By Pam Linn


Oops, my bad; correcting old year errors

It’s been a year of change and hope, failure and success, fear and courage. It ends with both uncertainty and vision, at least for some, in equal measure.

The New Year will pose unprecedented challenges for us and for our new leaders whom we entrust with guiding our future.

Before making any resolutions for doing better in the coming year, I should own up to mistakes that appeared under my byline the past 12 months. Some were disagreements about word usage. (I admit to stodgily resisting the evolution of our language and clinging to certain words that seem to have lost or changed their meanings. I vow not to get upset, a total waste of energy, over copy editors far younger than I who change a word here or there for one people my age consider incorrect. But never mind.)

More important by far are the mistakes that used to be labeled by my journalism teachers as gross factual errors. Even one dreaded GFE, the misspelling of any proper noun, a person’s name, occupation or title, an incorrect date, time or place, would net students a zero for their entire effort. Good training 20 or so years ago but often lost on newspapers struggling to survive with smaller staffs and young copy editors who put way too much faith in computer spell checks.

So here I’m making a clean breast of it, at least all those errors called to my attention and more that apparently escaped detection.

The worst GFE is misspelling a person’s name, which I did to poor Sen. Barney Frank in a Dec. 18 column, “Engineering a Better Bailout.” Not once but twice I added an “s” to his last name. I always hope these slips will be caught before they appear in print, but that was not to be.

In “We’re Drinking What?” on June 12, I misspelled the prescription medication Zanax, substituting the final “a” for an “e.” The newspaper’s proofreader must have been on holiday because, as an editor of several nursing journals, she surely would have spotted that one.

Misspelling of common nouns, which don’t count as a GFE, is sometimes caused by changes in usage over time. This also changes the way some computer spell-check programs deal with ambiguous meanings or spellings. In “Of National Pride and the Beer Wars” the word sheik appeared as sheikh. Both spellings are included in my dictionary and my spell-check didn’t seem to have a preference, but someone apparently chose the latter.

In another piece, the verb to stanch was changed to staunch even though my dictionary states that while staunch is generally used as a verb in the U.K., usage in this country is about 50-50. Being old, I prefer the original use of stanch as a verb and staunch as an adjective. But I may just have to get over this.

In “Avoiding Another Black Friday Fatality,” Dec. 4, I referred to the Wal-Mart store clerk who was stampeded by greedy shoppers as “her” while later reports said it was a male clerk who had been fatally trampled. A tragedy in either case.

In two other columns, my wording was so clumsy as to infer an unintended meaning. In “Parsing the Politics of Change,” Jan. 10, I referred to Paul Begala as “the guiding light of Hillary’s brain trust.” While he is a longtime friend and supporter, and has advised Bill Clinton in earlier political matters, he was not an official member of Hillary’s campaign. In the same piece, I quoted journalist Lylah Holmes in a Charlie Rose interview as explaining her preference for the term “black” over “African American” because it is more inclusive as many Americans of color have no real ties to the African continent. Here I inserted (like Obama), which was incorrect as his father was from Kenya. I knew that. What was I thinking?

Then in “Waiting for All the Shoes to Drop,” Oct. 2, I wrote ” . . . the Keating Five were indicted.” Charles Keating, in fact, was indicted in the savings and loan scandal, convicted and served four years in prison. The Keating Five, however, was the name given to five U.S. senators (John McCain among them) who supported Keating during 1987 hearings with federal banking regulators. In 1990, a Senate Ethics Committee probe found McCain not guilty of anything more than poor judgment.

So there you have it. For these mistakes, mostly caused by my own sloppiness or inadequate fact checking and research, I apologize.

As always, at New Year’s Eve, I pledge not to procrastinate, to double check everything and file my copy in plenty of time for editors to identify and correct my errors. For those mistakes that were caught in time, I truly thank them for covering my backside.

And may the coming year bring more successes than failures, more courage than fear and both hope and vision to solve the very real problems we all face. Happy New Year.