A Word, Please: The strong, silent typo

Does a presidential candidate who misspells “America” love it any less than the guy whose campaign gets all the letters in the right order? Is he less fit to lead if his Facebook page mentions “offical gear” when it means “official gear”?

Would the typo “sneak peak” on his Facebook page peg him as illiterate, an ineffectual supervisor or a helmsman too dumb to realize he's steering a ship of dummies?

These are the questions raised by three typos in one week that the Mitt Romney campaign let slip, the most famous of them being a campaign app that went viral because it contained the slogan “A Better Amercia.”

Anyone who's being honest is compelled to answer all these questions with a resounding “no.” The typos are not a smoking gun revealing a serious personal shortcoming on the candidate's part or even on the part of his staff. Unless Romney was campaigning on a platform of proofreading skills and meticulous attention to letter-perfect detail, these errors alone don't call into question his fitness for office.

True, in April, Romney did tell members of the American Society of News Editors, “Frankly, in some of the new media, I find myself missing the presence of editors to exercise quality control.” But even someone who values quality editing, or who at least has the sense to say so to a gathering of editors, can let a typo or three slip by on his watch.

It's hard to imagine that many voters changed their minds about the upcoming election based on these errors alone. Everyone knows typos happen. They can happen to anyone.

True, errors that reveal ignorance are incriminating. But this isn't one, as there's little doubt that Romney knows how to spell “America.” Further, most people probably get that Romney doesn't do all the proofreading of his campaign materials any more than he does his own copywriting, stuffs his own envelopes or schedules his own media appearances.

So why did the “Amercia” flub go viral? Why did the other two make headlines? Why did they give thousands of Web surfers, present company included, a rush of smug schadenfreude?

It's because typos make you look bad — even typos of the “I'm only human” variety. Think about it: Any of us could head out the door in the morning with a zipper down. But that wouldn't make it any less funny if a candidate for president appeared with his fly down in an online video.

CNN's take on the Romney typos was this: “As copy editors disappear, embarrassing mistakes will multiply.”

I'm inclined to agree, even though I'm the world's biggest typo apologist. As a writer, I've penned some doozies that my editors didn't catch. As an editor, I've let down writers in the same way. Occasionally I've even inserted errors into other writers' articles. For example, when rewriting a passage and failing to delete all the unneeded words, a sentence like this can happen: “The show will come to at the civic center.”

But my go-easy-on-the-typos mentality applies in only one direction on a timeline: past. A mistake that happened yesterday may well be forgivable. The one that could happen tomorrow is not.

The only way to not get caught with your linguistic fly down is to take seriously the need for editing and proofreading. Knowing how to spell America isn't enough. You need trained, eagle-eyed people to make sure you didn't slip.

Romney's record and platform provide more than enough information for voters to decide whether to support him. So a couple of typos won't cost him the election. But they demonstrate that, for all of us, typos cost us a little piece of our dignity.

JUNE CASAGRANDE is that author of “It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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