The Library of Congress recently released an inaugural poster of our new President with a quote from him — and as you can see below it had a big, embarrassing typo in it.
It’s true. The Library of Congress, for God’s sake! The home of hundreds of thousands of books, started when Congress purchased the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, apparently doesn’t employ a decent proofreader who knows the difference between “to” and “too.”
It’s sad, but it’s not really surprising. Proofreading is an art that is pretty much gone with the wind. People used to pride themselves on zealously catching typos and misspellings and other written errors. These days, though, people type things up and blast them out, whether via Twitter or blogs or Facebook, and nobody bothers to check them for spelling or grammar or the proper use of the King’s English. We’ve gotten to the point where we basically accept the casual typo or the misuse of a word because . . . well, because we’re just in too much of a hurry to pay attention to those little, trifling details. As I said . . . it’s sad.
But really — the Library of Congress? The official inaugural poster? If there’s one thing that should be proofread to a fare the well, that’s it. For shame!
If you work in an office environment, you’re likely aware of a curious phenomenon when people try to proofread their own work. Some people can do it effectively. Others can’t.
The psychologists among us explain that people in the latter class, when creating their work, see a flawless, excellent product in their heads and assume that that is what they are keyboarding. Then, even though typing mistakes get made and everyone’s writing could use some editing, when they try to proofread their eyes don’t communicate reality back to their brains. Instead, they skip over the grammatical errors, misspellings, and typos, think of what they intended to write rather than what actually appears on paper, and see an immaculate piece of work.
Life as a whole seems to be that way, too. Some people have a sense of self-awareness that allows them to proof their lives just like they would proof a memo at the office. They see where they have made mistakes and gone astray and worked to make corrections. In fact, some people are so proficient at personal proofreading that they can do it in real time, self-editing their statements as they are being made and modifying their behavior as it is occurring. It’s fascinating to watch these people internally debate about word choices and weigh one approach against the other before making their decision.
But then there are those who seem to be utterly incapable of self-proofreading. They’ve decided on a course of action and they’re going to stick with it, oblivious to the verbal cues and physical reactions of the people around them that say they’re on the wrong path. It’s as if the some internal buzzing in their brains interferes with the basic sense of self-awareness that keeps humans from walking into heavy traffic or jumping into a shark tank. These people may not think they’re infallible — not quite — but they believe that they’ve thought things through and considered all of the options, they’ve rationalized their ultimate decision, and they just can’t see any other way. And when unexpected or bad things happen, they’re blamed on rotten luck, or bias, or unfairness. Sometimes only catastrophe can cause them to finally deviate from their chosen course and realize that maybe the problem can be found in the mirror.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I think proofreading is a really valuable skill.