Musicians have argued about something practically since electronics entered the musical scene: is “microphone” properly abbreviated “mic” or “mike”?

Oxford Dictionaries says “mike” was the original term in the 1920s, but by 1961, when Al Berkman’s “Singer’s Glossary of Show Business Jargon” was published, “mic” was the usual spelling apparently because roadies usually spelled it that way on the equipment. However, when a singer is equipped with a microphone, he’s said to be “miked” because being “miced” can involve rodents.

Grammatical propriety differs widely, depending on the expert. A library book I recently borrowed, Jeff Deck’s “The Great Typo Hunt,” is about how Deck, an associate editor of “Rocks and Gems” magazine and self-professed whiz at spotting typographical errors, decided to travel around the country with friends correcting misspellings and bad punctuations wherever they encountered them. I found the book somewhat pretentious and padded, and one of his appendices, “The Art of Editing,” was personally annoying. “It’s a good policy to go back and read over what you’ve written,” it begins, but continues, “You’ll easily spot true typographical errors, and you’re likely to spot other mistakes, too.”

Having written over 1,750 of these columns, every one of which was proofread by multiple sets of eyes, I’m here to tell you that many typos aren’t easily spotted. The columns in my latest compilation (“Books Range 3,” available at the Literacy Council’s Forget-Me-Not Books, with every penny going to the Fairbanks Library Foundation) were all originally proofed by three people besides me, then my wife and I proofed them again, then the graphic designer ran them through his industrial-strength proofing program, yet today you’ll find a glaring typo in the first sentence of the first page.

Deck’s laissez-faire attitude towards commas is evident in “Care and Feeding of the Common Comma” wherein he states the obvious — omitted commas cause confusion while extraneous commas can alter sentences’ meanings — but he ignores the Oxford comma question. The Oxford, or “serial,” comma, is defined by Webster’s as “a comma used to separate the second-to-last item in a list from a final item introduced by the conjunction and or or,” (as in “red, white, and blue”). I’m an Oxford comma adherent because leaving it out engenders confusion.

I admire Benjamin Dreyer’s approach to the subject in “Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” Dreyer is vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief of Random House, and he prefers calling the Oxford/serial comma the “series comma.”

“Whatever you want to call it,” he wrote, “use it. I don’t want to belabor the point; neither am I willing to negotiate it. Only godless savages eschew the series comma.” Amen.

“Orthographers” study “correct spelling according to established norms,” and I’m fortunate to reside with an orthographically adept proofreader who steers me clear of polysyndetons (unnecessary conjunctions), gratuitous hyphenizations, and, my specialty: incorrect use of apostrophes in words like “its” and “it’s.” According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, proofreading is an American term and is “the process for correcting for the press printed proofs of articles, books or other matter before publication.”

Proofreaders’ importance is evidenced by “the Wicked Bible.” In 1631 Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers, published a reprint of the King James Bible that left out only one word — “not” — but from the 7th Commandment making it read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” King Charles I wasn’t amused, and called the printers before the infamous Star Chamber, heavily fined them, and revoked their printing license. Most copies of the Wicked Bible were gathered and destroyed, but some survive, including ones at the New York Public and British National Libraries, where the copy’s opened to the shameful page.

There’s also the Printer’s Bible (that substituted “Printers” into “Princes have persecuted me without cause”), the “Lions Bible”, from 1804 (”thy son that shall come forth out of thy lions”, rather than “loins”), and the “Large Family Bible of 1820 (which reads: “Shall I bring to birth and not cease to bring forth?” rather than “Shall I bring to birth and not cause to bring forth?”). That’s why we need proofreaders, for, as they say, “Every time you make a typo, the erroists win.”


Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.