The orthographic conscience has been awakened – and it’s on a mission

Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) is on a mission across the United States: could it happen here?

Alerted by Andrew Mueller’s own blog in The Guardian today, I’ve been delighted to discover that there’s a Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) in the United States. Furthermore, they are not content to sigh over greengrocers’ apostrophes or groan over bad grammar – they are crossing America from West to East, equipped with marker pens, stickers, white-out and a zeal to remove every aberrant apostrophe and correct every misspelling. They seemed to be having some success: on 11 April, for example, they report on their Typo Hunt Across America blog: ‘Typos Found: 170; Typos Corrected: 100’.

Truly, it seems that, in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words from my last post: ‘The orthographic conscience had been awakened.’ (Orthography and philosophy – this is a classy blog.) Andrew Mueller is roused to proclaim: ‘A person who perpetrates vandalism upon the language… is not merely inept but actively contemptuous. A language is the crucial asset of any society – it’s what binds us, animates us, permits us to accomplish things.’ But there comes a point at which such Truss-like zeal makes me feel a little uneasy, even though it’s clearly shared by the great many Guardian readers who have already contributed comments (often of the ‘And don’t get me started on affect/effect’ variety). Andrew Mueller himself links to an article about this by Mike Gruss of The Virginian Pilot. It’s headed: ‘Mike filled this column with lots of typos – tell him which ones you found on his blog.’ So as you might expect, the righteous have been aroused to exercise the gift of correction. ‘Teachers,’, says Gruss (with tongue in cheek, I hope), ‘are writing in to say they use the blog to help students pick out misteaks.’ Great! But what about Gruss’s own spelling of ‘traveling’: is that a ‘misteak’ too?

Is this what Wittgenstein might call a disagreement about ‘forms of life’? Andrew Mueller asserts: ‘A lesson in the correct use of written English is only as far away as the nearest book or newspaper – if you can read at all, you can see how it is supposed to be done.’ But, sigh English teachers everywhere, if it were only so easy! Actually, if it were only so easy teachers would soon be out of a job. Does the same apply to other disciplines? ‘If you can do basic arithmetic at all, you can see how it is supposed to be done and never make any errors with change, your tax return….’ Perhaps not.

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