*The Mistake I'm Most Prone To: Undeleted Words

For the last 11 years, I’ve been writing a weekly grammar column for some small community newspapers. It started with some Los Angeles Times supplements in Orange County, Calif., then it branched out to papers in Los Angeles County, Florida, Texas, and New York.

For the first 9-1/2 years, the column never appeared in a community where I actually lived. This can be a little confusing to community news readers, who expect their news to come from – you know – the community and who sometimes ask me to give talks at schools and civic organizations several light years away from my home.

But I’ve always been happy with this arrangement. For one thing, I don’t have to feel like some grammar ambassador in my own home town. But, more importantly, I never actually have to see the column in the paper.

I don’t like to look at my own column. The reason: typos. For the last ten years, it seems like about half the times I've seen an installment of my column online it has had some embarrassing error.  I never know who to be angry at: the dodo who made the mistake (me) or the editors who might have caught it. Either way, it's a team effort to make me look bad, and I'm captain of the team.

At least the errors weren't showing up in print in my own home town -- that is, until, recently. That blissful separation was shattered a little over a year ago when the Los Angeles Times added a Pasadena section of the paper.
Here’s how I found out my column I would be in that section: I opened the paper one morning and saw it there. No one asked me. No one told me. And you better believe no one offered to pay me. They just started running it periodically -- I assume whenever they needed some light filler material squeezed between articles about Rose Queens and face-melting heat waves.

Now my typos taunt me where I live – literally. Like the one in this column installment.

The error was in the sentence: Webster's New World College Dictionary is more reluctant to embrace the hyperbolic usage, instead adding to one it its definitions this note: “Now often used as an intensive to modify a word or phrase that itself is being used figuratively: ‘she literally flew into the room.'”

Don’t see the typo? That’s okay, neither did I and neither did the editor who checked it before passing it on to the four publications in which the mistake appeared. The typo is “it its.” I meant to type “of its.”

This is a classic example of my own typographical Achilles’ heel. If there’s one error in something I wrote, chances are it's a wrong or extra preposition, article, or pronoun. These little words make mischief when I delete part of a sentence to rewrite it but fail to delete all the words. So I end up with something like “at on,” “to about,” or “at to.”

I guess I’ll just have to implement a policy of reading every word – especially the little ones –
out loud.

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