On the lookout for tpyos, wherever they may be


Two self-styled “typo vigilantes” drove across the US in 2008 correcting typographic errors in public signage. Would there be much work for them in Ireland?

The pair’s adventures in proofreading are detailed in their book, The Great Typo Hunt, published this month. Think of it as Eats, Shoots & Leavescrossed with the movie Road Trip, a wild and crazy adventure full of thrills, spills and howlers.

Their services weren’t always welcome; when they tried to correct an official sign at the Grand Canyon they landed in court and earned a $3,000 fine, and many restaurant owners regarded them with suspicion. “We were eating in a restaurant in Arizona and we asked if we could fix a few things on the menu,” says Herson.

“They asked us how much we charged for that. We were like, ‘It’s free! It’s on the house!’ At another place we were taking photos of the menu and the owner thought we were trying to steal her recipes.”

Now Herson, a magazine editor, and Deck, a bookseller, are on another road trip, this time visiting bookshops across the US and recounting their adventures. They’re attracting a fanbase of grammar hawks, who want to see zero tolerance for bad usage, and a few people curious to know what drove these two seemingly normal guys to embark on such a quixotic quest.

Anyone here who has spotted a misspelling or grammatical error in a public place and felt a burning urge to pull out a Magic Marker will understand these guys’ motivation. If you wanted to start an Irish branch of Teal, you wouldn’t have too far to look for misspellings and misuse of language. You could start with the sign on the pastry stand that says “please use thongs provided”; then go on to the sign in a Tallaght shop offering cushions with “zips broke”; drop into Lidl and buy a bar of “fark” chocolate; or go all the way to the sign outside a library in Tuam that says, “assembley point”.

Along the way you could advise Déirdre de Búrca, Green Party candidate for Europe in 2009, that putting up a giant poster promising “thouands of new green jobs for Dublin” may not have been a great election strategy.

According to Paul Moran of Owens DDB Advertising, you’ll have to look hard to find errors in big corporate ads, because most large firms, tourist boards and county councils use professional copywriters and proofreaders. “Mistakes are more visible in local advertising, such as restaurant menus advertising ‘deserts’ instead of ‘desserts’. We’re also seeing a lot of Americanisms creeping in, such as the word ‘nite’, and people are increasingly relying on text language.”

There’s no excuse for bad grammar in your business literature and advertising, says Moran. “If there are errors it reflects poorly on a company. Customers expect high standards.”

Better watch out, or the grammar hawks might come swooping down on you.

Benjamin Herson's five rules of Typo Club

1 Always go with a buddy. It can be dangerous out there.

2 Be prepared. Bring chalk, whiteout, erasers – something for every type of typo.

3 Don’t be a jerk. Everybody makes mistakes; it’s part of being human.

4 Always take a closer look; consider the context.

5 Always ask permission before fixing a typo; be a gentle grammarian.

Seen a typo?

Photograph it and e-mail it to features@irishtimes.com. The best one sent in by Friday, September 3rd, will win a National Book Token worth €50.