Smallest of mistakes can cause trouble
Published March 16, 2005
One little letter.
Sometimes that’s the only difference between something you meant to write and something horribly embarrassing.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s how powerful words can be — and how much more power they can have if they are accidentally altered the teeniest bit.
Just ask the reporter at my college newspaper who left the “i” out of “recital.” Or the sports editor at the Bryan-College Station Eagle who left the “f” out of “makeshift.” Both stories came out a lot more interesting than what both writers intended.
The street I live on has fallen victim to letter-tampering. Wanda Orton wrote about this a while back. North Burnet Drive, located in scenic, azalea-studded Lakewood, was originally named in honor of David G. Burnet, a name known to every student of Texas history. He owned several hundred acres where Lakewood is now, and, as I understand it, his wife is buried in a front yard somewhere on my street.
Over the years, however, the city of Baytown has put up new signs — signs that feature an extra “T” at the end of “Burnet.” Last time I checked, all the signs for North Burnet Drive say “North Burnett Drive.” So we are apparently paying homage to Carol Burnett instead of the former president of the Republic of Texas.
I am distressed about this — to the point that I insist on spelling my street name with one “T” even though my own husband has given in to the street signs.
“Mapquest even spells it with two “Ts,” he says.
But I don’t have it bad at all compared to the residents of one street in Columbia, Md. They want their street name changed, and I can’t say that I blame them.
Named “Satinwood Drive” decades ago, the street lined with colonial houses didn’t cause any problems for anyone until 1977, when the city replaced the street signs. Suddenly, these innocent families found themselves living on “Satan Wood Drive.”
Oddly enough, several ministers live on Satan Wood Drive, including an Orthodox priest who copes with the name of his street by sprinkling holy water around his house once a year.
Residents of “the Satan street,” tired of the horrified silences they get when giving someone their addresses, are raising money and signatures to get the signs changed back to Satinwood.
I’ve seen typos involving Satan before. A newspaper I used to work for ran a photo around Christmastime of some adorable children — dressed to the nines in their holiday garb — beaming and holding presents.
I guess the copy editor was in a rush and got tripped up by the unfortunate coincidence that “Santa” and “Satan” are so similar. The caption under the photo proclaimed that these cute little kids were “Satan’s Little Helpers.”
Now isn’t that something you’d like to cut out and send to Grandma?
But nothing’s worse than an accidental reference to the devil showing up in a church bulletin. Here’s a typo where the absence of one letter made a big difference: “Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say ‘Hell’ to someone who doesn’t care much about you.”
In Christian love, of course.
Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.