Writers can be pretty critical when it comes to, well, writing. I’ve been a member of several writing communities, and one thing is always certain. If you get enough writers in a room (real or virtual), someone will have a story about a writing error they’ve come across that bugs them bad enough to spit slugs. (That’s not a real thing. Just my attempt at avoiding a cliche.)
Don’t get me wrong. I am one of those writers. Sometimes I complain to my non-writerly friends about some gawd-awful passage I’ve read in a New York Times bestseller. “How does this person have a publisher? And so many readers? She can’t even put a coherent sentence together!” And my friends just shrug at me. “Uh…sorry?” Yes, I know. Only the writers get it. Grammar, usage, diction, voice, style that breaks all these rules for all the right reasons…these things are IMPORTANT, darn it!
But the thing is, some errors are inevitable. Unavoidable. Nobody can write perfectly all the time. And I haven’t yet met the perfect editor who catches every little bitty mistake that crosses his desk. Especially typos. Typos happen. And they happen every day. And sometimes, every now and then, they are hilarious.
Back in the days that I used to get paid to work, I was an HIV Prevention Policy Analyst for a national public health association. Among many other duties, I prepared our annual budget and cooperative agreement proposal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now this agency I worked for, they were SERIOUS about proofreading. Obviously, I proofread my own work about a billion times. But everything I wrote went through my supervisor, then her supervisor, and sometimes even her supervisor and the Executive Director, all of whom would comb through my writing, spilling red ink across the page. If you ever want to feel like you didn’t write something well enough, go to work for these guys. They will point out every letter of every word that needs to be changed, and you will change it. Nothing gets past them.
Nothing, except for the most embarrassing writing mistake of my life.
You see, one of the projects in my annual cooperative agreement proposal was an HIV Prevention Project for Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). Only I left off the last letter, and wrote “Men who have Sex with Me.” A high risk group for HIV Prevention. And apparently, a large enough group that we needed thousands of dollars in CDC money for our project.
I submitted the document to CDC this way. I didn’t discover the error until a year later. And you know what I did with it? I highlighted it, circled it in red ink, and pinned it to the office bulletin board so that all of my co-workers could get a good laugh too. Because…long live the typo that makes me laugh!
Do you have any embarrassing typo stories to share? I’d love to hear from you!