COLUMN: Seeking computer illiteracy?

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By Art Trujillo

Whenever there’s an error in the Optic, some readers likely  think we messed up. And they holler, “Hire a proofreader!”

But isn’t it possible that we merely plant a typo here and there? Why? To give readers something to talk about and us something to write about. Like now.

Alex Montoya of Las Vegas, now living in Flint, Texas, caught one of the plants, this time in an advertisement for Mora County manager. Montoya, my former student, writes, “I thought of applying for the position. I don’t think I meet the computer qualifications. The ad calls for one who is ‘computer illiterate.’“

No, Alex, if you’re lacking the “illiteracy” qualifications, Mora County simply has no room for you. However, what if, just what if ... the alleged error were deliberate? We at the Optic get tired of going days without anyone calling to say, “You know that article you wrote about city government? Well, I want you to know that almost every word was spelled right.”

That’s rare, Alex. So if we sprinkle in a typo or a wrong word choice, what’s the harm? And besides, I’m the product of parents who lost all interest in technology some time around the and their 70s. If their car started, that was good enough for them. If Mom’s electric typewriter worked, fine.

My dad, whose interest in anything mechanical waned around the time the then-high-tech IBM Selectric typewriter appeared, was worse than merely indifferent to computers, which he prefaced with “stupid.” He reasoned that since humans invented computers, by definition, computers couldn’t be as smart as the inventors.

Alex Montoya may have suspected the coincidental timing of the advertisement, which appeared on April Fool’s Day. I checked the original version of the ad and — sure enough — it used “illiterate,” which we fixed in some, but not all, issues of the paper. All that reminds me of the time recently when I got chided by several people who told me the one word in the English language I ought never misspell is “proofreader,” which I did by omitting the first “r.” With one word, my training went “poof.”

• • •

A few columns back, we speculated on mascots and wondered why schools would rather have a girls team called the “Lady Rams” or the “Lady Stallions” than to use “Ewes” and “Mares.”

An example we used was of our own West Las Vegas Dons, whose female counterparts are the Lady Dons, not the Donettes or the Doñas. Since a Don is a Spanish gentleman, that makes the Lady Dons the Spanish Lady Gentlemen.

Then what about Doncellas? Local attorney Art Vargas mentioned a 2007 National Geographic article about an “extremely well preserved mummy — a 15-year-old girl known as ‘La Doncella.’” The magazine says the maiden “appears to have been selected for sacrifice.” She and two others were discovered in 1999 during an Inca expedition. The mummies may have been on the mountain 500 years.

A Doncella (the “ll” sounds like a “y”) would give a more precise identity to girl hoopsters and softball players than does Lady Dons.

Just wondering: If girls’ sports had ante-dated boys’ athletics and if girls’ nicknames had come first and included names like “Ewes,” “Hens” and “Cows,” would the corresponding boys’ teams be “Boy Ewes,” “Boy Hens” and “Boy Cows”?

“Doncella” has a pretty sound to it. And it’s a one-word name, unlike so many other girls’ mascots whose nicknames need to be forever modified and qualified.

• • •

A reader called about the use of “sic” in newspapers and magazines. He phoned just to ask what the term means. Before answering this question, I said, “I’ll bet you didn’t find “sic” in the Optic.” He hadn’t.

“Sic” is a Latin word meaning  “thus,” “so” or “as such.” Some publications use it to show readers  that the odd word or phrase belongs to the original writer and not to the publication. For example, if someone writes “who’s” when it should be “whose,” editors often will follow the word with “[sic.]”

But what else is “sic” used for? It’s used to assign fault. A paper I once worked for, the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News, used “sic” to discredit the writing of those critical of the newspaper. Once, an angry reader took in to the Aurora Be-Confused, and in doing so, committed a number of spelling errors. That’s when our editors chose to pepper the copy with “sic.”

But what does that prove? Only one thing: The writer’s spelling and proofreading need work. On another level, the intent was to convince our readers that the letter-writer didn’t have much credibility. If he can’t even spell, how can anyone believe what he writes?

Other letters to the editor, some of which praised the Illinois newspaper, contained errors in the original submission, but those typos magically got corrected in print.

At the Optic, we receive batches of letters — many critical of the newspaper, and with errors that indicate haste, lack of proofreading or simply weakness in spelling. We try to correct all the errors, thus avoiding “sic.”

I believe that’s the right thing to do. And besides, on the basis of the “computer illiterate” typo we let get past us, we wonder, do we need to “sic” ourselves on ourselves?

That would be sic-ening.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.