First let me dedicate this post to my mother, the Loyal Keeper of the Apostrophe in her seniors’ building. Mom was happy there, and she appreciated the help and companionship of the caring and competent staff. However, many of these fine people did not speak English as their first language, and the vagaries of apostrophe use eluded them. How problematic for Mom, a retired teacher-librarian who had scoffed at the senior’s room at the mall! (Which senior was it for, anyway?)
Can you imagine Mom’s utter chagrin at finding apostrophes in her potato’es?
Enter the Loyal Keeper of the Apostrophe. As the aforementioned caring but apostrophe-challenged staff cleared the table, Mom would sidle up to the whiteboard and peruse the next meal’s menu. A quick and subtle check for punctuation insurgents and then—with a seemingly casual yet entirely purposeful hand—the Keeper would ever so deftly erase the offending mark. Later that day, the residents enjoyed their potatoes without ever knowing who had saved them from those wretched curlicues.
Heroics aside, there is a place for those of us who trace the intricate patterns of the leaves when the forest boundaries and species of trees have been determined. Indeed, when my husband and I were editing Northwest Business Magazine (a regional bi-monthly), we correctly reported the number of kilowatts in an article about alternate energy production when a national magazine got it wrong. Why? Not because I knew a kilowatt from a daffodil, but because I knew that 3 and 30 were two different numbers, and I checked the conflicting information with the company.
If, however, we are not only punctuation enabled but also attentive to detail, do we still need a proofreader? Consider yours truly, who, on the resume she submitted with her application to teach English as a Second Language, had a typo in the word “language.” Consider her colleague, who, not to be outdone, produced a resume with a typo in his name. In my experience, if we don’t catch something almost right away, we see what we think is there rather than what really is there. That’s why a different pair of eyes is best. However, some distance from our work—a break for several days, or even a switch from screen to hard copy—can help to trick our brain into thinking it’s seeing something new and actually reading the material.
Perhaps my brother, who used to publish a newsletter, said it best: The only way to find a typo is to make a thousand copies. If that’s not an option, I suggest a proofreader.