Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's that time of year

No, not the holidays. Final exams and papers. I'm up to my eyeballs with papers about exotic species, ecological reserves, and conservation initiatives. While most are generally well written (I am blessed with being able to teach a fairly high caliber of student), some make mistakes that are downright embarrassing.

"The range of the American chestnut once stretched from Main to Georgia."

"Zebra muscles were introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980s."

and my personal favorite so far ...

"The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park led to a reduction in the size of the elf population."

What these (and many other examples) all have in common is, I think, an over-reliance on spell-checkers and a lack of careful proofreading. No great sin, I suppose. But when I see these kinds of mistakes I am always reminded of Taylor Mali's poem, "The The Impotence of Proofreading."

And the memory of it always makes me smile.


Anonymous said...

Dropping a letter while spelling is an acceptable error - and I'm partial to the American chestnut. My favorite was correcting two papers that came in from adjacently seated students. In one, Andrew Carnegie was referred to as a cheap steeler whilst in the other a sheep stealer. The quandry, should I grade on grammar, historical accuracy, ethics, or all (I chose the latter).

Steve Trombulak said...

I take your point about the difference between dropping a letter and using the wrong word, but I still find myself pushing back on the students for both kinds of errors. To me, they both represent a failure to proofread, which I think is a step far too many writers fail to take seriously. (A famous writer from days gone by, whose name I have forgotten, once said, "There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.")

The typo regarding chestnut made me laugh, though. When I read that the species range was between "Main and Georgia," my brain translated them into street names and I internally quipped, "Really? I thought they were only found between Main and 34th."