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Originally published Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Danny Westneat

A crusade to edit America

The other day a man wearing a brown fedora strolled through Pike Place Market. Unlike most tourists, he wasn't there to browse or buy. He was there to...

Seattle Times staff columnist

The other day a man wearing a brown fedora strolled through Pike Place Market. Unlike most tourists, he wasn't there to browse or buy.

He was there to edit.Yes, edit. Toting markers, chalk and white-out, the man known as the Indiana Jones of typos had come to do battle with this city's misspellings and botched punctuation.

Seattle, bookish as it may claim to be, was revealed to be barely literate.

There was the sign for "Dillettante" chocolate. The board announcing "Todays sample." The posters for "recepies," "cake's," "birthday candell's." The parking-lot warning that you get "no in/out priveleges."

A T-shirt read: "You better buy me another beer cause your still ugly."

It's all enough to make Jeff Deck's head hurt. He's one of those who feels that the rules of language still matter, regardless of how much phone texting degrades them.

So a few months ago he deputized himself a grammar vigilante and set out to make the U.S. "a safer place for spelling."

Calling it the "Typo Eradication Advancement League," he's now visited 18 states to chronicle, and correct if possible, all types of English errors. It's all on an entertaining blog, www.jeffdeck.com/teal.

I caught up with him Tuesday by phone in Spokane. The night before, he'd been nearly thrown out of a Spokane bar for pointing out that they misspelled "margarita."

"I can't fully explain why I'm doing this," he confessed. "Typos have always bugged me. I figured I should do something about it, so I came up with a national campaign. It's another way of seeing America, through its errors."

Seattle, he said, was as riddled as any place he's been. He even found a typo at the top of the Space Needle, where a sign describes the Needle's upper deck as its "crowing glory."

Big deal, you may say. Maybe you're even saying what a California man did after Deck informed him that his store was mislabeled a "grocerry." (The man said two words, one of which was "mother.")

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My own sense is that spelling is overrated. Because the mind can mkae snese of amlsot toatl gbbirsih wtih no porbelm.

But others of you may feel we're sliding down some slippery slope of sloppiness.

Chris Duval is one. He's a Seattle software tester who runs www.apostropheabuse.com. He began it to vent about his pet peeve: the explosion of apostrophes where they're not needed. As in a sign he saw recently: "Sale start's in 2 days."

What floored Duval is that strangers from around the world started sending him photos of apostrophes run amok. He's posted more than 300 from dozens of countries and has a backlog of 100 more.

"It's amazing how much interest there is," he laughed. "It's as if people can feel that the rules of language are deteriorating. And they want to speak out about it."

Maybe. Seattle's response to the typo brigade was a shrug.

When Deck noted a sign for "beefstake" tomatoes was wrong, the owners of a Market veggie stall did agree to pull it.

Then, after waiting for the Typo League guy to go away, they put the sign, unchanged, right back out where it was.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

About Danny Westneat
Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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