Books

Chronicle of typo-fixing entertains

Remember those two guys who got busted a couple of years ago for defacing a historical sign at the Grand Canyon to fix a couple of typos? You don't? That's not important; they'll tell you all about it in the book.

The Grand Canyon was about the halfway point of Jeff Deck's cross-country typo-hunting trip. A writer and editor, he got the idea to make a push for accuracy by traveling around fixing signs that had dodgy punctuation, garbled spellings, and other language infelicities that could impede communication.

This being the information age, Deck blogged about the trip as it was happening. This being America, he got a book deal afterward. And the book is a lot of fun. Narrated by Deck, the writing is light and breezy, occasionally lapsing into ironic faux-floweriness that's just enough to be amusing and not too much to be obnoxious.

He starts at the beginning, with the idea, the planning, the gathering of Sharpies and Wite-Out, the snappy acronym (Typo Eradication Advancement League, or TEAL), the setup of the website, and the partner in crime — Deck's buddy Benjamin Herson. Then it's part road trip, part language lesson as the lads hit the road and keep a running tally of typos spotted vs. typos fixed.

Deck's goal was simple: "to enhance the clarity of the message."

The guys tried to get permission whenever possible to make changes. Sometimes they were greeted with hostility, sometimes confusion, and sometimes gratitude.

But the book is not merely a chronicle of typos fixed; it's an exploration of language, and education, and even class and race.

Deck hesitates pointing out a missing apostrophe to a black business owner (he finally did, and she was grateful to know), and then has a full-blown crisis of conscience when he realizes that most of the errors he sees are at small, mom-and-pop businesses, and he worries that he's unfairly picking on people. But he also realizes that just because small businesses don't have the resources of large chains doesn't mean they deserve signs of lesser quality.

And Herson makes a provocative observation about language: "I'd never thought about it before, but a typo that everyone walks past and no one ever corrects signifies a much deeper communication breakdown."

Some readers might want to know whether there are any typos in the book. I found one historically incorrect but now dictionary-accepted usage ("gauntlet" for "gantlet," as in "run the gantlet") and one indefinite article that I thought was a typo until I realized on the next page that it was a wicked play on words. Or could be; maybe it really was a typo.

"The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time" by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson (Crown, 269 pages, $23.99)

If you go

Typo guys book-signing

What: Reading and book-signing by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, authors of "The Great Typo Hunt"

Where: Watermark Books, 4701 E. Douglas

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 27

How much: Free

For more information, call 316-682-1181.

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