Sunday, August 12, 2012
Oops! To err is human--but I don't like to be human!
I have spent much of my adult life finding and marking mistakes. For thirty years I taught English to middle-schoolers (and fifteen more years with high school and college students) and from late August through early June each year I was spending hours each day marking quizzes and tests and essays and homework. I remember a story a veteran colleague told me once. She'd said to a class: "You're still writing a lot as one word? I've been telling you for twenty years not to do that!"
On and on I marked: spelling, comma splices, subject-verb agreement, misplaced modifiers, tense inconsistencies, antecedents of pronouns, commas and quotation marks ... Over the years I segued from red pen/pencil (inhumane) to green pen/pencil (more humane!) to plain old pencil (most humane). But the errors continued, from Day One to Day Last. Which, I guess, kept me off the unemployment rolls.
Perhaps as a result of all this seek-and-find I did for decades, I am horrified by my own errors. Which do, of course, occur. Far too often.
When I was part of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's now defunct "Board of Contributors," I was publishing op-ed pieces about once a month from, oh, 1982 or so through the late 1990s. Once, I remember, I said something about secondary education for women in the nineteenth century--something I did not check. Later, when the piece appeared, I saw that what I'd said didn't look right. I checked. Oops. The opposite of what I'd said was the truth. I immediately contacted my editor, who, far more relaxed than I, just told me to see if anyone reacted. Then we'd deal with it.
No one did. (I was glad--but wondered, too: Is anyone reading my pieces?)
It happened not long ago, too, in a book review. I am normally hyper-fastidious about checking and re-checking. But in a review of a new book about the Lindbergh flight, my PD editor emailed to point out some errors--careless ones, sad to tell. She was kind about it, but I felt bug-under-a-rock low. How could this happen? I barked at myself. Why didn't I check? Fortunately, she caught the mistakes before publication ... But still ...
All of us make typos (just look on Facebook at any random posting)--typing its when we meant it's, that sort of thing. I carefully proof my FB posts--but not carefully enough, I guess, for I am continually having to re-post them after fixing obvious errors.
And what's really made me mad (meaning crazy) in recent months: My books on Amazon/Kindle, books I've formatted and uploaded myself. (There are now five ... here's a link to them: my books on Amazon.) Before I upload them, I read them over and over and over again. Searching for typos. I run spell-check multiple times, but, as we all know, spell-check can't help us identify the misuse of words--your for you're, etc. Nor does it find those annoying places where we've done cut-and-pastes but have not deleted all the old words that the pasted words are replacing.
I don't know why typos and errors bother me so much--probably because I was for decades The Marker of Mistakes in the work of others. A Usage and Grammar and Spelling Cop. It never really bothered me, you know, finding the errors of others.
But my own? Now those are the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy.