Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The vanishing stigma of typpos

I was a cocky kid fresh out of Ohio University, the top journalism school in the country. Armed with my degree and mastery of a diabolical herd-thinning challenge called the English Proficiency Test, I was going to dazzle the stalwarts at the Nashville Banner.

I remember it was deadline chaos. Nerves were taut, tensions high. They needed the unflappable flash to write a chunk of tight copy to explain a page one feature picture.

The grizzled old editor raised his voice above the din and yelled, “Get me The Kid!”

It was the moment I’d been waiting for my whole life.

“Kid, we need someone to write some snappy explanation that will have readers jumping out of their seats. Can you send me some sizzle?”

I should explain here I’m over-dramatizing this story. No one’s ever called me “The Kid,” I’ve never been cocky and am always far from the fray whenever challenges arise. Then, as now, when the going got tough, I’d get going to the men’s room to hide while I filled out my football pools.

But you get the gist. I was summoned to compose an extended cutline for a big page one story.

And I thought I did a bang up job. So I was dumbfounded after the story went to press and the editor, a kind and gentle man, summoned me to say, “Chris, there’s a typo in your cutline.”

I was devastated. I don’t recall the word. Let’s say it was “imbecile” and I spelled it “imbassile,” thus becoming the first writer to make an ass out of himself while adding an ass to a word.

What’s important here is my reaction. I said, “Well, at least it was surrounded by a lot of other properly spelled words.”

I instinctively tried to cover my, er, rear by minimizing my error.

Really, it was brilliant. The Kid back then had a lot of moxie.

I bring all this up because I want to endorse a stealth movement I’ve noticed taking hold amongst people who type:

Typos, schmypos.

With all our smart phones, Facebook messages and e-mails, the stigma against casual typos is being buried beneath an avalanche of other properly spelled words.

I say it’s about time. I’ve labored for nearly three decades under the tyranny of the typo.

Blame it on the aforementioned English Proficiency Test at Ohio University.

The test sounds like something conservative presidential candidates want to impose on the people who cross our borders to clean our malls, landscape our McMansions and harvest our salad crops.

In fact, it was one of those tests educators inflict on students to frighten them out of their stupors, the lesson being that, hey, this is serious stuff. You’re going to be entering a professional world where one careless typo could cost you your job.

Well, no, it couldn’t. Maybe a 1,000 of them could, but only if you’re a jerk and the boss is looking for a reason to bounce you.

But writing news stories isn’t exactly guard duty at Gitmo. No one’s going to die if you put the commas after the conjunctions.

I’m tickled to see smart phone messages appear with the embed, “Sent from my smurt phone. Please exuse tipos.”

I’m thinking I ought to banner that beneath my blog title.

Because I self-edit, mistakes will be made. This blog labors to appear professional and I believe it is, save for one key distinction.

I do it for free!

I try and write the things up in an hour or so, walk away and proof it three or four times before posting. I aspire to the grammar being good, but walk away when I believe it’s good enough and it's time to try and earn some loot.

What’s funny is how error free they become -- about six months or so after they first appear. I can tell when there’s a surge of people reading an old post and I’ll go in and see what the fuss is about. I’ll re-read it and inevitably find three or four sloppy mistakes.

It’s embarrassing but, geez, who cares?

I welcome when readers point out a mistake, especially when the wording is senselessly mangled. Please feel free to do so as long as you do so in a way that doesn’t hurt The Kid’s feelings.

But lets none of us restrict our eagerness to joyfully communicate for fear someone’s going to criticize us for minor grammatical mistakes.

Really, anymore it’s just not that big a deel.


Bill Hudgins said...

need to share this on the Nashville Banner page.

Chris Rodell said...

Good idea, Bill. Done.

Agent Mary said...

Your blog resonated with one who regularly takes umbrage at the indignities heaped daily on the written word!
As an OU alum with a M.S. in Journalism ('86), I administered the formidable English Proficiency Test as a research assistant to the narcoleptic professor who ruthlessly ruled the testing realm. I cannot recall her name.

Chris Rodell said...

Hey, I was class of '85, Mary! I'll bet we had common friends. Do you recall the terror on the faces of the test takers? Scary!