When I was just a little 19-year-old tadpole working as a secretary, I made two of the biggest proofreading errors ever. I'd been on the job for just a week, and I was proofreading a professional organization's newsletter at top speed and under the influence of a great deal of caffeine. First, my eye glazed right over the term "pubic school." As you might realize, there are no pubic schools--at least none that I know of--and there are a whole lot of public schools. A sea of "public schools" ("Public schools have the obligation to ensure that all children receive a hot lunch that enables them to concentrate on their schoolwork and..." "...and many public schools fail to adequately meet their students' needs for...") spanned out before me, and as my eyes swam through that sea I managed to miss the one little "pubic school" bobbing along naughtily ("Some pubic schools have extremely effective approaches to initiating...").
Second, I made the novice's error of thinking I understood a document better than I really did. I was proofreading an article about kindergarten children and age-appropriate activities: "Early literacy work, work on fine and gross motor skills, counting fun, and fingerprinting." HA! I laughed aloud. FINGERPRINTING?! What are these, tiny hoods? Tot Felons? Kiddy Cat Burglars? Chuckling, I carefully replaced the term "fingerprinting" with "fingerpainting." That's what I did in kindergarten--I was a bit of a prodigy, really--and that's what they meant to say here.
Curvy, pink, and liberally dusted with sweet-smelling face powder--she always reminded me of a ladylike jelly doughnut--the editor of the newsletter was especially kind. Gently and sorrowfully, she pointed an exquisitely manicured finger at the term "pubic school" as I turned eight shades of red. Then, as the grand finale, she explained to me that "fingerprinting" was the correct term--not "fingerpainting." In addition to the curriculum activities, children were "fingerprinted" as a safety measure. While I like to think that if the article had mentioned McGruff the Crime Dog I would have realized that fingerprinting was the correct term, I think that "Never assume" is the correct takeaway lesson here.
I've carried that lesson along with me into my life as an editor and writer for hire, and it stands me in good stead--particularly in my last big job. A couple of weeks ago, I took on one of those messes that no editor wants to tackle. There was an extremely tight deadline, a mish-mash of requests to "do a high-speed edit, it's okay if you miss things" and "please read for sense and suggest rewrites," nothing was ready on time, I received sections out of sequence, it was 250 pages, there were 10 different authors, and the "Consistency Checklist" had inconsistencies. Come to think of it, this is often the norm for an editor rather than an exception. Anyway, to cap it off, on Friday, my client asked me--pretty casually, except for the moment his voice cracked--"So, what's your availability like for the weekend?" And my quarterly taxes said: "I am available whenever you need me to be available."
I am going to draw a gentle veil over the experience by saying, "There were a lot of boo-boos." To be fair, I'm not sure if any of the boo-boos were as bad as "pubic school," but some came close. Anyway, the kinda fun part was the high-speed "Find and Replace" of approximately 100 inconsistent terms that I did toward the end. For some of the terms, I could not do a global Find and Replace--instantly fixing all of the terms--and I had to find each one, scooting nimbly down through the files.
I've been writing for most of my clients lately, so I haven't done that kind of concentrated Find and Replace binge in a while. In the first 15 minutes, its power just impressed me. After half an hour, I decided that Find and Replace is a very awesome invention--perhaps second only to the internal combustion engine. Around the 45-minute mark, as I frankly grew a little bored with the majesty of Find and Replace, I decided that I wanted to be able to leap off the printed page and do a global Find and Replace on stuff I don't like in my life and in the world.
I think you can probably figure out how the global Find and Replace for the world will work. You can think of some of the obvious "Find" terms I might take care of right away--starvation, war, bullying, torture, terminal cancer, children in danger--and you can figure out good "Replace" terms. I realize that we might not agree on all of the global Find and Replace terms, but you can have your own wish list, okay? Or, if you don't like the concept, you're free to do a mental Find and Replace of this blog post. I suggest you replace it with an article about pubic schools.
I'm thinking it might take me a few years to get my personal Find and Replace list all hammered out. However, here is some of my current thinking:
1. FIND: CANNED SPINACH.
REPLACE WITH: FRESH CORN ON THE COB.
2. FIND: CONTACT LENS POPS OUT OF EYE WHILE DRIVING OR IN MIDDLE OF MEETING.
REPLACE WITH: CONTACT LENS STAYS IN EYE, WELL-LUBRICATED.
3. FIND: POISON IVY IS ON MY BOOBS.
REPLACE WITH: A PRETTY NEW BRA IS ON MY BOOBS.
4: FIND: THE PERSON IN FRONT OF ME IN YOGA CLASS JUST FARTED.
REPLACE WITH: THE PERSON IN FRONT OF ME IN YOGA CLASS DID NOT JUST FART.
5. FIND: HAWKS LIKE TO EAT SMALL ANIMALS.
REPLACE WITH: HAWKS LIKE TO EAT PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICHES, CRUSTS OFF.
6. FIND: I OPENED MY SWISS-ARMY KNIFE WITH MY TEETH IN LONDON, WITH PREDICTABLY BAD RESULTS.
REPLACE WITH: I OPENED MY SWISS-ARMY KNIFE WITH MY HANDS IN LONDON.
7. FIND: THE WILD TURKEY OUTSIDE MY WINDOW WAKES ME UP WITH ITS INFERNAL AND INCESSANT GOBBLE-GOBBLE-GOBBLE NOISE.
REPLACE: THE WILD TURKEY OUTSIDE MY WINDOW WANTS TO BRING ME BREAKFAST.