Spelling errors are always embarrassing. Just how embarrassing depends upon the nature and location of that spelling mistake. A spelling mistake on a large sign is a pretty big deal. When that sign is advertising the services of a school, it's an even bigger deal. And when the word that has been incorrectly spelled is 'grammar'... well, that's about as embarrassing as it gets.
But that's precisely the mistake that an absence of effective proofreading resulted in for a Christian Brothers' school in Omagh (see picture) when the word 'grammar' was spelled 'grammer'. Oops. Not only were those responsible exposed to a little local ridicule, they were also, thanks to the wonders of social media, subjected to a fair amount of international mockery.
Every now and then, I receive an email pointing out an error in The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course eBook or, more frequently, on this very website. Mostly these mistakes are minor grammatical misdemeanours, some are a matter of opinion, but there have been a couple of humdingers. Inevitably, the authors of these missives will ask if they’ve spotted a ‘deliberate error’ I’ve buried between the covers of my eBook as a test, an Easter egg for the eagle-eyed. As a firm believer that honesty really is the best policy, I always answer along the lines of, “No, it wasn’t a deliberate mistake. My bad.”
It might seem shameful for someone promoting a proofreading course to admit to such oversights but – drum roll, please – I’m only human. And, unless there is some kind of intergalactic proofreading organisation I’ve yet to be introduced to, all proofreaders are ‘only human’.
I've yet to meet a proofreader who didn't fail to notice the odd spelling or grammatical error, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some extremely dedicated proofreaders from the glory days of hot metal. This is why many publishing departments try to ensure more the one proofreader checks each piece of work, and even then – even then – mistakes go unspotted. I’m currently reading a novel by Dennis Lehane in which, quite early on, there is a spelling error. When you see it staring up at you from the printed page, it seems incredible that anyone could have missed such a thing, let alone the surely
expert proofreaders at Random House. But miss it they did.
Proofreaders make mistakes. Proofreaders are human. Show me a proofreader who has yet to fall flat on his or her face and I’ll say, “It’s only a matter of time.”
The fact that I have gone to the trouble of dedicating an entire chapter of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course to the subject of ‘what to do when it all goes horribly wrong’, should give you an idea of where I stand on the fallibility of proofreaders!
I’ll admit I’m not the greatest proofreader. When compared to the time-served proofreaders I’ve worked with over the years, my eye stands revealed as somewhat inadequate. However, my experience of proofreading is, even though I say it myself, pretty darn good. And my understanding of what makes a good proofreader and what makes for good proofreading is even better.
Mistakes, I've made a few, but I have never given bad advice when it comes to the subject of proofreading.
It’s hard to know where to start with this story from KXAS-TV. It illustrates
any number of proofreading lessons: how easy it is to miss a humdinger of an
error, how difficult said error can be to rectify once it has been spotted and
the potential cost involved. I think I’ll leave it to the original reporter,
A Texas elementary school is correcting a spelling mistake made when it
changed its name nearly nine years ago.
Sunrise Elementary School in Fort Worth added "McMillan" to its name in the
2003-2004 school year -- but also added an extra "i."
The school changed its name to honour its first teacher, Mrs. Mary McMillan,
who eventually became principal. A relative recently reached out to the Fort
Worth Independent School District to say it had bought an extra vowel.
Everything had the incorrect spelling of "Sunrise-McMillian" instead of
"Sunrise-McMillan," including the lettering on the building, printed signs,
vinyl congratulatory signs, logos and Facebook.
"Oh, I was kind of shocked," said Ernie Johnson, who waters the grass on
school grounds and never knew the spelling was wrong. "I hadn't paid it any
Ever since hearing from McMillan's relative, the school has been correcting
the error. But the name is in many places people easily forget, such as business
cards, visitor's passes, certificates and digital signatures embedded in
The school is taking the corrections with the right balance of seriousness
and humour. Principal Marion Mouton and his staff keep finding misspellings to
"Our day-to-day things that we just take for granted now and, as
we're coming up with it, we're seeing 'OK, that's something else we need to
fix,'" he said.
The student body as a whole hasn't been told, though some may know. Once more
misspellings are corrected, the school hopes to turn the mix-up into a teachable
moment on how to take responsibility, correct an error and move on.
When visiting her class, teacher Jouet Dotson came up with a quick brainstorm
on how to teach the new, correct spelling.
"You know how we say there's no 'i' in team?" teacher Jouet Dotson
"We could say, 'Well, [at] Sunrise-McMillan, we're a team, so
there is no 'i' in the last part of McMillan.'"
The Fort Worth ISD isn't saying how much it will cost to fix all the mistakes
but did say it's exhausting all resources to try and keep costs down.
... it's about saving your clients from devastating humiliations like this.
“I am one of those many fools who paid a huge amount of money for a useless course. This book... has opened so many doors for me. I now look on Mike as my mentor as I embark on a career. Thank you Mike.”
Emma Steel, Proofreader and International Structural Editor.
“ I thoroughly enjoyed the course and am so glad that I decided to take it... the whole experience was invaluable. My proofreading service is now well established and your course played no small part in getting it off the ground.”
Hache L. Jones, Proofreader.
“I'd just like to thank you first of all for writing such a great, straight forward eBook, and then going above and beyond what I would even expect as a customer by providing us, completely free of charge, updated versions months later!”
Rachel Gee, Trainee Proofreader.
“What can I say? Worth every penny and then some! God Bless! This a fabulous course.”
Teresa Richardson, Proofreader.
“As someone who has effectively been proofreading for thirty years, I found Mike’s No-Nonsense Proofreading Course an invaluable introduction and a very useful practical guide to many aspects of this discipline. I can wholeheartedly recommend it as the ideal starting point, and much more besides.”
Jeremy Meehan, Proofreader.
My name's Mike Sellars and I'm an experienced proofreader and the author of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. Click here to find out more about me.
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“As someone who has been proofreading for 30 years, I found Mike’s course an invaluable introduction and a very useful practical guide to many aspects of the discipline. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.” Jeremy Meehan, Proofreader.
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