My Worst Mistake

As I collect writing examples for future posts and compose a response to a couple great recent comments from readers, I’ll share the story of the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

This was a few years into my career, when I was associate editor at a business magazine in the Midwest. I had been on the job only a few weeks when one day the marketing director rushed into my office and shoved some papers in front of me. “This is a program for a luncheon event we’re hosting in a couple weeks. I need you to proof this right away; it’s late.”

I did as I was told, rushing through the proof and hustling it back to her office. Then I forgot all about it till a couple weeks later, when I was at the event. As I took my seat in the hotel ballroom, I noticed the other attendees pointing and laughing at the program I had proofread. This made me nervous. Nothing in that program was supposed to be humorous. Why were they laughing?

I asked the person sitting next to me, a co-worker, what was so funny. He looked over the program and then laughed himself. Then he pointed it out to me:

One of the speakers at the event was the president of the statewide association for certified public accountants. Except that, in the program I had proofread, public was missing its “l.” I had rushed through the proofreading so quickly that I didn’t take the time to look for common misspellings. Or unfortunate ones.

I don’t know of too many copy editors who have learned of their worst mistakes in real time, among their readership. But I do know it was one of the more uncomfortable moments of my career. I somehow managed to keep the job, and stayed on with the company for two more years. You had better believe, though, that I’ve never made that mistake again. In fact, for the rest of my time at the magazine, I had a Post-it note affixed to my computer monitor bearing the word public. The “l” was written in red.

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Comments
14 Responses to “My Worst Mistake”
  1. Pat says:

    Remember, Gaines, we did that at the college paper, too. It was a Web only hed. Something about “pubic institutions.”

  2. I still cringe at one of my typos that made it past my assignment editor and the copy desk before the section editor caught it at the last minute. It was a story about the marketing of oatmeal (not the most exciting topic) in which someone told me something like “there is nothing better in the morning like a hot bowl of oatmeal.” But I had typed “bowel” instead of “bowl.” Perhaps there is nothing better in the morning than a hot bowel of oatmeal but I’m sure glad that phrase didn’t make it into the paper.

    • cbgaines says:

      Ah yes. This was another doozy from the college paper during the semester when I was one of the copy chiefs. The headline for our coverage on a parade for the basketball team read “HEROS WELCOME” instead of “HEROES’ WELCOME” (at least I think that was it). Thankfully, that was another day I wasn’t working.

  3. Z says:

    Ahhh, Gaines. Despite that mistake you went on to have a stellar career.

    In an event listing that I was rushing through at my first job out of college, instead of “BAND CONCERT” I missed the “N” and it printed as “BAD CONCERT.”

    I told my boss it was a good thing, like “That concert was so Baaaad!” She then fired me.

  4. Sara says:

    haha good times. Do you also remember the time you threw away the intern’s notes?

  5. BartE says:

    In a just world, the spelling checker would figure out the context and catch the gaff, even though the offending word is in the dictionary. Butt in the world we got…

  6. Gendy says:

    Hahaha! My boyfriend in college did something similar. He turned in a term paper with the subtitle “Pubic vs. Private Art.” The professor returned with something like, “I do not understand the contrast. Pubic is already private.”

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