Adventures of a Proofreader (And Confessions of a Sub-Vocalizer)

Oh, you think proofreading is boring? You don’t think it can provide thrilling experiences?

In the interest of accuracy (one of a proofreader’s raisons d’être, after all), I have to admit you may be right. Nevertheless . . .

When I was a kid, a new drugstore opened in our town. A small crowd gathered to watch its big sign hoisted into place above the door and display window. I know this sounds like a Homer Price story about life in Centerburg, but in fact there wasn’t much going on in small towns in those days.

The druggist was Mr. Furman, so he called the store Furman Pharmacy. Under the direction of the signpainter, a crane lifted the sign into place. The painter climbed a stepladder with a power screwdriver to attach the sign to the wall above the storefront.

“It’s spelled wrong!” I called out to everyone, feeling very much like Homer Price.

I don’t think the small crowd collectively gasped, as they would have in Centerburg, but a number of people, including Mr. Furman, now noticed that his name had become “Fruman.”

The sign was unhoisted for repainting. I saw a mixture of humiliation and anger on the signpainter’s face.


Many years later, I was eating at the Part View Diner in North Bergen, New Jersey, which was not far from a large county park. The diner’s odd name—on a big illuminated sign outside and on the menus—was, I’m sure, the result of a sign company’s mistake. It had to have been intended to be “Park View,” but when the sign was installed, there apparently was no young proofreader in the crowd.

A similar case: at one time there was a small chain of stores in New York City called John’s Bargain Stores. I heard from someone who knew the family that there was, in fact, no one named John in the business. The first store was supposed to be called “Cohn’s Bargain Store,” but Mr. Cohn decided to keep the misspelled sign when it was delivered.


I think I notice things like “Fruman” because I’m a sub-vocalizer. That means I don’t look at a sentence on a page and process it as thought; I have to first say it, not out loud but in my mind. Sub-vocalizing is a disability if you want to read a lot. But it makes you more aware of the details of language, like spelling, syntax, and punctuation.

I once surveyed the editors at the publishing house where I was working. Except for the ones who had formerly been reading teachers, everyone was a sub-vocalizer.

That’s why, before you hoist your next sign above your storefront, you should give me a call. Or if not me, find another sub-vocalizing proofreader.


One comment

  1. I also subvocalize. (Being an old Yankee, I am also frugal with hyphens.) Errors can persist, even after multiple readings by multiple people. I have found it helpful to look at documents in several modalities when proofreading. Proofread a print preview of a web page as well as the page as displayed in your browser. If the print preview still looks OK, print it out and read it later on paper. If time permits, it helps to wait another day before the final proofreading.

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