CAPTION: 22 cups of Peanut Butter?
I say "updated thoughts" because I did post about this a couple of years ago. But it's probably worth talking about again.
I received the following email yesterday: "Kevin, I enjoy many of your columns. Some of your writing is wonderfully descriptive. I'm bothered by you grammar occasionally. Example - using I in some places where me is correct. Can you have someone check the grammar before you post? It really bothers me when I read a post with that kind of error. It may bother others as well."
First, I had to chuckle that as she is chastising me on grammar she says "bothered by you grammar." But she is correct. Errors in writing are not a good thing, especially on a business website. How many of you are turned off when you notice a spelling error on a business's website? Because I run a website, and I am prone to errors myself, I try to be very forgiving but it still is jarring when I stumble upon one. Customers - correctly or incorrectly - think, "gee, if they can't take the time to get it right on their website, their shingle to the world, how can I trust them?" My wife takes a hard line on grammar mistakes. She'll inevitably say to me, after discovering a copy error, that a mistake in any other profession can cost a person their job. A doctor can't accidentally pluck out the wrong kidney simply because they are in a hurry. And she's right...to a point, although a doctor can't easily go back and correct an error. I can. So I'm not sure comparing a typo to brain surgery is completely analogous.
I churn out thousands and thousands of words a week. And I do have my Dad or Rachel proofread 90 percent of my stuff so I like to think it is pretty clean copy (yesterday I did not have anyone proof, so the copy may have been sloppy). But even they miss errors. Back when I worked at a newspaper in the early '90s they had a name for the type of errors you see in my stories: "speed errors." At newspapers, reporters are cranking out copy on deadline at warp speed and that is why papers employ a "copy desk" to proofread (and errors still slip through). When I recently published The Williams Guide to Amish Country, my Dad and four or five volunteer readers still couldn't stamp out all the errors. It took Rachel going through it a final time to catch them all and even she missed one or two typos. One could argue that the writer just shouldn't make the errors in the first place but, at least for me, writing is more art than science. If I were a painter I would want to splatter colors on a canvas and see what kind of picture I made before fine-tuning it. I'm like that with writing, I spill my ideas out first and then worry about the details later (a metaphor for my life and that method doesn't always serve me so well there, but it works OK with writing).
I do admit that I am always relieved when an error isn't mine. Two years ago when Lovina did a recipe for Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies in her column my hometown paper published it with “22 cups of peanut butter” listed. Those cookies would indeed be “outrageous!”:) After seeing the error I hurriedly went back into my email to look at the column I had sent the paper. Whew, the error was theirs this time, not mine. What I sent clearly had “2 cups of peanut butter.” But this doesn’t let me off the hook on errors, I’ve made some beauts over the years.
I’ve told these stories before in my talks and maybe even in some books, but whenever grammar errors come up I think of them. For instance, in one of the early columns, Elizabeth Coblentz — Lovina’s mother and column predecessor — mailed her handwritten column to me as usual. Her penmanship, like Lovina’s, was typically beautiful. But in this particular column her recipe for homemade strawberry jam was a little difficult to decipher.
I couldn’t just cross-check a similar recipe on the Internet like I can today. Calling Elizabeth was out of the question. For her, the nearest phone was miles away.
So I did what any 18-year-old might do. I guessed. And so went in the annals of Amish Cook history one of the biggest recipe disasters ever. What should have said “add some” salt was typed in as “epsom salt.”
Even worse, some readers actually tried the recipe at home.
On another occasion, I erred by instead of typing "Elizabeth served fried chicken” at a wedding, I typed in “fried children” which breezed right through my spell-check, past some copy-editors, and onto newspaper pages. I know the Bradenton, Florida paper ran the “fried children" reference.
There are probably still a few readers who quit reading the column in disgust if they believed that was a typical Amish wedding menu!
Back to the reader's original note: most of the errors you see on the site - and I hope you don't see many - are "speed errors"....I know when "it's" is supposed to be "its" or vice-versa, I'm just working so fast that my fingers outrun my brain. But some things do trip me up repeatedly, I don't care how many times I drill the grammar rule into my head: "effects" and "affects" always get me. And I do know the the "I" and "Me" usage rules but I still stumble over it. I do appreciate it when a reader reminds me or points out an error, it keeps me on my toes, lets me know you are paying attention, and makes my work better in the long-run. So me will try to slow down and not make as many speed errors from here on out!