The idea took root in June of 2007. In the sylvan reaches of northern New Hampshire, I decided to change the world. But my solution wasn’t as straightforward as coming up with a way to make cars run on potatoes for cleaner fuel, or fashioning a cure for Parkinson’s from a potent tincture of ammonia and egg whites.
Here’s the truth of it: I’m just an editor. No, that’s not quite true. I’m a former spelling-bee champion who grew up to be an editor with no off-switch. I have an ever-tingling typo sense; errors on signs leap out at me like tiny assassins. While most anyone can point out mistakes (viz. Jay Leno and countless snarky websites), no one was actually doing anything about them—until I geared up for adventure.
I created an organization I called the Typo Eradication Advancement League. Our mission would be to stamp out typos wherever they hid. To do so properly, I would have to traverse the nation. Over that winter, I made the preparations for a grand journey.
I made my first correction on March 2nd, 2008. The next day I went for my first official typo hunt in Boston, MA. Finally, on March 5th I set out from my Somerville apartment on a quest that would last seventy-three days. I would make a circuit of the United States in search of typos. I intended to raise awareness of the little villains in our midst while striking back on behalf of better spelling and grammar. At the time, I had some basic ideas of what we shouldn’t do (like correct a typo at a restaurant before our food had been served). My few essential rules were these:
- We would attack only errors in the public domain. Personal correspondence wasn’t and shouldn’t be our business.
- We would not beat up on non-native speakers of English.
- We only cared about text, which remains in place for all to see. We had no desire to correct people’s speech.
And finally, our guiding principle:
- We would not be jerks. There are plenty of people who mock others for their mistakes. We wanted the errors eradicated, but it was not our place to pass judgment on those who had made them.
I was not alone on this quest. I managed to convince three friends to accompany me consecutively along the way. On March 9th, Benjamin Herson joined the hunt in Rockville, MD. One particular exploit among the many that we undertook must be noted. On March 28th, the two of us unwisely corrected a typo on a sign at the Grand Canyon—a sign that turned out to be regarded as a priceless historical artifact. We didn’t know it at the time, but we’d endangered the future of the League.
On April 1st, a new companion (who was no fool) joined the trip: Josh took Benjamin’s place for the Pacific Coast leg. Josh, in turn, was supplanted by Jane, who joined me on the 19th for a week of our marker-wielding odyssey. Benjamin returned for the last few weeks of the trip after she left. Upon our return to Somerville, we celebrated our grammatical heroism. My friends and I had caught over 400 typos, and we’d corrected about 55% of them. I had new ideas for what TEAL could do next, and I was itching to put them in place—until we got a court summons from the National Park Service.
Hélas! On August 11th of 2008, Benjamin and I pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of conspiring to correct typos on government property. We were ordered to pay over three thousand dollars for the damages (inflicted to the sign with two dabs of white-out and a single stroke of black marker), and we were banned from all National Parks. Oh, and we had to take down our website, but for a statement of contrition directed and approved by the prosecutor (still viewable here). Thus, from August 2008 through August of 2009, TEAL virtually disappeared from the virtual world.
Now, however, we have returned. On August 3rd, 2010, Harmony (an imprint of Crown, a division of Random House) will publish an account of the League’s journey around the country to fix typos. The book will be called The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time. Benjamin and I have begun plans for a second, even more magnificent adventure, and we’ll need your help to pull it off. Due to aspects of our lawsuit-happy society, we’ve made some modifications to how we do things, and we learned plenty of other lessons along the way that we hope can make the next ride even better.
We are ready for greater and grander adventures yet. Join us! Join the League!
Also, now that we’re over our youthful naïveté: TEAL neither participates in nor condones the stealth typo correction. Always ask for permission to correct a typo.