must show these headlines.
Writers continue to expose the corruption of science at the hands of politicians, sparked by ongoing research from the Union of Concerned Scientists. But this flammable water headline really proves it. Then look what happens to gymnasts who live near toxic waste dumps:
The chemically-free might enjoy this street sign, but will surely object to this Elks Lodge project:
So, while we editors may drive our friends and family nuts with our propensity to check facts and correct spellings and word usage, the benefits surely outweigh the annoyance. Or, as we editors know in our bones, ignore us at your reputation’s peril, should Jay Leno catch you.