One of the most important words in the English language is, “Oops.”
It covers a variety of errors. It acknowledges that a mistake has been made, yet it implies that any such mistake was unintentional.
It may not reach the legal term “absence of malice,” but if your mistake ever reaches the point where legal terms are required you are going to need more than “oops” on your side.
Oops also may not measure up to Homer Simpson’s advice of plausible deniability given to his son, Bart, when Homer ponders his mortality and decides to offer Bart some fatherly advice for sensitive situations. Simply say “it was like that when I got here,” Homer tells Bart.
Mistakes are common in newspapers and magazines. None of us are immune, as hard as we try to avoid them.
For example, I usually read these columns three or four times before I click the send button and hope that Joe the editor reads them at least twice more before it is sent to the printer, but the simplest mistakes often slip by unnoticed, until they are displayed on newsprint.
The old printing axiom is, “Never let your mistakes be printed in anything larger than 12 pt. type.” That’s good advice for each of us, whether you are in the publishing business or make widgets.
In this business, copy editors are a dying breed. Those are the people specifically charged with making sure spelling and punctuation are correct, the story flows, and somehow it all makes sense.
As the world has changed, though, the term “do more with less” has become the mantra of business. What it really means is management is laying off people—specifically copy editors in this case—and writers are supposed to be their own copy editors.
Still, it’s shocking when I see magazines such as Sports Illustrated make simple copy editing mistakes. I read about 10 pages of last week’s issue when I saw two mistakes.
Sadly, that has become a common practice for that magazine and I’m sure for others. I imagine that at one time they had a dozen people reading the articles before they went to print, but today that number has obviously decreased.
Maybe some people don’t care or even notice. I know that texting and writing done for social media outlets have changed the way many people—not just kids—look at writing. Some older people feel it is fine to make mistakes because everyone is making them.
In my case, I look back at what I wrote 25 years ago and I’m embarrassed by the quality of my prose. I still don’t think my writing is good enough, but I know I’m more careful about writing and re-writing articles today than I ever was.
I guess the advice here is to be bold in your ideas, but be careful in their execution. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but be sure you can correct them before they go to print.
And don’t be ashamed or embarrassed when someone points them out. That’s where “oops” comes in. Again, one of my favorite four-letter words.
Bob Hyle covers sports and writes a weekly column for The Harrison Press. He lives in Bright.