Review: The Great Typo Hunt

The Great Typo Hunt, Jeff Deck and Benjamin HersonEditor Jeff Deck has been tormented by the same sign for months. It’s hanging there on the wooden fence that surrounds an empty lot, taunting him.

NO TRESSPASSING.

Blatant disregard for the rules of spelling and grammar have always irked Jeff, but what’s a guy to do? Go around the country correcting typos, of course!

Several months’ planning later, Deck’s formation of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) is complete. He and several intrepid companions then embark on a cross-country road trip to ferret out misspellings, awkward sentence structure, and renegade apostrophes. The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time chronicles their adventure.

More than just typos

The thing I like most about this book is that it became more than I thought it would be. Yes, it was interesting to read about the different reactions people had, and the way Deck and his companions often had to be sneaky about making corrections to signs. But more interesting to me was the way Deck was constantly questioning the meaning and value of what he was doing.

Many typos were found on handwritten signs for local small business (instead of large nationwide ones) — was correcting those typos somehow taking away from the local charm? Was siccing the readers of the TEAL blog on a recalcitrant museum curator the best way to get an installation’s signs corrected? Who was Deck to tell people what’s correct and incorrect? If English is ever-changing and never had solid rules to begin with, was this effort wasted?

Like with many journeys, The Great Typo Hunt turned out to be much more than some friends’ trek around the US with corrective fluid, sharpies, and chalk. It became a lesson in education and literacy, race, history, and how we as humans communicate. This is one of my favorite quotes:

“We speak, and write, in one of the most diverse, gloriously ecumenical tongues on the planet. In English, there is a word or phrase for pretty much anything we want to say, and if there isn’t, we make it up, and it is welcomed into the family. We can express ourselves as complexly or as simply as we like. We can be magniloquent didacts, or we can talk plain.” (p. 156)

In other words, English—and all language—is awesome. And that’s something with which we can all agree.

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10 Responses

  1. Jenny December 1, 2011 / 6:23 pm

    Oh good! I was looking at this book thinking, oh crap! Another grammar nerd pretentiously marching through the country making us all feel stupid! ;) I’m glad he wasn’t THAT type of person at all and seems more humble and open minded.

    • bookzilla December 2, 2011 / 9:26 pm

      I was glad about that too, Jenny. :) They did perhaps, as Shannon mentions below, take themselves a bit too seriously, but I was glad to see that they weren’t a bunch of snotty grammarians.

  2. Shannon (Giraffe Days) December 2, 2011 / 12:53 pm

    I was instantly attracted by the book title and synopsis, but then it started to sound like it was taking itself too seriously? Or they were. I absolutely loved Eats, Shoots and Leaves which was so entertaining. Though it has left me with this burning need to put apostrophes before possessive “S”s on shop names, like the fancy shoe shop I walk past on the way to work, “Davids”. That missing apostrophe taunts me!

    • bookzilla December 2, 2011 / 9:29 pm

      I know exactly how you feel, Shannon. Writing is a big part of my job, and I absolutely cringe at some of the stuff my clients send me to put on their websites (or post themselves). Spelling and grammar taunt me too, and I was definitely rooting for the author and his friends to make a difference, no matter how small.

      But yea, it did at times feel like the author was waxing philosophical. But I think that is preferable to a book that lists all the typos they changed, and that’s it. If I wanted that, I’d read the MLA or AP handbook. :)

      • Shannon (Giraffe Days) December 2, 2011 / 10:07 pm

        It’d definitely be boring just to have them list the mistakes, though maybe it’s a cultural thing but I’d expect them to take the piss as they go! Yeah definitely a cultural thing.

        I must be a real nerd, but I quite like reading my Chicago Manual of Style now and then ;) It’s such a great reference book!

        • bookzilla December 2, 2011 / 10:12 pm

          Gah, I can’t handle Chicago! :p I’ve had MLA drummed into my head for too long. I don’t pick it up with the intention of reading it straight through, but it does make a great reference book.

          • Shannon (Giraffe Days) December 3, 2011 / 8:16 am

            I have Chicago from when I worked for a publisher, but at uni I was split two ways: History they liked one method for essays, English another. I didn’t mind it at all though. Once you know what they want (e.g. footnotes on the page or at the back? etc.), it was easy to do it both ways. But I can never remember which is which style! I know that neither of them were Chicago though. Maybe you can tell me…?

          • bookzilla December 3, 2011 / 10:55 am

            I’m not positive, but I’m betting that history was MLA; English could have been MLA or AP, depending on which your teacher(s) preferred. I used MLA for all of high school and most of college, but one English teacher I had preferred Chicago, and it drove me nuts. Like you say, though, once you know the basic rules of each well enough, it’s easier to switch back and forth.

  3. Ann December 2, 2011 / 3:32 pm

    What a fun journey.
    Ann

    • bookzilla December 2, 2011 / 9:32 pm

      I think it was fun for them until they got in hot water for “defacing” a public landmark. :( But they’re back to making corrections now, and it’s fun to follow the TEAL blog.

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