As a linguist, I am prone to the occasional or not-so-occasional rant against prescriptivist grammar, but I will confess that some of my issues arise from the fact that I am a terrible proofer. Not only do I miss ridiculous typos on my published work, but I will fail to see them even when someone says “There’s a typo on your page.” (Can you specific please?)
Not so my mother. Not only was she an excellent proofreader, she was the classic case of the “compulsive proofreader” described so vividly by Anna Fadiman in her charming essay “Inset a Carrot” (with at least two obvious errors) published in her book Ex Libris. I can still hear her despair as she spotted YET another typo in my resume (or is that “résumé?).
In the Fadiman clan, it was common practice, actually more like a sport or hobby, to proofread EVERYTHING read whether it was the newspaper, billboards, menus or even library books. As Fadiman notes, if you are compulsive proofer, you know it, and so do all your kith and kin. Fadiman also has the grace to know that while proofers feel duty bound to point out errors (because they just jump right off the page), the rest of us don’t feel to so duty bound to listen to the diatribe against the upcoming destruction of civilization as we know it. We non-proofers get it – we suck at proofing.
So with this dichotomy in mind, I would like to propose my idea for gracefully passing on typo corrections to the offending party.
I, The Non-Proofer, acknowledge:
I hereby acknowledge that
- I need to improve my proofing skills.
- A typo-free and error-free piece of writing enhances my credibility.
- Accurate information is important. I NEVER ever want to repeat the error of writing “Hebrew” when I meant “Arabic” (duplicating and re-editing a document can be very dangerous).
- You may be sharing information I was previously unaware of.
You, the Proofing Expert, understand that:
- Proofing errors are unintentional.
- Proofing errors are invisible to me for the most part – until it’s much too late.
- Some “proofing” errors are actually dialectal quirks (more on that below).
Please consider these proofing etiquette practices
Unless you have been specifically asked to proofread a text (in which case we expect the best, most brutal proofing possible), you may want to
1. Be specific describing error and correction
The following is too vague:
“You have an error on your page on grammar. Ironically, it’s a very common error I see everyday.”
The above has now forced me to consider where the heck the error might be (Arrgh). The following is much more helpful.
“In the second paragraph, the phrase ‘gramar police’ should be ‘grammar police’ ”
Not only does the second version help me locate the error, I can cut and paste the correct text if my vision is especially blurry. Thank you kind stranger.
2. Gently refrain from too much laughter at my expense
Once, when my other found “kine” for “kind” she explained to the administrative assistant that she had accidentally inserted an archaic word for cows. True, but this is not the time to introduce obscure etymological trivia.
3. Don’t allude to the erosion of standards and civilization
And especially, don’t point out that a linguist should know better because we ALWAYS have an annoying language fact to counter with such as these below.
- While we all agree that Latin died as a living language, it actually became civilized languages like Italian, French and Spanish. Chill.
- Speaking of Latin, I would point out that in phonologically correct Latin, a title like Ex Libris would be Ex Lībrīs with long marks. You are also free to point out that the Romans rarely used long marks. I will then point out that it’s all about the standard being used at the time.
4. I reserve the right to reject certain hypercorrect “errors”
Unless you are a paid publisher, I will never change spontaneous use of “which” in a restrictive relative clause to “that” because it destroys the rhythm. I have no idea who invented this rule, but it’s one of the more ridiculous ones IMO. Even Oxford says “which” is allowed in this context. As does Purdue OWL.
Prepositions spontaneously stranded will also remain stranded.
The singular “datum” and “criterion” will be avoided as much as possible in favor of collective “data” and “criterion”. I will also never use “criterium” which is just etymologically incorrect.
A piece of inaccurate information (“I think you meant Czech and NOT Slovak”) does need to be addressed. Another misplaced comma or quotation mark – not so much.
6. If you want to secure the “thank you”
Consider pointing out that the text you are proofing is beneficial to the public and that you are doing it out of concern.
I’ve had many kind strangers approach me thus, and they do get attended much more quickly and gratefully. In fact, I consider typo reports a sign that someone is paying attention…which is sort of nice I must confess.