Just a week after a typographical error in campaign materials for Mitt Romney prompted newspaper headlines, more spelling mistakes by the Romney campaign and the Obama administration alike made the news.
A misspelling of America in Romney’s iPhone “With Mitt” app was followed by a reference to Ronald Reagan spelled “Ronald Regan” in a slide show at a donor event, a misspelling in a video of “sneak-peak” instead of “sneak-peek” (tsk! — nobody pointed out that in addition, the hyphen is extraneous), and an invitation to buy “offical” campaign gear. (The latter two errors appeared on Romney’s Facebook page.)
The Obama administration has a few red check marks on its assignments, too: Last year, the White House’s Twitter account misspelled Libya, and Obama himself was seen misspelling Syracuse. He was also called out for a couple of mistakes in the spelling of the names of historical figures in his 1995 memoir.
What is the world coming to?
In the vicious world of politics, these flubs have provided hooks to hang vitriol on. The misspelling by Romney’s staff of America and Reagan, two key words in Republican ideology, and the other mistakes associated with his campaign have been exploited to attack his suitability for higher office — a specious argument, regardless of what you may think about just that. The same goes for Obama, though he is directly responsible for the mistakes in his book.
But these errors do provide valuable lessons for everyone. Most important, just as evolution does not mean “improvement” (the basic definition is “change”), progress does not mean “things get better.” And a corollary point is this: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
How did these errors happen? Because it was easy for them to happen. I wasn’t at the scene of any of these misdemeanor crimes against the English language, but my guess is that in the case of the Romney campaign’s typos, and the Obama administration’s misspelling of Libya, a single person was involved: Tap on a few keys, click a couple of buttons, and presto! — the app is launched, the video text is entered, the website copy is live.
In the past, political campaigns, like other organizations, took a more measured approach to getting the words out: Drafts were circulated, revised, vetted. Errors occurred, but seldom, because the process rendered the environment hostile to mistakes. Now, however, technology allows one person to have control over dissemination (and sensible people will realize that even if multiple pairs of eyeballs were involved in any of these boo-boos, none of those sensory organs belonged to Romney or Obama himself).
Why is it any different now? Why are decision makers so careless in assuming that just because a procedure can be simplified, the protocol for effecting the outcome of the procedure can be minimized as well? Because easier translates to faster and cheaper. But what about quality?
You’ll notice nobody defended these errors by saying, “You know what we meant by Amercia” or “Everybody knows who ‘Ronald Regan’ refers to” or “The Libyans spell their country’s name al-Lībiyyah, so go figure.” Nor were any announcements made about any heads rolling as a result of the mistakes.
We shouldn’t shrug these errors off, however. There are more pressing issues in politics than an apparent aversion to spell-checking, but clear communication is compromised when the ease of use of technology enables carelessness. These mistakes are symptoms of a decline in quality control in our written language and an attendant apathy about the issue. And when impressionable younger people, already inured to the attraction of text-speak, see that our society is blasé and blithe about how sequences of alphabetical characters are displayed (spelling errors are already ubiquitous, whether on billboards or chalkboards), they receive a subliminal message that precision and perfection are not worthy (if ultimately unattainable) goals.
I don’t mean to come across as an alarmist reactionary. Again, we’ve got more important things to take care of. But in the meantime, we shouldn’t let the little things slip away unheeded. And I’ve admitted making errors myself. But as we use our handy little keyboards and keypads, let’s all be more careful out there.