An American Editor

October 12, 2019

Saving the world from major typos

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE Owner

One of the delights of hosting a conference for colleagues is the opportunity not just to meet and connect with people in person, but to share anecdotes about our business adventures, challenges and successes. In conversations during the opening day of Gateway to Success, this year’s Communication Central/NAIWE Be a Better Freelancer® conference,  I had a chance to reminisce (and chuckle) over what I consider my two major contributions to civilization through a sharp editorial eye. You might get a kick out of them — and have similar triumphs to share!

The first involved a visit home to Rochester, NY, years ago to see my parents. I had only officially been working in editing for a while, but had always had a pretty good eye for errors. I was driving past the park near our family home when I focused on the huge granite sign with letters at least a foot high, literally carved in stone, and realized that it said COBBS HILL RESEVIOR.

Now, that sign had been there for a long, long time. I can’t tell you how long, but it seemed like something that had always been there. I had walked, driven or taken a bus past it zillions of times, but never really looked at it until that moment. And I guess no one else had, either!

I called the city parks department, public works and I think the mayor’s office, trying to find someone, anyone, to report this to (this was long enough ago to predate e-mail, websites, etc., although I really wish it didn’t; I’d love to have had a photo for Facebook!). I don’t remember who I finally reached, but the next time I came home, presto: Somehow, the stone sign had been fixed! I think there was a plaque of some sort covering the original carving, but however it was done, I can say that I helped fix a typo that was … carved in stone. And my correction also had that standing!

The other was almost as satisfying, if not as permanent or visible. When Wayne-the-Wonderful and I went to Rochester for our wedding (I always wanted to be married at my parents’ house), we went to the town hall for our marriage license. I started to sign the form, but couldn’t help actually reading the thing. And … I found several typos. In the official marriage license form that had been used by the town, and possibly other New York locations around the state, for quite a few years.

I said to the town clerk, “I can’t sign this. It has typos in it.” “But that’s our official form.” “I understand that, but I can’t have typos in my marriage license. I’m a professional writer and editor, and I just can’t do that.”

This went on for several minutes, with Wayne not knowing whether to laugh, cry or leave; probably wondering what kind of a persnickety nut he was planning to marry, but prepared to stand by me as needed. I finally marked the errors and said, pleasantly but firmly, “Our wedding is on Saturday morning. I don’t care how you do it, but we’ll be back at 9:10 a.m. on Friday, and I expect to have a marriage license with no errors in it that we can sign. We’ll see you then. Thank you.”

Sure enough, when we went back at the end of the week, there was a corrected certificate for us to sign. It was my understanding that they typed up a fresh copy (this was before the days of MicroSoft Word) and used it as the new master for the license. No one else might ever have noticed, or cared, but I am proud to be responsible for — AFAIK — the town of Brighton in Rochester, NY, providing couples with error-free marriage licenses from that point on.

We all catch errors that affect meaning and comprehension, and that would have made our clients look foolish at best to their reading publics (my favorite in the more-common arena of catching errors in publications was noticing a reference to “food panties” in an article about food pantries (not edible underwear). Not many of us have the opportunity to see our work carved in stone or be responsible for fixing something as important as a marriage license. Such moments are wonderful personal triumphs that make all the hassles, arguments over usage and frustrations worthwhile.

What momentous edits have you made? Tell us about it!



  1. We can rest assured that the venerable American Editor is in the hands of one who has an editor’s heart as evidenced by her marriage license. 📃

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    Comment by earlappleby — October 12, 2019 @ 7:53 am | Reply

  2. For me, probably the one with the most significant potential consequence, had it gone unnoticed before being printed several years ago, was when I was doing the final proofing for Oxford Univ Press’s update of the Handbook of Modern Irish History, 1500–present. Luckily for them, I am not only the product of Irish-born parents but am reasonably clued into the country’s history (and also sensitive to the fact that this was being generated by an English publisher, making it even more delicate), so when the legendary Irish freedom fighter Daniel O’Connell was described as having been a “demonic leader,” I guessed (hoped!) they’d meant “dynamic.” Considering Ireland’s 500 years of hostile occupation at the hands of the English, a typo like that in what is considered to be a significant reference tome that took years to produce might well have proved to be a major embarrassment for OUP.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by sgyourbesteditor — October 12, 2019 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  3. I had a field day many years ago on the draft copy of my divorce settlement. My attorney was a great negotiator but a terrible writer. There was something strangely satisfying about marking up the paper draft. Like you, Ruth, I just couldn’t sign an important legal document that was riddled with typos.


    Comment by Change It Up Editing — October 12, 2019 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  4. Hi,I have a question about this wording:”In the official marriage license form that had been used by the town, and possibly other New York locations around the state, for quite a few years.”This is not a sentence.  Â¿What are you trying to say here?Thank you!Eddie Eddie GoldsteinBoston


    Comment by twofourfixate — October 14, 2019 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

  5. Eddie, it’s a deliberate use of an incomplete sentence or phrase for emphasis. It’s saying exactly what I meant to say.


    Comment by An American Editor — October 17, 2019 @ 11:16 am | Reply

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