The signs of the times are missing apostrophes.
The world needed a hero, but how would an editor with no off-switch answer the call? For Jeff Deck, the writing was literally on the wall: “NO TRESSPASSING.” In that moment, his greater purpose became clear. Dark hordes of typos had descended upon civilization… and only he could wield the marker to defeat them.
Recruiting his friend Benjamin and other valiant companions, he created the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL). Armed with markers, chalk, and correction fluid, they circumnavigated America, righting the glaring errors displayed in grocery stores, museums, malls, restaurants, mini-golf courses, beaches, and even a national park. Jeff and Benjamin championed the cause of clear communication, blogging about their adventures transforming horor into horror, it’s into its, and coconunut into coconut.
But at the Grand Canyon, they took one correction too far: fixing the bad grammar in a fake Native American watchtower. The government charged them with defacing federal property and summoned them to court—with a typo-ridden complaint that claimed that they had violated “criminal statues.” Now the press turned these paragons of punctuation into “grammar vigilantes,” airing errors about their errant errand..
The radiant dream of TEAL would not fade, though. Beneath all those misspelled words and mislaid apostrophes, Jeff and Benjamin unearthed deeper dilemmas about education, race, history, and how we communicate. Ultimately their typo-hunting journey tells a larger story not just of proper punctuation but of the power of language and literacy—and the importance of always taking a second look.
Magazine editor Deck and bookseller Herson conduct a three-month exercise in field orthography. As an editor, Deck is a foe of typos, but he is no simple grammar cop, smacking his superior lips over misspellings and errors in punctuation. They are careless, for sure, but typos signal a greater problem, he writes-miscommunication. To combat the problem, he formed the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) and took his editorial zeal on the road around the United States, mostly in the company of his friend Herson and often sporting a mock-Shakespearean tone: "O Weird Sisters, O Fates, you had stricken me with a typo in the very store where I'd purchased my white-out!" During their journey, they found typos and tried to correct them, and they employed stealth on occasion, though asking permission was more in keeping with the mission-to call attention to the mistakes without slapping wrists. This would be pretty thin gruel for a 300-page narrative, but Deck takes what might have been a stunt and uses it to explore some of the thornier areas of communication, class and capitalism. When retail clerks hesitated to comply with his request to fix a typo, he eventually came to appreciate their predicament: "Making a decision could only offer repercussions for the wrong choice, and no reward for the right one." Tiptoeing through the politically correct minefield of language as it reflects race and class, the authors acknowledge that fear of using the wrong language has trumped what we say with how we say it. When their project garnered news coverage that got it wrong, Deck and Herson wondered about the veracity of all news. Though they provide no earthshaking realizations, the authors succeeded in instigating "furious conversations among all the various factions and individuals who still cared about spelling and grammar, and . . . reveal[ing] telling patterns about the mistakes people were making."A testament to the fact that typos matter, especially when you look behind them. First printing of 40,000. Agent: Jeff Kleinman/Folio Literary Management