On editing the world around me

imagesCA41T116July 10, 2013 – No one is immune to making the occasional typo or grammatical error. Likewise, no one is immune to pointing out the error only to end up with egg on his or her face, although this is much less common.

I admit to feeling giddy when I find a typo in a book, a newspaper, or a magazine article. I may even take the time to report the issue. Never smugly, I handle it with care because as a communications manager, I have been on the receiving end of that confrontation on occasion, and whether you are the creator of the typo or the snitch who called it in, it can be a dangerous game.

cropped water errorFor example, I carefully explained to the woman who runs the food cart on the corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, and in a prime spot across from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell where the world is watching, that there was a typo on the sign hanging on the back of the cart. There is not a lot of copy on the sign; it should be an easy mistake to spot, even from the printer’s perspective, who isn’t typically accountable for typos. The other signs on the cart were fine, and the exact ice cold water sign is displayed with the correct punctuation on the front of the cart, so I’m not sure what went wrong.

The woman looked at me, offered a half-smile, and told me I owed her $1.50 for the bottle of water and soft pretzel. Somehow, I don’t think I am the first customer to bring it to her attention. I’m not sure if I should admire her restraint, or be appalled that she turned a blind eye. With a few strokes of whiteout, it would be a simple fix, and she wouldn’t have to go to the expense of printing a new sign.

Now, here is the egg on my face part of the story. Driving past a garden store a few years ago, I spotted what I believed to be the king of typos on a sign by the front door. “Hardy Mums”, it shouted in letters so bold you could see them a half a block away. I pulled over, promptly marched in to the store, and shared my discovery with the person behind the counter. My face turned red when she told me that Hardy was actually a brand name. I tried to laugh it off and save face by explaining that I’m not a gardener and I’ve never heard of the brand. I further explained that I thought the sign erroneously tried to portray “hearty”, as in sturdy enough to stand up to the brisk fall weather ahead. I was wrong.

There is a two-fold lesson here. Don’t be quick to judge a typo without knowing the all of facts. However, if you are certain there is an error, don’t ignore it. For your sake and mine, fix it.


10 common grammar errors

November 28, 2012 – English may be one of the most widely used languages in the world, but it is also among the most confusing.

I don’t consider myself a grammar snob – I’m prone to making mistakes with the best of them – but I am astounded by the laid back attitude of those who write on message boards and other social media venues as if they don’t care.

Since I enjoy good grammar about as much as I enjoy a good list, here’s a list of common grammar errors that are easy to fix.

10. Who/Whom –It can be difficult to decide which word to use, but here’s a simple guide: “Who” does the action and “Whom” has the action done to them.

Who is going to eat with Bill? I am going to eat with Bill.
Bill is going to eat with whom? Bill is going to eat with me.

9. All together/Altogether – All together means “together in a single group.” Altogether means “completely” or “in all.”

We completed the task all together.
We eliminated the task altogether.

8. Affect/Effect – “Affect” is usually a verb that means to influence or cause change. “Effect” is usually a noun that refers to the end result or the impact of something.

The protest affected great change in the community.
His smile has an effect on me.

7. Lie/Lay – “Lie” is to rest in a horizontal position or to be located somewhere. “Lay” means to put something or someone down.

Hawaii lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Lay your head on the pillow and rest.

6. Your/You’re – “Your” indicates ownership of something. “You’re” is a contraction and a combination of you and are.

Where is your coat?
Did she say that you’re really smart?

5. Are/Our– The verb “are” is a present tense form of the verb to be. The adjective “our” is the possessive form of “we”.

Are you attending John’s wedding?
Did you see our new dog?

4. Less/Fewer – “Less” is used in reference to an amount and “fewer” is used to reference a number.

We need less sand in the hole. (Sand is something you cannot count; it is an amount).
We need fewer eggs for this recipe. (Eggs can be counted; fewer in this case represents a number).

3. Different than/Different from –  The correct form is “different from”. “Different than” is never an option.

Pink is different than blue. Wrong!
Pink is different from blue. Right!

2. Anyway/Any way – “Anyway” and “Any Way” both have different uses. Anyway is a compound word meaning “regardless”. “Any Way” is simply the word way modified by the word any.

I didn’t like him anyway.
Is there any way to stop this wedding?

1. They’re/Their/There – “They’re” is a contraction for they are. “Their” is a word that denotes possession. And “there” is a category in its own.

They are happy. They’re happy.
It is their dog.
There aren’t many people working here.