Proofreading can ensure communication while its lack has the power to embarrass. While most proofreading errors are simply spelling typos, poor grammar, or one wrong letter in a word, any of those mistakes can turn a serious sentence into a joke, or worse, a cause to blush, even to lose business.
Proofreading errors seem to be more and more prevalent in our world. Most of the time, they simply result in a typo, but sometimes they can be hilarious, or worse, downright embarrassing. Reliance on spell-check is not enough. Everyone needs a second set of eyes to proofread his or her writing, and the proofreaders should have a good grasp of grammar. Here are a few rather embarrassing examples of proofreading errors that will make you and your proofreader want to double and triple check your writing.
Spelling errors and wrong words are often the most prevalent mistakes writers carelessly make. One of the more common ones I often see is:
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people recommend “mediation” when they meant “meditation.” They are really quite different things, almost contradictory.
A friend who used to work in advertising told me about a couple of times when typos in a local newspaper caused not only embarrassment, but also the loss of an advertiser.
The first error was an advertisement for an event at a restaurant. This particular restaurant often held events for different groups and organizations as well as providing entertainment from local bands. Of course, bands are notorious for having creative (aka misspelled) names. On this occasion, the restaurant wanted its ad to include that it would host on June 26 the “Red Hot Ladies.” The graphic artist and the proofreader both assumed the Red Hot Ladies was a band. In fact, they joked that maybe they should go check out the event.
Fortunately, the advertiser caught the error on the proof before the ad went to print. It was actually the Red “Hat” Ladies who would be gathering at the restaurant. Somehow, I don’t think this well known group of senior women who wear red hats would have appreciated a bunch of saliva-dripping men showing up to watch them perform. Then again, those outgoing ladies might not have minded, but I suspect their audience would have been disappointed.
Another mistake in an advertisement my friend told me about actually did go to print. A furniture store was having a sale, including offering 40% off on Grandfather Clocks. Somehow, the add was printed to say “Grandfather Cocks.” I can tell you the furniture store was not happy; it pulled its advertising from the newspaper. I wonder though whether some of those Red Hat Ladies might have shown up for the sale.
Mistakes in grammar can make for equally embarrassing results. Even the grammar experts often have to stop and think about the use of “lie” and “lay.” Consider the double meaning that could be interpreted from this sentence:
He laid his mother on the bed.
What exactly is happening here? Is he setting his mother down, or is he having intercourse with her? Actually, while most likely it’s the former, the latter could also be interpreted, although hopefully the context of the larger paragraph would clarify.
I once had an English professor who explained the difference between lay and lie by saying, “People never lay except when they get laid.” In other words, I would never lay on a bed. I would lie on the bed. But why then is the sentence above correct? Because the mother is not herself lying on the bed, she is being laid on the bed. That is, she’s being carried and set down. Similarly, we would not lie a pillow on the bed, but we would lay a pillow on the bed. In the past tense, we would say “He laid the pillow on the bed.”
If that explanation still leaves you confused about when to use “lie” or “lay,” it is often best to pick another verb to use, so depending on what you meant above, you could say:
He set his mother on the bed.
He ~~~~~~ his mother on the bed.
Even a missing word or the context of the word in a sentence can result in a misunderstanding. Of course, I need not tell you that numerous jokes result from misunderstanding a sentence due to context. Here is quite a hilarious one:
A priest checks into a hotel and says to the clerk, “I hope the porn channel in my room is disabled?”
The clerk replies, “No sir, it’s regular porn, you sick jerk.”
Had the priest said, “I hope you have disabled the porn channel” he would not have been embarrassed by the misinterpretation.
If I haven’t offended anyone yet, here comes my favorite example, on the importance of proper capitalization. I can’t tell you how many times I see people confused about when to capitalize the adjective preceding a relative’s name. For example, which of the following here is correct:
When my Mother got home, she spanked me.
When mother got home, she spanked me.
Actually, neither is correct. In the first case, “mother” should be lowercase, and in the second, it should be uppercase. Why? Because in the second case, “mother” is being used as a name, just as you would use Dad, Grandma, or Brother, but if you use “my dad, our grandma, his brother,” then you are referring to a relationship rather than specifically to a person.
And then there are names. Add a name after Grandpa or Aunt and you could have a problem. See if you can figure out the difference between what is meant and what could be implied by this sentence. Note that “uncle” should have been capitalized here as well as the uncle’s name:
When he got back to the barn, I helped my uncle jack off the horse.
Need I say more? Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Ask Uncle Jack to help you.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.