Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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How do you spell that word again?

by John Halverson

November 07, 2013

OK. I’m an idiot.

Last week we had a headline about the new chamber of commerce president, which had a subhead that said: “Search group, local business leaders widdled down candidates from 67-1.”

I bounded into the office Wednesday morning in pretty good spirits, thinking we had a really good paper, and looking forward to seeing it hot off the press.

I grabbed a copy and walked into my office, catching sight of reporter Chris Schultz coming in the front door.

Then I heard Chris say:

“No. No! No!”

He’d read the headline, the banner headline across the top of the front page.

“Widdled is not the right word!” he said with passion.

In fact, it’s not a real word at all, at least not one you’d find in a respectable dictionary.

It should have been spelled w-h-i-t-t-l-e-d.

Overhearing this conversation in my office, I quickly plugged “widdle” into Google, hoping our version was an alternative spelling.

It wasn’t.

Had I been walking instead of sitting in horror, that start-of-a-new day bounce in my step would have been gone.

It was my mistake.

Proofread by four other people, but originated by me.

It wasn’t a “typo.” That’s how I really thought it was spelled.

I was especially upset with myself because it was a story about the new head of the chamber. The chamber, of course, is a great link with the business community — the people who pay for the ads that keep our company running.

The chamber had given us its Community Betterment Award this summer so it was theoretically too late to withdraw that honor.

But I wanted to put on a good face for the chamber official I’d be dealing with for the next few years.

Instead, my face is red.

We discussed it at our editorial meeting. Everyone shared the blame for missing it, but that didn’t lessen my momentary self-loathing.

I had an instinct that something was wrong. I always have an instinct. It’s just that I can’t always track it down.

I’d read the story over multiple times before sending it to press because I had this feeling that something was wrong.

I should have been looking up, way up, to those really large letters above the story.

Even my girlfriend, especially my girlfriend, chides me when we make a mistake like that. Being the literate sort herself, with an English degree, she can’t quite figure out how we miss things.

She knows we aren’t dumb, but the newspaper industry is imperfect, so we’re not alone. It’s history in a hurry and sometimes it’s too much in a hurry.

A few years ago, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association had an award called the Red Typeface Award. Papers were expected to enter their most hilarious mistake from the year before.

We won eight awards last year, including being named the best paper of our size in the state, so why not go for another?

But the award was dropped a few years ago. I suspect papers were unwilling to publicly embarrass themselves.

At our meeting, we discussed whether we should run a correction.

We readily run corrections for errors of fact, but not for misspellings.

“Well, let’s see if we get some phone calls,” I said. “I’m hoping there are other people out there as dumb as I am who think it was spelled correctly.”

But I thought it over and wrote this column.

Somehow it hasn’t allayed my guilt.

Halverson is the somewhat flawed editor and general manager of the Regional News.