In a familiar episode of The Brady Bunch, Greg learns through painful experience that what we say and what we mean are not always the same thing – that our “exact words” can get us in trouble if we are not careful. This is also true when it comes to proofreading our written masterpieces. Something as seemingly inconsequential as a misplaced comma or a missing letter can mean the difference between a literary work of art and a glaring blemish we wish would just go away.
Take heart, dear writer. Proofreading oversights happen to everyone. Even the most brilliant among us can make occasional goofs and then completely overlook them when we try to proof our own work. Here are a few examples from real life that remind us we are all in this together.
Punctuation can make or break even the most basic of sentences. Something as simple as a missing or misplaced comma can completely change the meaning of your carefully crafted wording. Compare these two identically worded Dear John letters:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Which letter would you rather receive?
No matter how poor your spelling is, at least you have the consolation that your goof will not be displayed on a national monument for generations to come. If you ever visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., take a close look at Lincoln’s inaugural address. Referenced in it are America’s past, present and euture. That’s right, euture. The story goes that an overzealous carver made the error, and although it was immediately caught, it was too late. Replacing the wall was too expensive, so the extra line was simply filled in. As you look carefully, you can still see it.
While your spelling faux pas might not be etched in granite, it can still have a lingering effect if it slips through unnoticed into your printed book.
You see it every day – it may have even happened to you. You send a text or email only to discover after you have hit “send” that your overlooked misspelled word has been dropped and replaced by a not-so-intuitive auto-correct feature, resulting in that horrifying OMG nanosecond when you realize you have just sent a very unbecoming message to someone who will probably NOT find it the least bit amusing.
Take a deep breath. You’re in good company. A legal secretary once produced a document that replaced “psychotherapist” with “psycho the rapist.” A supervisor wrote that a meeting was happening in a warehouse and actually directed everyone to the whorehouse. Another well-meaning individual produced a farewell gift for a beloved coworker that was supposed to read, “to our Jane after 10 years,” but actually read, “to out Jane after 10 years.”
Technology can be a wonderful thing, but nothing takes the place of a pair of human eyes (or multiple pairs) on your work. Even then, errors can still manage to be overlooked. A recent edition of Hamlet included a famous line with one minor unintended change: “To be or to be,” stated Hamlet. The text was reviewed by three professional proofreaders, none of whom caught the mistake. The lesson here is that when a word or phrase is very familiar to us, it is easy for our brains to simply skim over them without noticing any errors.
While we creative types would love to live in a happy delusion that what we craft is beautiful and flawless, the reality is that proofreading errors happen every day to the best of us. The wise writer has his/her work proofread several times, especially as revisions are made. When your book hits the shelf free from embarrassing goofs, it will be worth the time, money and energy spent in producing a work you can be proud of.
For a few more giggles, here are some visual examples of proofreading gone wrong. Enjoy.
Rachael Wilkins creates custom graphic and written content to meet the online and print marketing needs of micro-businesses and organizations. She is the owner of Freestyle Business Solutions.