Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Henson

great typo hunt Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Henson

I should begin this post with a disclaimer. As a lover of words, a notorious pedant, grammar nazi extraordinaire, and neologiser of the word misapostrophication I have a vested interest in the subject matter of this book. I hold an honours degree in linguistics, have spent more than a few years in publishing (okay, just a fewIm twenty-five, after all), have a thing for asyndetic coordination. On my good days I like to consider myself a descriptivist, merrily taking in the language usage of others without judgement or qualm (my mothers familys use of come as the past tense of the same; my boyfriends maddening epenthetic habits; a certain author friends inability to differentiate worse and worst and when writing). On the bad days Ill produce a red pen. Write emails. Smudge away errant apostrophes in menus. The shop at Coles, everyday campaign made my eyes water. The recent Wrigleys Extra campaign, with its superfluous apostrophe on its packaging, made me sign in exasperation. My boyfriends Mossimo shirt with the phrase chicks dig em (see figure 1) is anathema in my house (for both content- and punctuation-related reasons).

 Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Henson

(Figure 1: misapostrophications and bizarre autocorrect malfunctionsJack Denials, indeed!)

So when Crown Publishing sent me The Great Typo Hunt for review I was quite the happy camper. A couple of grammatically forward fellows (and one lass) travelling the States in search of typographic misdemeanours to subdue using only those materials easily found amidst the rolling mess that is the typical editors desk: a red pen, an elixir of correction, and the odd texta or piece of chalk? Whats not to love?

And in all, this book is a glorious romp into the world of the written word, its use, its misuse, and the myriad factors influencing both. Rather than being a finger-wagging diatribe about the evils of poor punctuation and grapheme-level transpositions, its a thoughtful and good-natured examination of language in context and what it means to both the writer and the reader. Jeffs way with words is delightful, and his windy, serpentine sentences are whimsical, self-deprecating, and always a good deal of 'fun to read, which is a boon in a book that perhaps lacks the emotional highs and thrilling tension typical of these sorts of cross-country Kerouacian memoirs. There are no bear fights, shoot outs, or missing treasure plot lines to be found here. But there are an awful lot of apostrophes, ambiguous commas, and poorly printed T-shirts.

Jeffs tone is largely what makes this book so enjoyable. Given the absence of heart-pounding situations (okay, unless youre me, and you find something delicious in the idea of being a self-appointed wielder of Wite-Out), the book does run the risk of slowing down in some sections, but the narrative voice is such that youll be merrily buffeted along by the gentle tide of grammatical fervour. This isnt to say that the whole book is a rip-roarer throughout, however. There is some unevenness, particularly in the middle third of the book, where Jeffs delighted recounting of corrections far and wide begins to give way to slightly ponderous musings about vowel shifts, standard varieties of English, dialectal usage, ones own relationship with language, and the nature of the relationship between the sign writer, reader, and mediator. While these sections arent poorly written by any means, they do seem to be a marked departure from the material seen in the earlier chapters, and one cant help but wonder whether the well of typos is running somewhat dry.

Part of the reason that the book runs a little towards the sedate and slightly mundane side is due to the fact that most of the characters involved are fairly quiet and retiring types. For the most part, the typos being corrected are minor and, well, small. Even a nerd like me loves the idea of a little bit of grammatical drama so I admit to feeling a little disappointed that my selfish demands for typos and errors of a gargantuan sizeAmerica is the land of big stuff after all, right?werent met. Because the book fails to step it up from chapter to chapter, it does fall victim to a Groundhog Day-esque sensibility from time to time. The final chapter, too, with its call for a return to phonics instruction, sits a little oddly with me, and I have to admit that I found it hard to stomach the notional heroism ascribed to rote-learning and drilling.

Jeff and his eagle-eyed cronies do fall under the watchful gaze of both the media and the law however, and these sections offer an interesting reprieve from the heavily road-trip oriented narrative. I do wish that more time had been devoted to these sections, as they seem to promise rather a good deal in the way of food for thought. Where Jeffs musings in the earlier sections seem almost forced or tangential, the media and legal elements present a situation that actually allows for a fascinating unpicking of language and its place in our society.

But in all, this is a beautifully warm and rich volume, although probably one that lends itself more to dipping in and out rather than reading straight through. The authors approach is kindly and interested, and their passion for all things language-related is delightfully manifest throughout the books pages. Readers will enjoy the exchanges with the various shop owners and street vendors whose signs are defaced (?) in the name of grammatical purity, and will no doubt take some time to reflect on the way in which their own identity is so closely connected with language, both written and spoken.

Rating: star Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Hensonstar Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Hensonstar Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Hensonblankstar Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Hensonblankstar Review: The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D Henson (good)

With thanks to Crown Publishing for the review copy

Purchase The Great Typo Hunt from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA


  1. Travelling across America correcting typos? I LOVE IT!

    Im glad its not just me if theres one thing I cant stand, its apostrophe abuse. If my husband had a t-shirt with a 'misapostrophication' (ha!) Id turf it in the bin when he wasnt looking. Ugh.

    Oh dear. Id better wind this comment up before I start on one of my all-too-frequent rants about the decline of grammar and so ononce I start, its impossible to shut me up.

    Im not really a non-fiction person, but this looks like the kind of book Id really enjoy.

  2. Stephanie /

    Its a great concept, isnt it? I think I vaguely remember the court case being reported in the news (a few years ago now).

    Its narrative non-fiction, so it sort of has a fun road trip sensibility to it. I think youd enjoy it (and yes, there are many apostrophe corrections involved :) )

    (In my mind we should just remove apostrophes from the English language altogether. Theyre relatively new, only serve a purpose in written language, and cause so much confusion that theyre not worth the hassle!)

  3. You dont need to travel across America, just look at Facebook and the jaw dropping typos/syntax errors on it.

    Given the choice though Id travel.

    Great review Stephanie, I sometimes say something but I usually get a blank stare (at best).

  4. Stephanie /

    Its the same here, Zohar! I almost fixed up an apostrophe on a menu yesterday, but didnt have the guts. But someone else clearly did, because when I came back after work, it had been fixed! :)

Comments make us happy! Do say hello!

Follow us on Blog Lovin' Follow on Bloglovin