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Senseless waste of trees

I haven’t read The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time, and neither should you, but Jan Freeman has bravely taken on the task.

Two years ago, a couple of twerps, Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson, went across the country on a mission, to correct errors in signage—misspellings, badly placed apostrophes, the like. They got into the news, no doubt a help with the book contract, when the National Park Service accused them of vandalizing a sign at the Grand Canyon.

Ms. Freeman, bless her heart, is charitable enough to call the book “a creditable buddy adventure,” though she does point out “the meager variety of typos.”

I commented on their shenanigans when they first hit the news, and Brian White, the proprietor of Talk wordy to me, who is also unimpressed with their low-grade vigilantism, has seen fit to quote me. What I said then seems equally apt today:

What is annoying about the whole enterprise is that it trivializes grammar, and reinforces the public image that people concerned about grammar and usage are (a) preoccupied with trifles and (b) busybodies whose joy in life is to correct other people publicly.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:38 AM | | Comments (5)


I must admit I lost all faith in your ability as a journalist at your first line. " I haven’t read The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time"
Then how can you attack them? you read a tiny review and are sure that it's correct. You don't even feel the need to make sure you are right.
these are some other reviews

You are so sure you are correct about this book you don't need to read it.

I haven't read any of John McIntyre's writings, and neither should you.

I read some negative responses in the comments on his other blog and that led me to conclude that all of his blog postings are disagreeable as well.

Awww, Jeff and Benjamin have friends.

For what it's worth, I know neither of the two authors, and I have read the book. I found it fun and interesting. It's not only about the authors going around inserting and deleting apostrophes, etc., it's about cultural issues beneath the surface of language that are nonetheless related to language, and it's also about friends and idealism. Deliberately trying NOT to come off as snoots, the authors didn't call people out publicly in most cases, and they asked politely before attempting to correct. It didn't always work, but it's a different picture regardless.
I thought the book was a fun read and if you had criticized, say, the writing style or the author's cultural analysis, that would have been fair. But to ding a book you haven't read for something that's only part of the book isn't fair, it's a cheap shot.

I hate to pile on, John, but you do yourself serious discredit when you presume to render judgment on something you haven't bothered to check out.

And, as so often happens when there's such a gap between knowledge and judgment, you're just plain wrong.

Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson may have started out on an ill-defined lark — which they own up to — but they grew and learned along the way. One of the joys of "The Great Typo Hunt" is in following the maturation of their quest as they develop meaningful epiphanies about how people learn and relate to language, about their evolving place in the prescriptivist-descriptivist spectrum, and the meaningfulness of the mission itself.

A great deal of scholarly research is gathered, processed and debated (some of the best parts of the book come from the fact that Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson — as well as Deck's other road compatriots — don't always agree on what they're doing or why they're doing it. Their arguments make for great "things that make you go 'hmmmm' fodder.)

At the end of the journey, the men and the mission are markedly changed for the start of their adventure. They're much more enlightened and thoughtful, and so we are for getting to vicariously participate. Their conclusion — true learning and consciousness-raising lies neither in being an unwavering defender of unwavering standardization or a go-with-the-linguistic-flow hippie. It's from a reasoned compromise between the camps.

They've given voice and profile to what many of us have thought about and silently seethed over for years. And given the national resonance of their quest, their efforts therefore have great value.

Give the book and the authors a chance, John. It won't kill you. I'll bet that if nothing else, these guys would make far better cross-country road-trip companions than Geoffrey Pullum and Arnold Zwicky.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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