Spelling and State of the Uniom

Typo on State of the Union ticket
The word “Union” is misspelled as “Uniom” on this State of the Union ticket. The tickets had to be recalled and reprinted.

Typographical errors plague everyone who writes. Writers who proof their own writing without the help of a second or third pair of eyes know that typos take on a cloak of invisibility, gliding undetected into print.

Readers of blogs and social media comments are generally tolerant of lapses that are clearly the result of misplaced fingers on the keyboard.

In an informal context, a typo like uniom would be recognized as a keyboard slip and (usually) forgiven and passed over without ridicule by an understanding reader.

So why has the typo uniom on the ticket to the 2017 State of the Union speech received so much attention and ridicule?

Typos and grammatical errors on printing intended for serious occasions are seen as an inexcusable lack of professionalism.

The State of the Union tickets were proofed by an employee in the Senate’s Office of the Sergeant at Arms. I don’t know how many people are already employed by this office, but a visit to its website shows job openings for seven positions with salaries ranging from $69,000 to $134,000. If anyone can afford to pay for more than one proofreader, it’s the US Senate’s Sergeant at Arms Office.

An even more embarrassing misspelling that occurred during the previous administration was using the wrong word on a symbolic gift from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her Russian counterpart. The object was a specially designed paperweight labeled with the words peregruzka and reset. Its designers believed that peregruzka is Russian for reset.

The recipient, Sergey Lavrov, pointed out that the Russian word for reset is perezagruzka. The word peregruzka means overcharged.

Gift to symbolize better relations between US and Russia. “Peregruzka,” however, does not mean “reset.”

If anyone ought to have someone who can read Russian, it’s the US State Department.

Most writers I know suffer pangs of mortification when an error finds a way into their published work. That’s how we should feel. Making the effort to get everything right is the respect we owe our readers.

Typos are not only an embarrassment. They also contribute to a waste of money. I don’t know how much it cost to trash and reprint the State of the Union tickets, but I’d guess it was in the thousands. The customized paperweight was probably not cheap either.

Typos and misspelled words in materials produced by public entities are not trivial. Government offices, universities, and trustworthy publications should represent the highest standards of the culture. In US culture, that includes painstaking attention to standard English usage.

As for foreign words, if it’s a matter a diplomacy, they’ better be correct as well.