One of the drawbacks to getting paid for correcting spelling and grammar mistakes is that you become highly sensitized to how language is used (and misused) out there in the Real World. In other words, I find myself proofreading any copy I happen to encounter, even when I'm off the clock. These days, I automatically and unwillingly spot errors in restaurant menus, freeway signs, junk mail, smart-alecky t-shirts, captions on the TV news, and even professional publications that, in theory, ought to be paying someone to do the same work I do but frequently don't appear to bother. It's like I have some kind of lame-o superpower that I just can't help but use. I'm reminded of the well-meaning but clueless mom in the first X-Men movie who asks her son, "Have you ever tried not being a mutant?" Well, yes, I have, with no luck. I can't not see these things, even when I'd much rather be oblivious to them like everybody else.
I gotta tell you, folks, things are pretty bad out there from a proofreader's perspective. Honestly, are the rules of the apostrophe-s construction ('s) really so difficult? It indicates possession, as in "Johnny's skateboard," except when it's attached to the word "it" like in the instance of "it's" that I just typed, when it means you're looking at a contraction of "it is." The possessive form of "it" is "its." See, not so hard, right? Apparently, for a lot of people, it is. Or perhaps I should say, it's.
However, the very worst, most appalling foul-up I've encountered yet -- while I've been away from the office, that is -- has got to be the error that I spotted over the weekend. I was at the zoo with The Girlfriend and her extended family, oohing and ahhing over the new orangutan baby. Well, they were oohing and ahhing. Me being me, I was standing apart from the crush of photo-snapping spectators gathered in front of the orang cage's unbreakable plexiglas barrier, reading an informative banner. The banner told the tale of the little gal's entry into the world via C-section and how her mother didn't recognize her because she didn't birth her the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, all the fascinating details of how the zoo-keepers were handling this situation faded before my eyes, like that effect in old movies when the director emphasized vital information contained in a letter or telegram by darkening everything except the word or line that mattered. All I could see was the groaner at the end of the very end of the copy, the phrase about the "residence of Utah."
Residence. As in "all those folks who live here in Utah." The residents of Utah.