Monday, December 12, 2011

LOL 101



The finale of Season 19 of the CBS reality series "The Amazing Race" included a challenge in which one member of each of the remaining pairs had to sit down at a manual typewriter and reproduce a passage. That passage included the numeral 1, or at least a number that looked as though it did. The typewriter's keyboard did not include a 1.

I wish Bill and Cathi, the token old people, had still been in the race. They would have known instantly that you simply use the lowercase l (or should I say the lowercase L?) with such a typewriter. But the teams still alive were all made up of relative youngsters, and every relative youngster participating in this challenge puzzled puzzled to some extent over how to make that 1. Some puzzled over how to get the darn paper in the darn machine.

I used manual typewriters in my junior-high-school typing class in the 1970s and even in college journalism classes into the '80s. I can't say for sure that I ever used one without a 1 key, but I sure have spent way too much time cleaning up after oldsters who typed letters into their numbers. In Courier and the other monospaced fonts you find on typewriters and many computer screens, l,00l looks just fine in place of 1,001, and so it's hard to spot (see below). In print, however, the result is often bizarre. WYSIWYG mode is a good thing. A sharp eye is an even better thing.

The El Generation has largely been displaced, and today the more insidious letter-for-number typo is the use of the letter o in place of the zero (usually it's the lowercase letter, but you see the capital now and then). Their proximity on the keyboard and the common use of "oh" in spoken references to zero don't help matters. There, too, the mistake is easy to miss on a computer screen. Speaking of CBS television shows, the O-vs.-0 issue came up in the title of the new version of "Hawaii Five-0." The network, citing utility for online searches, requested that news organizations write the show's name with a zero, even though it's pronounced as an "oh." Some sticklers bristled, but for me it's a coin toss. The number is pronounced like the letter, so either version seems fine.

By the way, here's a look at the offending characters in some common typefaces (click here for an image if  your browser isn't showing you the font changes):

ARIAL
1,001 reasons not to type l,00l or l,ool or l,OOl
COURIER
1,001 reasons not to type l,00l or l,ool or l,OOl
GEORGIA
1,001 reasons not to type l,00l or l,ool or l,OOl
HELVETICA
1,001 reasons not to type l,00l or l,ool or l,OOl
TIMES
1,001 reasons not to type l,00l or l,ool or l,OOl
VERDANA
1,001 reasons not to type l,00l or l,ool or l,OOl

15 comments:

Sarah Millar said...

Not sure what you were watching, but I must have been watching a different version of the finale. No one seemed absolutely stumped. They all got through this challenge relatively quickly. And those who did have trouble admitted they were not the best typist in the couple.

Also, after 30 days of crossing the globe, with very little sleep, from timezone to timezone to timezone, I'd love to see how you hold up at the end. Of course they were a little flabbergasted.

Bill said...

Sure, "relatively." They puzzled momentarily to varying degrees, which is what I should have said.

Sarah Millar said...

Thanks for your quick response, Bill. Sorry if my original comment sounded too snarky?

Bill said...

It did. But I will not throw stones from this glass house. :-)

Sarah Millar said...

Thanks. Much appreciated. Feel free to throw stones any time.

Jonathon said...

One of the ugliest errors I've seen in a book that we just got back from the printer: World War Il.

I don't know if that error originated with the author or somehow happened during the editing and typesetting process, but of course we missed it through several rounds of edits and proofs and then spotted it instantly once it was too late.

jchnp7 said...

I own three manual typewriters, and only one (the newest, from 1964) has a "1" key. Did they make them type an exclamation point? That's apostrophe-backspace-period. Ah, the good old days!

Bill said...

Remember how, back during the war, we had to buy ration stamps for exclamation points? (You know -- WW LL, the Big One?)

Monica said...

Your title is perfect. :-)

Jonathon said...

Wonder of wonders! Just now I came across an "Al" when "A1" was intended. (It was in a source citation referring to a newspaper page.)

Bill said...

"You Can Call Me A1" is probably my favorite Paul Simon song about newspapers.

Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud said...

I'd heard this before, but don't think I'd have remembered it if I were halfway around the world, lol. But thanks for helping it stick a little better, for... next time I run into a 1-less typewriter.

Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud said...

I'd heard this before, but don't think I'd have remembered it if I were halfway around the world, lol. But thanks for helping it stick a little better, for... next time I run into a 1-less typewriter.

Elaine Bell said...

I can't remember whether the IBM Selectrics provided a 1.

Bill said...

Selectrics definitely did. I don't know that any electric typewriters continued that practice. Most manuals had the 1, in my experience (starting in the '70s).