The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time
I picked up this book because a couple of years ago, some friends and I temporarily banded together in an organization called the Guerrilla Grammar Girls. It doesn’t really exist anymore as planned, but I figured the book would be fun.
It was actually a lot more thought-provoking than expected. Jeff Deck is a former magazine editor, his co-author Benjamin Herson a bookstore manager. They did a cross-country road trip looking for and correcting typos wherever they found them: on the beaches, in the stores, and during one encounter with lasting repercussions, at the Grand Canyon.
Deck began to notice, driving about with his companions (Herson for the most part, but his girlfriend rode shotgun for part of the trip) that the places where typos were most likely to occur were the places they most wanted to be, such as mom-n-pops and independent retailers–often in rural areas, but always off the beaten track.
(They must not have visited many Walmarts, I feel compelled to add, or that theory would have died, but never mind, back to the book.)
Their need to correct, uphold, and defend English grammar and spelling got a bit tangled with their wish to understand how mistakes happened in the first place–particularly those pesky apostrophes as possessives versus plurals–but it also got mixed into that afore-mentioned discussion about urban versus rural and corporate versus independent. Was cutting slack for “folksie” demeaning or appropriate? This never really resolved itself in their repeated and rapid-fire dialogues as they traversed the country eating cheap fast food and staying in Econolodges or KOA campgrounds.
What did happen was their correction of a Grand Canyon information sign that was in and of itself, a national monument. Mary Colter was a folk artist who painted the sign in 1932, using womens’ instead of women’s. Deck and Herson had a full-on correction kit, complete with markers, chalk, whiteout and a few stick-on items, which they carried with them into the Canyon. You can guess what happened to the sign. A few months later, they found themselves in court on criminal charges of defacing Colter’s work.
It does strike me as odd Deck and Herson never aligned the significance of folk art, protected heritage, and rural independence a la the Colter sign debacle to their discussion of how independent businesses and rural locations are more likely to produce typos, but there are plenty of other philosophy moments to chew on in this book.
The writing, I say at the risk of being judgmental, is sometimes a bit blowsy, striving for cuteness rather than clarity, yet endearing at points, and entertaining almost all the time. They’re good at capturing the attitudes and diverse reactions of the people they encountered on the trip. Just imagine what it would be like to walk up to people all over the States and say, “Excuse me, but there’s a typo on your sign. Want me to correct if for you?” Some of the responses are pure psychological study, while others are straight stand-up comedy.
If you’re the grammarian about whom mothers warn their children, you’ll enjoy The Great Typo Hunt.