A Second Serving of Alphabet Soup
Six years ago I made my debut in The Weekly Villager with an article about the plethora of misspelled street signs that seem to have made their home along the roads in our community. On any given day, one only has to take a drive down the street and it doesn’t take long to find a professionally-made, permanent sign that has a typographical error as blatant as a street name with a few extra letters, a directional map transposing letters, or even a town name actually MISSING some very necessary letters. The intent was to do a follow-up article six months later to mention that in that time all of the signs I’d pointed out in my write up had been corrected, except one, and to see if any new ones had decided to pop up in the meantime. Life gets in the way of the best intentions, as life tends to do, and my writing assignments have been winding through other paths and following other directions ever since, leaving my pot of alphabet soup simmering on the back burner. (I’m certainly not complaining though.) I’ve continued to typo-spot and snap photos of these mischievous misprints whenever I’m out and about and now, three hundred bylines later, that second helping has turned into quite the scrumptious syntax smorgasbord.
Longtime readers of this paper may remember the photo that accompanied the article: the green mileage sign located just outside of Hiram at the crossroads of Rts. 700 and 82 that pointed drivers in the direction of “Garrettsvile” (Garrettsville). That, I believe, was one of the first in the series that were quickly replaced after the piece’s initial publication. The “Protage County” (Portage) sign was taken down during road construction and never put back up, and the “netural” (neutral) indicator for gear shifts was removed like the slush and grime off a bumper when the BP at the mall remodeled their car wash and received some shiny new rebranding materials to decorate the building.
Although those examples may have been fixed in their various ways, there are PLENTY of new or previously unmentioned culprits out there just waiting to sour one’s sight line. When the bridge remodel outside of Newton Falls closed Bailey Road last summer, for instance, a bright orange sign declaring a 90-day detour for “Baily Road” informed passersby of the change in travel plans. A stop at a traffic light in front of a popular drugstore just over the Trumbull County line will offer visitors an invitation to the local Lions Club meeting held at the Community Center on “Quary” Street (Quarry) while a sign along Rt. 5 just east of the Rt. 45 exit advertising the educational alternative that is the “Trumbull Center Technical Center” left out the most important part for a student’s future: Career. Take that Rt. 45 exit into downtown Warren and a driver may be impressed by the new signs with arrows designating areas of interest for visitors; however, when they were initially hung up those signs were installed backwards so that someone wishing to find a spot in the parking garage was directed north while a potential bookworm searching for the library would have followed the arrow pointing south. To the town’s credit, that mix-up was remedied shortly thereafter, as was the TCTC sign which was replaced with the correct non-redundant moniker, but not before this journalist snapped photographic evidence of the original version, no Photoshop skills necessary.
Typos certainly are non-discriminatory creatures as they can be found no matter in which county one is exploring. A routine trip to the quaint shopping district by the Hudson library in Summit County offered an opportunity to stop in at the Visitors Center for a map of the shops and revealed not only the paper versions to take with you, but a hefty colorful relative mounted onto the wall for easy perusal. The latter of which designated the obligatory “You Are Here” position with a bright yellow star labeled “Vistors Center.”
Speaking of maps, just up the hill from Garrettsville (yes, with two Rs, two Ts, and two Ls) is an institution of higher learning whose campus hosts hundreds of students paying quite a bit of money to be taught in various subjects every day. On this same campus is located that lone erroneous example that I’d cited in my original article that remains standing to this day. In a smattering of locations around the campus grounds are professional outdoor maps containing a general layout of the buildings undoubtedly installed in the hopes that they will aid the campus community and visitors in identifying where they need to go and how to get there. However, if one is in search of the Department of History’s Pendleton House, a word to the wise: you won’t find it on the map. Better to hunt for the diagram’s typographical doppelganger “Pendelton House” to plan your walking route. Sorry, Hiram College, but in Typo-Catching 101 you get a failing grade.
I try not to be too bothered by goofs on temporary signage, namely the flimsy yellow and black letters shouting out the latest drinks at our favorite fast food restaurants. When Christmas time was near, a normal trip through Ravenna had milkshake-lovers wanting a super-sized “pepperment” (peppermint) drink to sip before continuing on their way. As annoyingly incorrect as they are, those letters are usually quickly rearranged as the next menu specials are announced. Most of the time missing letters are due to a strong wind or the staff’s attempt at using a creative hand with a black Sharpie to make up for the lettering kit’s lack of a sufficient amount of necessary vowels. Although wrong as they may be, it’s not like they’re set in stone…Unfortunately the same can’t be said for a solemn monument honoring fallen police officers in Warren which announces in chiseled letters that the memorial is “FOR OUR HEROS THAT SERVED WITH HONOR” (HEROES). To be fair, “heros” is a proper spelling, it’s even in the dictionary… but only if you’re referring to the submarine sandwiches and NOT the brave men and women who protect our country.
Granted, these signs are generally overlooked, except for those of us who can’t help but notice inconsistencies in the English language wherever we go, because they have become such a part of our daily lives. Just driving to school or work or to run a few errands at the mall, people are literally surrounded not only by street signs and traffic information to assist them while driving, but billboards trying to convince a potential customer to buy a particular store’s wares in the mere five seconds of multitasked screen time it is allotted out of our peripheral vision in between sips of the soda in our cup holder or concentrating on the next stop in our game plan. For most, it’s completely understandable to not “see” anything wrong with the message in front of you even though you’re staring right at it.
Those pesky little errors can jump out at you when you least expect it, such as staring you down from a laminated poster providing instructions for computer use at the Kent Free Library and intelligently advising users to safeguard “privcy” (privacy) by remembering to log out of personal accounts at the end of each session. And a typo-ridden sign doesn’t even have to be on the side of the road waiting to be found – it may be driving right next to you in the form of a local restaurant’s delivery van advertising “All Occassion Catering” (Occasion) to the hundreds of prospective dinner guests it passes every day.
I was beginning to think I was alone in my grammar snobbery. Perhaps I was born with this mutant gene that gave me the super power of spotting a typo a mile away – literally, as one of those billboards was once a mile from the car when I saw the misspelled word – or maybe when I was younger there was this freak mishap with a fountain pen and an inkwell filled with toxic goo. When the original article was published way back in 2007 it seemed to open the floodgates for debate in my academic, personal, and professional circles about whether accuracy really mattered all that much. Fast and faster has our society become, but seemingly more so at the cost of what is proper and correct. Like textspeak, which is admittedly a language in itself born from those with the quickest thumbs and smallest keyboards, has it become widely acceptable to toss basic grammar and spelling lessons out the window as long as one’s message can be reasonably understood? Luckily for me, the next year I was accepted into a graduate literature program and immediately surrounded by students who are ::: gasp :: even fussier than I am – I’d found my flock! The year after that an amusing little book hit the shelves at the major bookstores called I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar by Sharon Eliza Nichols (published September 2009). It is basically a compilation of typos in all shapes and forms captioned with a side of snide puns and snarky commentary. (I’m a bit nicer.) Two years later, The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson (October 2011) chronicled the adventures of two guys who actually hunted down a store manager every time they found a typo on a sign and insisted it be corrected. (Although I used to mention those sorts of things to responsible parties, namely at Barnes and Noble or other literature-heavy establishments, nothing was ever fixed so I’m more selective now.)
In case you were wondering, I still have yet to read a book that doesn’t have some sort of typo in it nor do I go a day without finding a typo whether on the real highway or the information superhighway that is the Internet. I don’t have to hunt for typos, they find me, and I’ve provided only a small sampling here for you to savor.
In truth, I could practically fill an entire issue of this paper with tales of these tantalizing typo tidbits, but I really should leave room for dessert.