Wednesday, November 01, 2000

Typos 'R Us

MotoMag Telephone Debit Card
As publisher of this magazine, I’ve gone to press with my share of screw-ups. The first major one was five years ago when we issued telephone debit cards illustrated with a photo of Main Street in Daytona during Bike Week. The caption read: “Main Sreet.” At least 30 people had looked at the proofs and not one of us noticed the error. Sometimes you only see what you expect to see.

I’ve also made my share of grammatical errors, in my writing and in editing other writers’ work. All this despite owning a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which happens to stand on my desk with Punctuation Made Simple, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and the UPI Stylebook. I guess it would help if I occasionally opened one of them. But questions of grammar and style always seem to arrive at three o’clock in the morning when the boards are due at the printer by five. A time when my body is running at redline but my brain synapses are coughing at a lean idle. While in this condition I have to make decisions about correcting one, two, ten more little items (some or all of which might not be incorrect) or getting the magazine out. Publishing is not rocket science, CC Motorcycle News is not the Space Shuttle’s operating manual, and I don’t have five astronauts whose lives are in jeopardy, so the decision is easy: Damn the typos, full speed to the presses!

A couple of years ago I was invited down to New York University for an open house to inaugurate their new Masters in Publishing degree program. The panel of instructors asked everyone to introduce themselves and explain why they might be interested in taking the curriculum. I soon realized that I was the only actual publisher in attendance. When it was my turn to greet the assembled, I said, “I’d like to learn what I’m doing wrong because I have to work thirty-six hours straight prior to deadline.” A chorus constructed of all the people in the room rang out, “Why should you be any different?”

Needless to say, I never registered for the course.

What brings this discussion to this page is that I recently received a very formal letter from one of our writers. During a conversation, I had criticized the lead paragraph in one of his articles. He used the same noun in two consecutive sentences. Grammatically there is nothing wrong with that (I think). Style-wise, it bothered me. As far as I was concerned it was merely light commentary, but he took it very badly. It seems that I had made such a multitude of errors while editing his work that he felt it reflected badly on him. Additionally, I had made such grave errors in my own writing that he also felt I had no right to criticize him. He went as far as to return clippings of the stories corrected with very professional proof reading marks in red ink. Which I thought was really cool except that I didn’t know what those marks meant. (But I did figure some of them out.) What upset him the most was that I had misspelled some proper names. Two instances were in photo captions that I wrote. To one name I added a letter, in another I left one out. In a third case I printed the name wrong throughout an entire story, courtesy of the “Replace All” button on SpellCheck. As a result of my inadequacies, the writer felt that he needed to send letters of apology to the potentially offended individuals.

I admire him for his zeal. I wish all my writers were as adroit at protecting the quality of their work and cared equally about the quality of our publication. However, before I formally apologize to him, you folks, and any and all victims of my typos, I’d like to lay some facts on the workbench.

I am NOT nor have I ever been an English major. I have never, or at least to my memory, formally studied grammar or English usage. I go by the rule that if it sounds good and runs smooth, it is good. (Which is also why I’ve hired copy editors.) If it wasn’t for wood shop and auto mechanics I might have never made it out of high school. But I did, then I had five more years of education, during which I never took an English course. Before I bought this magazine I worked as a photographer—commercial, advertising, and fashion. Not a lot of spelling or syntax errors to make in that business. Yet during all those years I had written stories for many publications, all of whom had editors to correct my deficiencies.

I never claimed to be the Caped Crusader of Copywriters and I conceive no calamity in an accidental inaccuracy. So riddle me this, my antagonists: Who rides a motorcycle, was raised by two English teachers, and just returned from a honeymoon of motorcycling in Greece? The Answer: Edward Batchelder, our current copy editor. Since Edward the Accurate was on vacation when I wrote my column for last month’s edition, it was peppered with typos, non-sequiturs and run-on sentences. Sorry, kids.

As a publisher, editor and journalist, I take solace in knowing that among the erroneous I am in good company. History has provided us with some great journalistic gaffs. The most famous of these occurred in 1948, when the Chicago Herald Tribune declared Thomas Dewey the newly elected President of the U.S. This wasn’t correct; Harry Truman won the race. The editor, convinced by early polls declaring Dewey the winner of the Presidential election, ran the story. Then he decided to get to bed early, only to wake up the next morning to find himself, the early polls, and his seventy-two point headline wrong. The moral here is that when you screw up big time, you can earn a place in history. CC Moto News and our offended writer will be remembered by those folks whose name I misspelled long after all the other magazines are recycled into blank paper. And we will be forgiven for our digressions.

In conversations with other publishers, I’ve learned that I am not alone. We all agree that no matter how many times a publication is edited and proofread, somewhere between the office and the printing press a little gremlin creeps into the work and changes something around.

So if a typographical terror that appeared in this organ has ever offended anyone, be you readers, writers or relatives of people we’ve published stories about, I AM SORRY. I suffer serious brain farts at 3 a.m. and I am undereducated in the technical aspects of the English language. Rest assured that corrective measures are being taken.

Truthfully though, no-one has ever been maimed by motoring under a dangling participle.

Google Search