Because I belong to that wonderful group of freaks who call themselves writers, editors, and/or English teachers, I proofread everything. I can’t help it. It’s like being a superhero—I have this power and it’s involuntary, inherent, inescapable—which is why I find myself reading the back of the toothbrush box: “Helps kids easily clean the hard to reach places in their mouth.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but do all of these kids have one collective mouth? I don’t think so. Kids, plural, have mouths, plural. Did this really escape the copy editors of this large conglomerate’s toothbrush division? Who has such a job? I could do that job.
This superpower of mine, if you will, is why, when I listen to Jack Johnson’s song “Wake Up Slow,” I’m not simply lost in banana pancake reverie, but I’m thinking of how he should really be singing, “Wake Up Slowly.” It is why when I’m traveling in a foreign country, I can’t help but proofread the myriad street signs, menus, magazine articles that have been poorly translated into English. Some tourists visit a foreign restaurant’s bathroom and worry about its cleanliness. Me? I’m sitting on the toiIet worrying about the misspelling of “septik sistem” on the sign taped to the back of the door. It is why as I sit at a German bakery in Costa Rica that I don’t so much notice the colorful map of the country on the wall as I do the sign in the window that says “Info in the Backery.” Back? Bakery? A portmanteau perhaps? I like it. It works. But it’s incorrect. It’s why when I’m standing in line at the local café for my morning coffee, I’m not so much jolted by the smell of fresh, roasted beans as I am by the spelling of “Peruvian” which glares at me as "Paruvian."
How, I must wonder many times a day, can people be so – I have to watch myself here – careless? Ignorant? Obtuse? Ok, let's not blame people for something that's obviously the school system's fault. Invented spelling? Ugh. I know forty-year-olds who still use invented spelling. And don't even know it! I know those of you out there who write to me regularly are now wondering if I proofread your emails. No, of course not. … I proofread your emails, your My Space postings, your Facebook updates, your text messages, and your letters. But don’t worry. I don't judge you. I judge you AND me. If it makes you feel any better, I proofread my own stuff too. And anyway, we already established that it's not your fault. But that doesn't mean I don't notice. I’m sorry – I already told you, I can't help it.
But I choose to use my power for good, not evil. Rather than vilifying those who make honest and not-so-honest mistakes, I spend my time teaching students how not to make these mistakes, and then more time fixing/editing them out of people's manuscripts. For, you see, apparently not everyone has the same undeniable compulsion to be grammatically correct, whether in their native language or an adopted one. So I shall not speak ill of those who still use "your" rather than "you're" or "its" possessive rather than "it's" or "there" for "their" or "to" for "two" or "to" … but you know who you are. And, truthfully, sometimes that includes me. Pobody is nerfect. I won't profess to be. But I notice when I'm not.