Why the war on error must still be fought

Whenever I write one of these blogs, I spend almost as long checking for mistakes as I do composing my words of wisdom.

And still the typos and missing words can slip through.

As I emerged from three weeks of end-of-term marking, this tweet from a former colleague popped up.

If you’re going to cock something up, you might as well do it on the front page.

As I think I have recounted before, one of my friends once inadvertently wrote the splash headline HESELTINE: I’M A SPACEGOAT for tens of thousands of bemused Western Daily Press readers. It should have been scapegoat. I think.

The other day a lecturer colleague told me about a very large magazine which went out with Christmas misspelled all over its festive edition cover.

We’ve all been there. We all have our horror stories to tell.

Or, rather, we did.

Those three weeks of marking have persuaded me to plan a grammar boot camp for the start of the next academic year. If only to ensure that I never see the phrase would of again.

But do these things still matter? Will editors still wake up in a cold sweat when they only have websites that are easily corrected to worry about?

Who will be patrolling the faultlines and disputed boundaries of singulars and plurals, of Oxford commas, and of overs and more thans in 20 years’ time? Will anyone?

I would argue that these things remain important – although I am far from convinced that the Department for Education’s sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut grammar tests are the answer.

Sometimes I question my sanity as I highlight – as I have done in countless copy clinics with reporters over the years – the wrong its for what seems like the 9,000th (numbers greater than ten in digits, obvs) time.

But it’s a mistake. It’s wrong.

And while there are print readers and web audiences who know it’s wrong, I’ll keep on doing it.

Because there’s the thing, as far as readers are concerned. If they’re getting that wrong on their website, what else are they cocking up?

It’s about credibility. Stick that in your spellcheck.




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