What a Difference a Word Makes.

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The lack of proofreading could have cost me my job….Okay, that is an exaggeration, but I need to pull you in somehow and the topic of proofreading may not sound too enticing. However, this blog about proofreading should be of use to my reader, especially if you are going to write something today for the world to see (hint: That means every one of you on Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

A couple months ago, I was reminded of how one simple word can dramatically (and I mean dramatically) alter meaning.  In October of last year, I wrote a post titled “Literary Freaks” (see here).  I had two goals in mind when I wrote it: First, I wanted to tell the tale of my eldest daughter’s challenges and successes in reading.  Second, I hoped to examine how ‘unnatural’ the ability to read actually is, as compared to, say, the ability to speak. To combine these two stories into one coherent whole, I regaled the reader with how my daughter learned speech quickly and automatically, whereas she utilized months of concentration and energy to sound out a three-letter-word or write a three word sentence. 

While writing this blog, I wanted to illustrate a child’s speech evolution by using a little levity. I wrote that:

Babies immediately cry for food; within the first couple months they make and hold eye contact; within a half a year, most babies coo for their parents, often copying adult sounds.  As babies turn into toddlers, they begin to read the emotions of those around them, they make more recognizable noises, and they will use hand gestures, such as pointing.  Of course, this leads to the most important communication development for humanity; speech.  Kids say ‘mamma’; then ‘mamma uppy’; then ‘momma I want uppy’; then ‘mom please pick me up’; then ‘mom, please do not touch me in front of my friends.’

The last line of the last sentence was where I left out a word.  It was a simple word, but it was a duzzy.  ‘Not’.  That was the word.  So, instead of ‘mom, please do not touch me in front of my friends’, I wrote, ‘mom, please DO touch me in front of my friends.’ 

Luckily I had a second proof-reader; my wife.  (Just to let you know, I proofread her work as well). Unluckily, I published the ‘sans-not’ version before she had a chance to proofread it for mistakes. As I was heading home from RMU, she texted me letting me know what I had done.  Obviously horrified, I provided her with my password to the blog so that she could correct my mistake.  As far as I know, she was the only one to ever see the mishap.

The simple omission of a common word such as ‘not’ transformed my blog from a loving tribute to my daughter, into something that the folks in the Human Resource department might need to ‘meet’ with me about.  The moral of the story is simple: Don’t underestimate what one little word can do. 

Of course, as a teacher, I feel the need to provide some advice to make you, my readers, more proficient proofreaders.  First and foremost, get married to someone smart. That is all. Easy peasy.

Okay, perhaps you want more, so how about this: One of my professors once told me to read my work out loud after I think it is completely proofread and finished.  I can attest that doing this has helped me catch an enormous number of simple mistakes. It seems our minds work faster than our hands when we write/type, and reading out loud slows us down, making sure we inflect as we read.  This tip has been invaluable to me.  I just wish I would have used it for the aforementioned blog post.


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