Road Scholar Copy Edits America

Travels the nation correcting typos on signs.


April 6, 2008 — -- Some of the littlest things are big to Jeff Deck, who is traveling the country in search of mistakes.

He's not looking for big ones, just the small ones like the missing "c" in "cappucino" and the misplaced apostrophe in "Today Special's" on the menu board.

This 28-year-old Dartmouth graduate is crossing America searching for and correcting typographical errors in public places.

Wearing a brown fedora, he's the Indiana Jones of typos. He finds them on parking signs, where cars will be towed at "owners expense," and at the "stationary" store, where they sell "dye cast" metal key chains.

Frequently, the problem is those wayward apostrophes.

"The apostrophe shows up when it's not wanted and is never there when you need it," he said as he walked along Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, finding plenty of typos wherever he looked.

He came across a T-shirt shop where the dash was missing between the "T" and the "shirt."

In an Army-Navy store they were offering a "hellicopter" helmet and a bullet "bandoleer."

At the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a coffee chain, the chalk board offered a "Sweedish" berry drink.

This started last summer at Deck's fifth college reunion, where he ran into old friends becoming doctors and lawyers and entering careers that could change the country. As a creative writing major, he decided that he too could change America by correcting its typographical errors.

"I've always been aware of typos wherever I go," he said dryly. "I figured that it was a national problem."

So far he has put 5,000 miles on his 1997 Nissan Sentra. Friends come along for a few weeks at a time.

His search has taken him all the way down the East Coast, across the country through the Southwest, and on to San Diego where he took a right turn to head up the West Coast.

It's all documented on his Web site for The Typo Eradication Assistance League (Teal).

In New York, he found mislabeled chicken "parmasan." In Myrtle Beach, S.C., he saw "tie dye" shirts with a "y." In Galveston, Texas, it was, "Now acepting applications," on a sign offering jobs. And in the California desert, "caramel corn" in neon was missing the second "a."

Why this is he's not sure. He said it is partly a failure of education but also that people have stopped caring about spelling.

And, he said, mistakes breed mistakes. When someone sees "strawberry's" in print, they think it's correct.

Inside a Hollywood shop, he found a sign for a commercial stationery display with the word spelled a-r-y instead of e-r-y, printed by a company that didn't know how to spell its own product.

But not only does Deck find typographical errors, he gently asks store owners and shop managers if he can fix them. He carries a little kit of markers, crayons, and white-out so he can correct just about any typo.

The clerk in that Hollywood store watched as he painted out the "a" in "stationary" and used white-out to install the proper "e" on both sides of the sign.

He is gentle and persuasive as he goes about his work.

"We try not to be jerks about it," he said. "We want to help them out. It's not about making anybody feel bad or making somebody look stupid or something. It's just really about going after the errors themselves."

At the Coffee Bean, he calmly said to the clerk, "Swedish up there actually has two E's instead of one. So we were wondering if you could just take out one of the Es in Swedish. Could you do that right now, actually?"

And she did.

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