What, precisely, does this say about me? My boss visited me at work the other day, to give me a letter from someone high up in the company, changing somewhat my working conditions, and to cover those changes with me; he gave me the letter to read, then asked if i had any comment. The very first thing i did was to point out a grammatical error in the letter (“lot’s” for “lots”) and laugh that the higher up clearly doesn’t have a proof reader like my boss (i perform that task for him quite regularly). In fact, there were three errors in the letter ~ which in itself surely says something about the value that higher up puts on us more lowly types!
What got my curiosity going, however, was my reaction to the letter. The changes are not really dramatic, nothing that will badly affect me, though i am going to have to work a little bit later twice a week, which could be a problem if i were with someone also working full-time and we had young children at home ~ and there are bound to be some of my colleagues affected in this way ~ so i didn’t really have to question the content of the letter; nevertheless, it is surely a little odd that my first reaction is to examine the form of the message, not the message itself. In truth, errors such as these stand out to me when i read something, stand out so dramatically that i struggle to overcome them (doesn’t mean i cannot make them myself, however, so don’t bother pointing out any of mine own!) and move on to the meaning.
This confusion (though that isn’t quite the right word, since i know what i am doing, and can tell the difference) between medium and meaning affects me at other times, too. One of the most obvious is reading books. If i come across an error of spelling, grammar or (heaven help us) fact in something i am reading i am confounded by it. I am truly amazed that, whatever it is, it was not picked up by the author in proof-reading, or by his editor, or by a copy-editor or someone paid to do the job at the publishing house. How, i wonder, can such carelessness have been allowed to slip through? Frequently, if i go back and read my book reviews, i have been so incensed by a series of such errors that i have had to mention them in the review; on occasion, such an error is almost all i can recall of a book i have read: There was a book i read in seminary, for example, by a man called McBeth, and though i know i enjoyed the book, the single thing i remember about it (other than its physical dimensions and feeling, of course) is that there was an error in which he mis-dated the Glorious Revolution, or misspoke in naming the participants. How silly of me, for the subject of the book was Church (specifically, Baptist) history, not secular, and the actual error made no difference at all to his argument, yet now, some twentyfour or five years later, that’s all i recall.
Thus comes the real joy of reading articles on Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopædia: If i come across a nasty spelling or grammatical mistake, i can correct it. Immediately. What a lovely feeling of accomplishment; what a super way to learn. And, indeed, a large number of edits that i have made to Wikipedia are corrections of such simple errors. Usually i say that i am doing a “Typofix”, which seems kinder in implication than something along the lines of “Correction of grammatical ignorance”. The latter, though, is sometimes closer to the truth!