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Proof of Life: Taking responsibility for your words (for a change)

Posted on Saturday, Jul 21st 2007

By Richard Laermer, Guest Author

Let me just explain that heading, please.

Responsibility has become a buzzword. And I think it’s got to be known for more than just good psychology.

Here’s my question slash quandary: Why can’t people be careful when it’s only going to get worse for them? Why o why. Sure, you heard your parents mumble that one time or another. But I’m talking about writing. Almost everything I read has errors in it—and not because MS Grammar Check stopped its magic. I see a lot of carelessness emanating from people thinking (I think) someone else is going to make the document perfect.

Who is this someone else? Typos are mistakes you have to catch. While everyone makes minor goofs, I see major ones all the day and they’re uncanny. I’m here to ask every marketing professional to take a third and fourth look before hitting the Send key or printing on super-fancy copier paper.

Some say it’s the fault of e-mail. Sounds like a big excuse coming on. People pass their documents back and forth and add rather than correct. Since I am part of the last generation who once used typewriters and rejoiced at the invention of White Out ™, I place blame on those large monitors on our desks. There’s no way you can catch a boo-boo onscreen, but most folks won’t print out the written work. Such bother.

Today things travel casually, desk to desk, until the work goes out without someone realizing, “Wait, wait. That’s supposed to say AUNT.” (That’s a private joke for Curb Your Enthusiasm fans.)

I am a kind of typo-savant. I see them out of corners of my eyes. As a matter of fact, where my mate and I live part-time outside LA we laugh at crazy errors on “cable ready” Time Warner ads constantly. I see them in staff and management reports—I was born a proofreader—where folks create documents using wrong words, or worse, being grammatically incorrect (GI). If an author doesn’t even bother to use Spell Check I know s/he is simply damn sloppy.

Recently I have come undone by some doozeys that found their way to me from unexpected sources. Witness:
LA Times: Late last year for many months there was a front-page Cars section advert that is nearly a quarter of a page; it actually says LOVE WHAT YOUR DRIVING.

Re/Max calendar: I got it in the mail—a mean feat because it was octagonal and printed with verve and style. Problem: The proud real estate professional calls herself YOU’RE DESERT REALTOR (I’m not one!).

South Florida CEO magazine: For this I bought a frame. It calls John Murphy (who knows) the man behind MURHPY’s LAW. Read that twice. In case you haven’t seen it, this periodical is glossy and expensive.

Showtime: In announcing the first episode of The L Word the words blaring onscreen spoke of the upcoming PREMEIRE. It was sad.

I’m not going to get into the incorrect usage of “less” and “fewer” in multitudes of costly print ads, nor the occasion a few years ago when The New York Times ran a Sports Friday section on Saturday morning.

OR the other day when the Daily News ran the wrong caption of Obama under a guy stuffing his face for a promotion (not the Senator).


Books are worth discussing, since most are edited “from afar,” where committees babble haughtily about plot or mis en scène or arc. Non-fiction tomes are merely about the phrase everyone can use at cocktail parties (like, err, Blink). But gosh, most of them have so many freaky typos. Recently, I read one called The Middle Mind where a biggie publisher allowed well-known words like Schrek [sic] to be misspelled. The subtitle is “Why Americans Don’t Think For Themselves,” which means Middle is real open to criticism.

A few years ago a cool book on how companies steal corporate secrets contained so many made-up words (Exon, as in
Valdez) that I had to put it down. Editors don’t feel like taking their time, even if that’s their job, I guess.

All that cash lobbed at voluminous printing and giant ad campaigns and expensive promotion and oft-appearing marketing, and what does it do in the end? Turns people who notice errors right off. In cases like mine, products or parent companies are never purchased (from) again.

I definitely make mis-steaks. Yet I don’t trust my under-caffeine-ated self and hand my work to others who see with a critical eye.
Don’t people fear ridicule? Not during the era of blamelessness. These are days when people say, “Yeah well I have a reason” and refuse to accept a scintilla of fault. Think about it the next time you hear someone exclaim, “My bad”—an over-used phrase developed by a generation of entitled mini-thugs. It is iconic of the ages. A guy won’t say “It was my fault” and can’t admit “Oh, I’m bad,” or, heaven forbid, apologize. Instead he’s coining words gently to make fun of the fact that he screwed up. Ha, ha.

I’m not trying to be Joyce Brothers. I just like to read, look up, and watch TV without observing typos that stop me cold.
To some, it sounds like bellyaching or preciousness. Yeah, let’s live by Apathy Rules: giggle and say whatever. But being careful and slow is in order during strange times: See the economy go haywire, a wartime President that is seemingly unstoppable and bizarre, and our entertainment written for 11 year-olds… why not spend some quality time concentrating on the slippage we produce!

I paraphrase Tony Soprano’s shrink in a third season episode: Indeed Americans get caught up in the little things. The big ones are all taken care of, and so we’re lucky; we have that ability to focus.

Dr. Melfi was spot-on. We got it all, and then some. Alas, life gets sweeter when you pay attention. Regardless of what OutKast says, there’s still that chestnut about the roses being smelt.

A long time ago a friend e-mailed me. “Focus and concentrate,” he said. “Everything comes together.” That’s such great advice. I’m glad he took the time to spell it out.

I’m Richard Laermer, author of Punk ( Marketing. My next book is “2011,” about the trends affecting us as we move onward–and happily so.

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