Sometimes spell check just doesn’t cut it

John Kelly
Columnist February 5, 2012

It’s amazing the difference a single letter can make. For example, years ago, Bethesda’s Ellen Smith and her husband subscribed to the weekly newspaper from Pilot Rock, Ore., her husband’s home town. In a story about a local wedding reception, the following was printed: “The bridal couple ate graduates of Pilot Rock High School.”

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Wrote Ellen: “I can think of nothing to add to that, but I’m sure you can.”

Hmm, I wonder what goes well with Pilot Rock graduates. Potatoes au gratin?

It’s time for more typos, misspellings and poor word choices. Alexandria’s Frances Killpatrick said she’s collected a lifetime’s worth of mistakes. One of her favorites was in a help-wanted ad. A restaurant was looking for a “Sioux Chef.”


An international flavor mystery: Does this bag contain Thai-style chili potato chips, or are they Thai-style Chile, as printed, perhaps with a South American zing? (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Ken Chaletzky started his career as a typesetter in the late 1960s when he worked on the GW Hatchet. One of his favorite mistakes was from a restaurant in rural Pennsylvania. According to the menu, one of the dessert specialties was “Baked Alaskan.”

“Yummy!” wrote Ken. “Too bad Sarah Palin didn’t visit their town.”

Dan Michels of Silver Spring said that when the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare became the Department of Health and Human Services, his office received a large roll of franked mailing labels with the organization’s new name. The print was small, but a sharp-eyed co-worker noticed that the name on the labels was “Defartment of Health and Human Services.”

Wrote Dan: “The labels were used for purposes other than mailing.”

When David Kleeman was visiting the District from Chicago last fall during the repair work on the Washington Monument, he noticed that MSNBC’s on-screen headline read “Repelling From Top.”

Wondered David: “An attack on American workers or on the design of the monument?”

Washington’s Mary McCue says, “It’s not just us modern folks who commit typos. The Wicked Bible, published in 1631 by royal printer Robert Barker, left out ‘not’ in the Seventh Commandment — a distinctly un-Biblical message.”

In case you can’t keep your commandments straight, that’s the one about adultery.

When Nick Johnson first got a Maryland driver’s license in 1955, one of the state’s brochures warned against “wreckless drivers.” Wrote Nick: “The same thing happened when I moved back to Maryland from Virginia around 1990. I should have saved both and maybe MVA would have ‘wreckonized’ their error.”

Rockville’s Joyce Lipman used to teach workshops on written communication skills. “To keep our proofreading course lively, we amassed a blooper file,” she wrote. “My favorite will always be from the restaurant that sold ‘food and mixed drunks.’ ”

Mark Smith went to work on Capitol Hill in 1989, where he served as health policy adviser to Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla). Spell check must have been in its infancy then, Mark wrote. “I used the word ‘Medicare’ frequently in memoranda, correspondence, talking points, legislative text, etc.,” he wrote. “I had to re-check the word every time because the spell-check would want to change the word ‘Medicare’ to ‘Mediocre.’ Somewhat prophetic, wouldn’t you say?”

Church newsletters are especially fertile ground for typos. Michael R. Heintz of Alexandria was a professional church musician for 50 years and has come across some doozies, such as Handel’s hymn “Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs” turned into “Surely He Has Borne Our Briefs” and “He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child” into “He Is Born, the Diving Christ Child.”

Cannonball!

Back in the 1950s, Roger Hartman’s father was the choir director of his hometown Methodist church. Each week, he would phone in to the church secretary the name of the choir’s anthem for the following Sunday. One week, he phoned in “There Is a Balm in Gilead.”

Wrote Roger: “In that Sunday’s bulletin, there appeared — just as the secretary heard it over the phone — the choir’s anthem: ‘There Is a Bomb in Gilead.’ ”

Frederick’s W.H. Luzier said his favorite typo appeared many years ago in the society section of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. A headline read: “Miss Jones to Give Organ Rectal.”

“To my knowledge neither a correction nor an apology ensued,” he wrote. “Apparently neither side wanted to revisit that disaster.”

Yes, best not to touch that.

For previous columns by John Kelly, go to postlocal.com.

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