Most folks who stop in at the Smitten Kitten tend to shuffle around sheepishly while checking out all the "marital aids." Not Jeff Deck. He glides into the store, quickly spots a handwritten sign and turns to the sales clerk.
"I was just noticing that there's a sign here where 'aphrodisia' is misspelled," he says, "and I was wondering if I could change it to the right spelling."
"Wow," says the clerk, who goes just by Lindsey. "Sure, go ahead. I'm glad you were here and saw that."
After Deck pulls a purple Sharpie out of his Typo Correction kit and changes an errant "e" to the proper "i," Lindsey says with a smile, "Thanks for putting us in our place."
That's one small step for the Typo Eradication Advancement League, and one giant -- well, actually there are only small steps in Deck and Benjamin Herson's never-ending battle against bad spelling, grammar and punctuation.
During a recent 90-minute jaunt around Minneapolis' Lyn-Lake area, the authors of "The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time" (Crown, $24) found four examples of what Herson calls "the creeping menace of carelessness."
It's not a bad haul but lower than usual -- "I can see why the Twin Cities has a literary reputation," Deck notes -- for the duo, who are infusing a two-month book tour with a second typo hunt.
"It's really just paying attention," says Deck, a copy editor by trade.
Adds Herson: "It's funny how the radar just ..."
"... pings," Deck chimes in.
Some typos are acceptable
As we walk west on Lake Street, the authors talk at length about what they don't fix.
"Grocery stores always have a lot of typos," Herson says as we approach Rainbow Foods before turning around, "but it's just not all that interesting to hang out in a grocery store."
Ethnic stores or places "where it's very obvious that English is not their first language" also are off limits. They believe in "creative license" in branding, so they don't flinch at "shoppe." And "we're not going to go around to every Dunkin' Donuts and put in a 'u-g-h'" in the word "doughnut," Deck says.
They also steer clear of government property -- ever since they mended two errors on a mundane-looking sign at the Grand Canyon and were arrested. They were dubbed "self-proclaimed grammar vigilantes" by authorities and fined $3,000 for defacing federal property.
Coffee shops, though, not only are fair game but can be a grammar hound's gold mine, with their massive chalkboards updated daily.
"The more text you have, the more typos you have," Herson says.
Sure enough, the Dunn Bros board offers up a "cappucino." (It should be "cappuccino.")
Barista Amy May smiles as Deck launches into his "Hi, we're from the Typo Eradication Advancement League" introduction and wonders aloud, without looking, if "someone put a 'ch' in there." Before fixing the misspelling, May points to the shop's middle board, which reads "Word of the Week: 'quidnunc.'"
Try as they might, the word nerds are unable to come up with a definition. Kind of ironic, given that a quidnunc is "one who is curious to know everything that passes; one who knows, or pretends to know, all that is going on."
The two 30-year-olds met at a creative-writing class at Dartmouth and then were roommates for a time in Washington, D.C. Later, Deck, of Portsmouth, N.H., sold Herson, of Beaverton, Ore., on the idea of joining forces to form the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) and co-author the book and a blog (www.greattypohunt.com).
So they and a few cohorts spent 10 weeks on the road in 2008, toting a bag containing sundry-colored Sharpies, chalk and Wite-Out, unearthing 437 typos, including eight during a brief stop at the Mall of America.
The most common flubs involve apostrophes, either missing ("mens fashions"), unnecessary ("we sell hundreds of car's") or simply bollixed (the its/it's or your/you're swaperoos). Herson holds particular contempt for subject-verb agreement, "or disagreement," he exclaims, thrusting his right fist into the air.
All they found on their Lyn-Lake excursion, however, were misspellings. They even forgave a few -- "it looks like they ran out of I's," Herson said of the word "prvate" at the bottom of a Flavor Cafe sign -- and couldn't fix a misspelled "karoake" on the VFW marquee because no one was around to grant the now-obligatory permission. (It's karaoke.)
They also didn't catch the missing "a" in "miniture" in a stenciled banner at Universe Games until their second time passing it.
During the inevitable stop inside, the TEAL patrol was directed to owner Michael Angelo Russo, who smiled disarmingly upon getting the standard spiel.
"Yeah, I guess Kinko's just did it wrong," Russo says. "It was also on our cards, 20,000 of them. We finally just got through the last of those -- thank God."
About 20 people have pointed out the typo, "just to me personally," Russo says. "That doesn't mean that a lot of people haven't walked by and said, 'Aw, what dummies.'"
As they walk out of the store, Herson notes, "That guy's awesome. But that's the key, what he said about what we point out all the time: how many people don't say anything; they notice it and just walk by."
Which means that a typo hunter's work, it seems, never will be done.
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643