A Word, Please: Mistakes happen
I don’t like to complain about typos. Mistakes happen. Even the best writers and editors can let them slip by. And lord knows I’ve made my share.
Nor do I like to point to typos and say, “Look! Here’s proof that editing standards are going down the tubes!” It’s too unscientific. If it seems that I’m finding more published typos than usual, well “seems” can be deceiving. Confirmation bias is real. If you’re looking for evidence that editing errors are on the rise, you’ll find it. Just as if you’re looking for evidence of a conspiracy between the New York Times and the makers of Calvin Klein’s Obsession to make the world smell musky, you’ll find that, too.
The only way to be sure that typos are becoming more common would be to tally them in a scientific sampling over a meaningful period of time. And, sorry, but scouring publications for typos going back decades can’t compete with “Game of Thrones.”
No matter how much it appears that published writing is getting sloppier, I can’t prove it. So I’ve kept relatively quiet about the matter.
But now, having just been bombarded by three glaring typos in about 24 hours, allow me to say, “Oh, come on! This is getting bad.”
Exhibit A: This sentence published in the New York Times. “In interviews with potential witnesses in recent weeks, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have spent hours pouring over the details of Mr. Flynn’s business dealings with a Turkish-American businessman who worked last year with Mr. Flynn.”
Copy Editing 101: Day one, lesson one: When you study something carefully, you “pore” over it, you don’t “pour” over it. This distinction makes every list of commonly confused words. It’s right up there with “pique” and “peak” and “complement” and “compliment.” To be fair, I should add that the typo appeared in a digital version of the story published in the evening and that the editors fixed it quickly. On the other hand, even Microsoft Word could have prevented this one. My spell-checker flagged my use of “pouring” in the last paragraph.
Because this mistake came just weeks after New York Times reporters marched out in protest of the company laying off copy editors, well, the gloves are off, guys.
Then, not two hours later, I saw this passage in a Yahoo Finance article: “Tesla is averaging around 1,800 orders a day for the Model 3 since it’s launch in late July.”
If “pour” and “pour” are Copy Editing 101, this was a prerequisite to get into the class: Possessive “its” has no apostrophe. The “it’s” that does have an apostrophe is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” Never does the contracted form indicate possession. Again, this was an error made in haste and not out of ignorance. I know this because the previous sentence in the article used “its” correctly. But, again, even Microsoft’s spell-checker flags this one. So it’s pretty egregious that it got through.
The next day, I saw this headline on AOL’s news feed: “Chief of staff trying to reign in Trump in one major way.”
I’m beginning to suspect that three students played hooky together that first day of Copy Editing 101. You don’t reign someone in. You rein him in. To reign is what kings and queens do: They rule. This is the spelling you want in the expression “to reign supreme.” To “rein in” someone or something is a reference to a horse’s reins. It means to get someone or something under control and on the right course. For example: The days when publishers took pains to rein in typos may be behind us.
June Casagrande is the author of “The Best Punctuation Book, Period.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.