Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Poofredding. Pruefreadig. PROOFREADING, damnit!.

Have you ever noticed how typographical errors hide among the pixels on your screen? No, seriously. They lurk there, close to invisible. When you're looking at the monitor you don't see them -- but as soon as you send them to the printer, WHAM! The little buggers have no place to hide on paper (because it's a static medim, unlike the computer, which is entirely dynamic). Having no place to hide, they're instantly visible. Anyone and his uncle can see them. A chimpanzee can see them on paper ... but on the screen, the little darlings can hide, and they do.

Now, I've put this to the test in exhaustive experimentation over many years, and it doesn't matter what kind of monitor you use, they always find a way to hide. I've tried using cathode ray tube type monitors, and LCD type, and crystal brite type things ... typographical errors evade the human eye with enviable aplomb.

So, if the type of monitor has no effect on their hiding capabilities, yet they're instantly visible on paper, the result of this research program is so obvious, we should have seen it all along. There's only one possible answer: When you and I are looking at the cursor, or out the window, or at the time, or the cat ... the typos, fleet as a toupe of performing fleas, jump behind the images, and underneath the menu bars, and sit there shivering in glee, trying not to give themselves away with audible chuckles --

And regular readers of this blog know, by now, that when Keegan rabbits on this way it means the topic of today's column is probably unutterably boring.


Damnit, I hate proofreading. Not because what I'm reading is boring (it better not be; I wrote it, and if I'm boring myself, what chance does the reader stand?!) but
because every typo points out what a lousy typist I am.

I got my first typewriter for Christmas when I was about six. It was something called a Petit Elite, and though it was actually a toy it typed nicely on bright blue ribbons, where the ink only came off all over you if you deliberately smeared it. I got my first real typewriter when I was 12 ... a big, ages-old Remmington office model, cold steel, massive, would have made a good boat anchor. A few years later I got a newer model (still a big office job), a Facit, made in Yugoslavia or one of those countries that no longer exists. When I was 16 I bought myself a neat little portable, an Olympia Traveler de luxe. I loved that typewriter. Then came an IBM Selectric II (anybody remember golfball fonts? Ever had one jump off the machine while you were trying to fit it, and hit you in the eye?? My Prestige Elite was always jumping off. I learned to duck).

I got the IBM Selectric when I was about 20, and I beat it up till I was about 30 and it was (in comparative typewriter years) about 140. One day it made a monstrous clunking sound and quit forever, but by that time I was glad it had died, because then I didn't have to use it anymore. Around about then, I bought an electronic typewriter by Brother, which lasted several years (doubled as a computer printer too), and also a portable Adler, which I ended up selling to an elderly lady who, in her retirement, wanted to learn how to type. (At which point in the conversation my jaw went slack, and I wisely made no remark.)

The Adler was the last typewriter I bought, and if you actually want to buy a typewriter today, you have to go a long way to find a new one. Brother still makes one model, but it's one of those with a small LED display, where you can take a crack at PROOFREADING your ramblings before you hit RET, ENT, or whatever, and your sentiments are immortalized.

All through these years of typewriters and paper, the typographical errors were easy to find. You could lasso them with an elastic band or skewer them with a toothpick, or bash them with your coffee mug. They breed a great deal faster than one can hunt them down, of course; in fact, one imagines the world would be suffocating in them by now, if it were not for dedicated, intrepid proofreaders -- hunters so determined that rather than stalking the little buggers among the pixels, they hit PRINT, corner them on paper, and then subject them to mass extermination. From the typos' point of view, it must seem like a kind of ruthless ethnic cleansing, but the proofreader assumes godlike characteristics and proportions, winkling them out of their world of pixels and electrons, herding them onto paper, and then -- WHAM! Letting them have it with both barrels.

And there are some beauties out there. Typos that can change the entire gist of a sentence. Typos that could invalidate the constitution of one's nation, and undermine one's literary heritage. Finding them is critical.

Also stultifyingly boring. What I want to know is, when is Micro-whomever going to get on the stick and invent a proofreading program that WORKS? I don't mean a grammatical checker, one of those dim-bulb rote-read things which tells you to insert a comma and a 'that' every six words through every sentence. I mean a program capable of reading a language contextually, building sentence structure ... in other words, understanding what it's reading, and able to pick out one's typographical booboos.

Guys, there's a billion dollars out there for the company that comes out with a program designed to rescue people from the hapless, vile oblivion of profreading.

Speaking of which, I still have 20 pages to do, and I'd best get on with it!

Ciao for now,

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