By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Casting a misspell

At the beginning of each semester, I tell my students that I have a rule about spelling: botch a proper name — person, place or thing — and it will cost you a letter grade. Even so, I often find I have to temper justice with mercy, lest I risk failing someone for the course despite turning in work that is otherwise quite good.

Apparently it’s not much different at the New York Times, whose public editor, Clark Hoyt, weighs in with a piece today on misspelled names. He writes:

The fact is, The New York Times misspells names at a ferocious rate — famous names, obscure names, names of the dead in their obituaries, names of the living in their wedding announcements, household names from Hollywood, names of Cabinet officers, sports figures, the shoe bomber, the film critic for The Daily News in New York and, astonishingly and repeatedly, Sulzberger, the name of the family that owns The New York Times.

Pretty amazing, and I’m not sure why it’s so difficult. Hoyt thinks the Internet might have something to do with it, as it’s become all too easy for reporters to pass on other people’s mistakes. But that doesn’t make sense, because any reporter ought to know enough to visit an authoritative Web site.

A small example. One day in the early ’90s, when I was working for the Boston Phoenix, a fellow copy editor and I were trying to figure out how “Dunkin’ Donuts” ought to be rendered. One of us ended up walking to Kenmore Square in order to look at the sign outside a DD. Today, all we would have needed to do was click here.

When I was going to journalism school, one of my professors, Bill Kirtz (now a colleague), used to say that if you couldn’t be trusted to get the little things right, then you couldn’t be trusted to get the big things right, either. It’s a credo I’ve tried to live by, even as I’ve gotten my share of things wrong, both little and big.

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  1. Rick in Duxbury

    Haven’t listened to him lately, so I don’t know if he still does it, but Barnicle used to delight in reading the most absurd corrections in the Globe. Given the players, somewhat ironic. Pot? Kettle?

  2. Tony

    Welcome back, Dan. We missed ya.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Barnicle once wrote a column blasting “kids these days” as a bunch of uneducated morons, and then quoted David McCullough … and misspelled his name.

  4. o-fish-l

    Dan said “…botch a proper name — person, place or thing — and it will cost you a letter grade.”—Welcome back, Dan. I hope “place” above covers the proper labeling of roadways. Few things annoy me more than reading a good piece that is marred by the reporter failing to properly identify street, road, avenue, parkway etc. It happens frequently.While the advent of enhanced 911 effectively eliminated exact duplicate street names in the same city/town, there still exists similarities in every town, such as “Ocean Street” and “Ocean Avenue”. Even when there is only one of a certain street name in town, reporters often still fail to get it right, sometimes adding street when it should be road, etc.When a reporter fails at this, it’s not only sloppy but can inaccurately project the story toward a totally different geographic area. It also smacks of carpetbagging journalists, passing through the area as a stepping stone toward bigger dreams. When the local paper doesn’t know the locality, there’s a credibility problem. If firefighters made the mistake of responding to Ocean Street instead of Ocean Avenue, the media would rightly criticize them. While it may seem picayune, the media should be held to the same standard.

  5. Angela

    Last year, a soldier from one of our newspaper’s cities died in Iraq and our writer misspelled the soldier’s name throughout his entire story. I thought that if there is one time you should get a name right, that was it.

  6. Stella

    Sloppy on paper – or anywhere else – tends to reflect sloppy thinking. However, proofreaders and editors are kept employed by genuine errors.

  7. Gladys Kravitz

    Hi Dan! So glad to have you back! I’ve become quite a fan.Good for you for your trek with the scouts. That’s the thing you’ll be talking about for years around the turkey at Thankgiving.It’s funny you mentioned how the press misspells names. There is a selectman in Middleboro named Adam Bond, but a regional paper recently misspelled his named as ‘Alan’ Bond. Since he was instrumental in getting the Middleboro casino agreement signed, many of us have decided – much to his ire – to permanently re-christen him in all future correspondence as Alan.Thought you could also use a laugh (sort of). Click here to see what important milestone Middleboro passed while you were out.Luv and welcome back,Gladys

  8. Anonymous

    (sigh)…So may things come to mind, but….Actually, I could have used a more uplifting post on a lousy weekend where we lose crucial games and more ground to the Surging Empire. I’ll be waiting for the house clown to come up with the argument that it was really another great idea to trade a promising starting pitcher with a bad-news “closer”, so-called, that cost them the last games. The same day he was traded, there was a poll on NESN itself saying that among the prospects people thought deserved most (48%) to be the fifth starter was none other than…..’trade material’ Gabbard. (did I get the name spelling right? I know I know..he left the game early today due to stiffness but he is still a promising rotation cog. Lester was last on the poll I think.) I don’t see any bold person in this whole town’s sports media honestly talking about this. Bunch of kissups, worried about access and perks. Another trade where Cashman wins another turtle-hare contest, looking good after all, even with a ‘senile’ Million-per-start Rocket.In the meantime, look at this site which often stumbles on some true gems. Enjoy it!Good to see you back and that you had a good time.N.PS: Barni-who?

  9. Dan Kennedy

    I don’t know … I thought it was a good trade, and I still think it will prove to be over the rest of the season. I find it difficult to picture Gabbard as a reliable major-league starter, despite his brief success in Boston. Didn’t he have Tommy John surgery a few years ago? I see that he left tonight’s game with a forearm injury, which can be a sign of more Tommy John-like trouble. I hope not. But the Red Sox may have traded him at his moment of peak value.

  10. Paul Levy

    Even worse when a name is mispronounced in the newspaper . . .:)Welcome back, Dan!

  11. Anonymous

    Paul, you remind me of another aspect of this, ie when TV anchors and ‘warm bodies’ mispronounce names of people and places they SHOULD have heard of by broadcast time. So we won’t call them journalists just yet. (most of those mistakes are locally heard on Fox25 and HDH as well as pretty much all radio stations from the newsy ones to the drug-addict losers on music channels and yes, Randy Price is indeed an exception. We’ll give him credit as he licks his wounds from Emily labeling Frances “the Face of HDH.”Well, what’s that have to do with the price of milk? ..Weeeelll, maybe it goes to the quality of ‘talent’ we are stuck with in print or TV and radio nowadays.One very recent example from today, I heard a national sports guy call Kason Gay-barr’ rather than Ga’-burd (Sorry, I couldn’t copy and paste pronunciation keys)And speaking of the devil, Dan, even with his injury potential, he is still a cheap bet. Just look at the big blunder with JD DREW and the guy is not only a proven sizeable health risk, he is very very expensive. Shilling is very unreliable now and would get upward of 18-20 million a year if he gets re-upped by any team next year. Pedro is not back from injury completely and how much is he pulling? And so many other injury examples that are also very very outrageous salaries.So my point is, would you take a gamble on injury if you have a cheap contract and a young ambitious likeable guy who really really wanted to be here and be a Red Sock and had a couple of good starts under his belt.The risk-reward equation there would lend one to believe , yes he should have been kept and if he were dealt, he shoud have been dealt for more hitting, like Dye who has more kick in him lately than half the Sox lineup (24 HRs so far and batting about.245 both numbers better than ANY RB batter/catcher right now) Instead, they trade for this spiteful deal just to keep the Yanks from getting Gagne. They didn’t get Abreu last year in yet another blunder and he is doing great for the Empire.It has seemed like all year they have learned their lesson on giving up too soon on young talent until the Gabbard deal. All the sports media hacks from Gammons to Buck and McAdam, all yes-men, were parroting the same old distortion of “you groom talent for trades.’They had the best relief pitching in the AL and now it is their Achilles heal. Hitting is STILL just that also.They have good prospects and they should hold on to them to bring payroll down. They are not going to trade their way out of high salaries. It doesn’t get more obvious than that. There isn’t even any surplus of pitching talent out there to snag a good buy fifth start or set-up man. There is nothing. They have a couple of exciting prospects and I hope to see them soon and see them for a long time wearing the jersey.I’ll tell you this, if the Red Sox go from being up 14.5 games up to losing the Pennant to the yanks, which is very distinct possibility right now, fans will be madder than any other memorable time and will be calling seriously for you-know-who’s pink slip and his nickname ain’t Tito. If they go on to lose the wild card to also-creeping-up Toronto, then get ready for a big tea party on Yawkee way. It would be one of the most bitter seasons for us to swallow. Ever.Let’s not panick just yet, but this is tooooo close for comfort.N.PS: Rivera-who?

  12. metallicaMobes

    Well, as an Orioles fan, I’m getting a kick out of these replies…Until I remember that we’ve had soon to be 10 losing seasons in a row, and are guilty of signing has-beens and busts (Palmeiro, Sosa, Huff, Baez, Payton, Tejada…)

  13. Anonymous

    sometimes a typo is just … a typo.

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