With the written word, the eyes don’t always have it

John Kelly
Columnist October 3, 2011

It’s time to again point the laughing finger of shame at people who have allowed typos to slip into their written work. I do this knowing full well that I’m just askin’ for it. As everyone knows, He whom the gods would destroy, they first allow to cast stones in glass houses.

Joan Jacobs said one of her family’s all-time favorite typos was in a legal decision from the National Labor Relations Board. Joan’s husband was a judge, and as he was reading another judge’s decision, he came upon a sentence that began, “This mush is clear . . .

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

If you say so.

Bethesda’s Daniel Mann came across a sign hanging in the front door of the Safeway on Old Georgetown Road. The store manager regretted the limited supply of blueberries on offer. “Please Except our Apologies” read the sign.

Sadly, such typos are not acceptional.


Whoever programmed this sign announcing work on Spring Street in Silver Spring could have used spellcheck. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Musical man about town Robert Aubry Davis once published and edited WETA’s magazine, which featured complete listings of the classical music offerings for the month.

“No amount of proofreading catches everything,” he wrote. “So, one famous month, Franz Liszt’s symphonic poem ‘The Battle of the Huns’ came out as ‘The Battle of the Nuns.’ . . . You can just imagine the response.”

Fifty bucks says Sister Mary Incarnata with a knockout in the eighth.

Mary Miers of Bethesda has done a lot of editing and proofreading over the years. The most chilling typo she heard about was from a colleague at NIH. “He told of how he proofed and re-proofed an important and controversial report to the Congress, only to see the phrase ‘Pubic Health Service’ on the cover — the one piece he had not seen — after it was sent. You can bet I’ve watched for that one ever since!”

Erin in Arlington County made a similar mistake on a cover letter for a job, when she described the years she’d spent as a “public school teacher.” Well, that’s what she meant to type. “Spell check obviously didn’t catch it, but luckily my keen-eyed husband did,” Erin wrote. “Doubt that would have led to any job — that wasn’t on a pole!”

Newspapers make some of the worst — and by that I mean best — typographical errors. Arlington’s Robin Cook remembers seeing this one 20 years ago in the Chicago Tribune’s classified ads: “Bouvier des Flounders for sale.”

Perhaps he was referring to the Bouvier des Flandres canine, unless he meant a type of fishing dog.

Shirley Knox’s hometown paper had this headline in large type on the front page: “Rapid Raccoon Bites Fishermen.”

If only he’d had a Bouvier des Flounders.

Cornelia Strawser’s father used to keep a photocopy of his favorite misspelled headline, from a San Francisco paper covering the opening of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge: “BRIDE REPLACES FERRY.”

Aren’t computers supposed to make things easier, what with spell check and all? No, said Jim Berard of Arnold. He worked for 24 years as a communications director on Capitol Hill, at one point doing joint news releases with the office of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

“The spell-checker on the word processing software we used would always flag Sen. Dorgan’s name and suggest ‘organ’ as a substitute,” Jim wrote. “Inevitably, my assistant once accepted the change and handed me a release citing ‘Sen. Organ’ throughout. Fortunately, I was able to get the correction made before the release went public.”

A staff assistant on a House committee Jim worked for wasn’t so lucky. She sent around an internal e-mail with the line “I apologize for the incontinence.”

“Of course, she meant ‘inconvenience,’ but fell victim to the auto-completion software,” Jim wrote.

On a related note: Retired chef Vanessa Moncure of Fredericksburg wants to apologize to anyone who may have bought her self-published cookbook and tried to make her delicious lemon meringue pie on Page 71. You need one teaspoon of lemon peel, not lemon pee.

Finally, there are mental typos, the errors our brains make. Marcy Tarter of Manassas was driving once with her 60-something mother in Black Mountain, N.C. Suddenly her mom gasped and said, “I can’t believe they put that awful word on a sign! What is this world coming to?”

They were passing a video store called “Flickers,” an old-fashioned word, Marcy pointed out, for movies. But the sign was in all capitals: FLICKERS.

Wrote Marcy: “Kinda squint and . . .

Yeah, we get it.

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