Is Mediocrity the New Benchmark?

By now you know how much I hate a typo in a published work. Just visualize any scene involving Linda Blair and a spinning head – that’s me when I encounter the little devils. Typos online – in conversations such as these, there’s a level of forgiveness. But in books, magazines, advertisements, or anywhere a client has plunked down good money for an editor? Not acceptable.

I was at Borders on Saturday. I picked up a book about the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was thumbing through it when I saw a caption. I slammed the book shut and re-shelved it. If you can’t spell the name of the river along which the team has its stadium, give up now. For the record, it’s “Allegheny” NOT “Allegany.” That just hurts.

He’s amused by my rants, and he counters that perhaps in a more culturally mixed society, we have no business arguing for writing perfection. He cites the various foreigners in his company and the emails that are a result of a English-as-a-second-language workforce. He may be right about work settings. But in Borders? I expect more for my money.

I’ve found typos in my IRA financial statements, in reprinted classics (I nearly teared up when finding one in “East of Eden”), in print advertising, in television ads, in stores, in newspapers, and yes, I found one in The Atlantic, which sent me into a complete tizzy. To the credit of the folks at The Atlantic, I’ve subscribed for years and this is the first I’ve found, unlike Time, which I finally had to give up because I couldn’t get past the first page without finding at least half a dozen mistakes. And I’m less picky than most people.

Some of my more enjoyable finds:

– The errant “r” that replaced the “l” in the word “election” in the local college course catalog (I removed it in edits)
– A resume client who typed that he received a “premonition” and subsequent raise
– “I dreamed I ate a marshmellow…” – on the wall of the bedding department in Bloomingdale’s

What do you think? Is bad grammar ever acceptable? What’s your own personal threshhold for typos or bad sentence structure? Where do you draw the line? And what are some of your funniest encounters?

About the author




  • Alycia Morales February 3, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Lori, I must say that I agree with you one hundred percent. We all make mistakes, but when it is found in print, I have a low tolerance for spelling and grammar errors. Like you, I tend to put things back on the shelf if I find errors where there should be none. I also find them throughout books that are on my shelves at home. It makes me want to call somebody…

  • Clare Lynch February 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Can't remember the details, but my best spot was the massive typo in a coverline on the launch issue of a new magazine. The entire editorial and design team were admiring the front cover, feeling very pleased with themselves, and were about to send it to the printers. Lucky for them I happened to walk past and spot the error. Naturally, I got an invite to the swanky launch party!

    It goes to show how hard it is to proof something that you're very close to. I always feel happier if my work gets a second eye.

    I've noticed an increasing number of typos in magazines and newspapers – even high-quality ones – and it's down to one thing: the death of the sub-editor. To cut costs, many publishing companies have now decided that subs are unnecessary – and it's had a real effect on standards. Typos are the least of it, too – with no sub, who checks your facts?

  • Diane February 3, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    I'm a natural editor and I abhor typos or any kind of mistake in published or broadcast work. My particular pet peeve at the moment is your and you're. Another one I hate is motorway roadworks signs that say incase instead of in case. Makes my blood boil.

    When watching a film I'm not so bothered whether Angelina Jolie has a tattoo or not when she's playing someone from the 1920s. (Changeling.) I'm not particularly bothered either if you can see the wrong kind of star constellation that wouldn't be found in the southern hemisphere. (Australia.) These things can't be helped, they're films and they're made today where budgets, etc, allow.

    But I do hate it when, say, a name like Fiona wasn't even invented when a film's story was originally set. (Brigadoon.)

    And there's another thing, I know there are 2 manuals of style commonly used in the States, but as far as I'm concerned, and here in the UK, if it's a full sentence within the brackets, it gets its own punctuation within the brackets too …

    Ha ha ha – sorry for the rant, but you did ask. πŸ˜€

  • Andrea Franco-Cook February 3, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    As a person who strives for perfection in everything I do, I also expect the same from others. However, I am wise enough to recognize that no one is perfect, mistakes happen. This said, I guess I'm more forgiving than the average Joe. If I find a couple of typos in a publication, I don't sweat it. As a born researcher, I'm more concerned with content and credibility than anything else. Just my two cents.

  • Valerie Alexander February 3, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I understand that everyone makes the occasional error but what I can't abide is indifference to the principle of good spelling and grammar. You accidentally typed "mischevous?" Fine. We all have our blind spots. But if you get defensive and say "oh, it's not like it matters" when this is a formal work we're talking about, then I will get tense. Yes, it does matter. Good communication depends on clarity. Clarity depends on universal adherence to one standard. Botched grammar, punctuation and spelling distract the reader and disrupt the communication.

    What really drives me crazy is the viral nature of certain errors. It seems to me that the confusion between "lose" and "loose" wasn't an issue five years ago, but its propagation in Internet comments has practically made it de rigueur on some sites. Ditto with "of" and "have." "I should of gone to the store" is cropping up everywhere.

    Unfortunately I lack Clare's ability to turn such corrections into party invites – I find some people bristle when corrected, no matter how nice I am about it. Even clients can get a little prickly when I'm simply doing what they hired me for. Not always, though – I did have one guy who thanked me fervently after I stopped him from using "phallusy."

  • Devon Ellington February 3, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Bad grammar is acceptable to me within the context of dialogue when it's clear that it's a choice and not just carelessness.

    As far as I'm concerned, if I'm paying for a hardcover, etc., there damn well better NOT be typos. They better have hired a real copyeditor and not just run the manuscript through spell check. I mention it in reviews (not when I'm sent ARCS, of course, because those aren't the final draft). But, when I've reviewed finished books — especially when I bought them on my own and then was later contracted to review them — I note that type of error.

    The errors that cause me to froth in the mouth are usually in fiction by writers who set their stories in NYC and can't be bothered to research the city accurately. They act like Greenwich Village is around the corner from Harlem.

    That goes beyond typo, and if I can't trust an author on something as simple as that, you can be sure I won't ever waste my money on anything by that person again. It breaks the trust between reader and author, as typos break the trust between reader and publisher.

  • Carson February 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I think I'm probably a little more forgiving of the stray typo than some of those commenting here, but that forgiveness is coupled with a recognition of the way an error can completely interrupt the communication process.

    In other words, I understand and I won't hold it against anyone (assuming it's a rare happening) but I don't like it.

    Sometimes, it doesn't matter at all, though.

    Your post reminded me of a sign that was on a local shop in my little hometown. It read:


    No, I'm not kidding.

    However, I would gladly overlook their inability to spell a single word correctly in exchange for one bite of a "Daylite Dounut" bear claw right now.

  • Lorraine February 3, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Hi Lori:

    You're right, in blog posts and other online formats, a few typos are forgivable.

    I try to proof as carefully as I can, but I don't send my posts out to a professional proofreader, as I do with client work.

    Errors in The New York Times are another matter. It drives me crazy to see grammar and syntax mistakes–and just plain lazy, cutesy and awkward phrasing–in The Times.

    I find these mistakes especially egregious as I feel they stem from the newspapers' budget cuts. The powers-that-be thought they could lay off veteran reporters and copy editors with impunity. Wrong.

    Great post.

  • hugh.c.mcbride February 3, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    If I'm not mistaken, those marshmellows were a collaboration between Stay-Puft & Prozac that never really got off the ground … πŸ™‚

  • Paula February 3, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    I admit that I miss some of my own errors, but it's usually a case of being too close to it. I know what I meant to say, and that's what my eyes see.

    A friend recently was so outraged by a typo that she texted me about. She also took a photo. The freshly-painted sign in the parking lot of a very large national retailer read: RESERVED MOTHER'S WITH STROLLERS.

  • Lori February 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Alycia, I just couldn't take it. I'm so glad to hear you're the same way. πŸ™‚

    Way to crash the party, Clare! πŸ™‚ I love it. It's so true – if there were an outside set of eyes looking things over once in a while, plenty of mistakes would be caught. Sadly, proofreading departments were the first to go.

    Diane, I'm still getting used to the idea of putting a period outside the quotation marks. Ease me into these things! LOL

    Andrea, good point. For me, credibility IS accuracy in print. I can't rely on people who can't bother to check their spelling. Chances are the facts are shaky, too.

    Valerie, I think you've hit on what bugs me most about it – the sloughing off of the mistake with a "who cares?" attitude. Phallusy? Really? LOL! I couldn't have held it in, either!

    Devon, I hold the same opinion. If it's in print, someone's been paid to make sure that mistake never appeared. If it's a number of mistakes, I'm done. It's why I parted ways with Time. I understand budgets and staffing cuts, but dammit, this is your product. You're editors – EDIT.

    Thanks, Carson – now I want a Daylite Dounut, too. πŸ˜‰ And is it your wellcome? Or is it mine? I wonder….

    Lorraine, maybe things will clear up grammatically now that the Times is moving toward paid subscriptions. Money for a proofreader perhaps? πŸ™‚

    Hugh, I can always rely on you to get to the crux of the matter. πŸ˜‰

  • southwrite February 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I also see more and more errors and typos including missing words in books. This occurs not just in self-published or small press editions, but in releases from major publishers. You wonder if there isn't just a few bucks from that near $30 price tag that could be spent on editors and proof readers.

  • Lori February 3, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    You'd think, wouldn't you, southwrite? I get that the goal is to maximize profits and minimize costs, but at the expense of the product?

  • Cheryl B February 3, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Seeing mistakes in others' writing is sometimes a curse, don't you think? Because you are so easily distracted from the message.

    Like this: Lori, do you realize in the second paragraph you said you were a Borders? Sorry…. :>(

    That said, it irritates me when people say it doesn't matter. My husband once had a secretary (not in his power to hire or fire) that said as long as something was laid out well, the details didn't matter. "No one reads it, anyway." When he had a heart catheterization, she typed it as "cauterization." Spell-check help, I suspect.

  • Brenda Susan February 3, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    I too, am a natural editor or proofreader though I never get paid for it or even rewarded in most cases. My small town paper used to publish my articles & it drove me crazy to see what they would do to my carefully constructed sentences week after week!

    Funny ex: I was quoting someone saying that "Satan is after your children."
    The newspaper printed, "Stan is after your children."
    I apologized to all the Stans in town the following week! :0

  • Amie February 3, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I just finished reading Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome. At one point toward the end, he gets one of his characters' names wrong…granted, the book is over 1,000 pages and there are dozens of characters, but still…

  • Diane February 4, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Don't even get me started on punctuation within quotes … :oD

    I noticed the typo within the body too, but Lori had already said it's not so important in something like this, and it isn't. But I still like to get mine right.

  • Lori February 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    LOL! I lead by example! Sorry, everyone. I'll fix it right away. πŸ™‚

  • Lori February 4, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Actually, I'm surprised no one said "You have a huge typo – instead of the Steelers it should be the Eagles/Cowboys/Saints…." πŸ™‚

  • Lori February 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Cheryl, cauterization? On a heart? Too bad he couldn't do something about her! Spelling DOES matter! (And I fixed my boo-boo – thank you for pointing it out.) πŸ™‚

    Brenda, how many Stans complained? I'm sure Satan was okay with it! LOL

    Amie, I know. The characters should be spelled correctly. It's so frustrating! I had read a book where suddenly midway through a new character name showed up – where the main character's name should be. Then it just vanished. In fact, the entire book was an example of what happens when no one is editing. Awful mistakes!

  • Wendy February 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    This is kind of funny. I don't mind a few misspelled words in a blog post, comments, forums, etc.

    But, I go into a store and see a handwritten sign with one misspelled word and my whole shopping experience is down the tubes. It bothers me that much, I don't know why.

  • Lori February 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Oh, that's me too, Wendy! In Chinatown or Little Brazil where English is the second language, it's very much forgiveable. In the center of town or at the mall – I'm going to fume.

    It is kind of funny. I don't get bothered by blog misspellings if they're occasional.

  • Gillian Swart February 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    My "favorite" was not written, but spoken. A newscaster came on at 9:15 for one of those little "tonight at 11" spots and said, "Local mom and dad hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning at 11." Wrong on so many levels.

  • Lori February 6, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Wow – can you hopitalize carbon monoxide? And talk about punctual!

    Thanks for the laugh, Gillian. πŸ™‚