Enviro(n)mental Solutions (2022)

Walking through Brisbane’s CBD near where Albert Street Station is under construction, I couldn’t help noticing this error on the side of a haulage-and-disposal truck. 

Admittedly, ‘environmental’ is a somewhat tricky word to spell: as with ‘government’, you can be tripped up by the silent ‘n’. But why, then, does a correctly spelled ‘environmental’ appear on the same side of the same truck—just a short distance away from the incorrectly spelled one?  

Could it be that, rather than going to the trouble of inserting an ‘n’, Lantrak tried to draw our attention away from the omission by placing another ‘environmental’, complete with the ‘n’, over to the right?  

I put this question to the Brisbane-Gold Coast division of Lantrak. Someone from their Marketing division advised that he was aware of the error (‘I spotted it when it came back from the printers’), and congratulated me on noticing it, claiming that ‘enviromental’ had been there for two years and yet nobody else had ever pointed it out. He added, ‘I should send you a prize or something.’ Sounded good to me; I pictured a large gift-basket, or maybe some sort of engraved plaque, being delivered to my door.  

‘Don’t they run a spellcheck at the printers?’ I asked. He didn’t know.  

‘What about the truckdrivers themselves? Didn’t any of them notice the mistake?’ 

‘Those guys? They’re basically illiterate.’ 

Lantrak, apparently, uses half a dozen different types of ‘environmental solutions’ stickers on their trucks, but only one of those sticker types contains the error, and ‘only four or five’ trucks have that particular sticker on them. The printers, to their credit, offered to make a special ‘correction’ to paste over the misspelling—an enviromental solution, of sorts. But as the Lantrak representative explained, it didn’t make a lot of financial sense to take the trucks off the road for such non-haulage-and-disposal-related reasons.   

‘And anyway,’ he said, ‘soon we’ll be updating all our stickers—it’ll be a whole new look.’  

This sounded curiously similar to the health clinic’s response when I pointed out the error on their sign (see ‘Remedial Spelling’). And, given that several Lantrak trucks have been driving around for the last two years with that clanger on display, doesn’t it seem a bit coincidental that Lantrak has suddenly decided to revamp all their stickers? Is this simply what every company says when they want to deflect spelling pedants? We will see soon enough. And if the error remains uncorrected, at least I’ll have the consolation of my gift-basket and/or engraved plaque.

A Tale of Two Fs (2016)

Some time ago I was waiting at the bus stop on the corner of Musgrave Road and Upper Clifton Terrace, Red Hill, when I noticed that ‘Clifton’ was spelt with two fs on the bus-stop marker, but (correctly) with one f on the nearby street sign.

I couldn’t let that glaring inconsistency stand. Nor was it fair that the bus stop had twice its fair share of fs while some other bus stop might well be missing out entirely—and I don’t imagine that the Brisbane City Council has an endless supply of fs to throw around.

I immediately phoned the Council and asked them if they could see their way clear to removing one of the fs—it was entirely up to them which one—from bus stop 5a in Red Hill, and perhaps reassigning it to a more deserving bus stop elsewhere in Brisbane.

They said they’d forward my request to Translink, Brisbane’s public transport provider. I suspected that this might be their polite way of telling me to ‘f’ off, and that I’d end up having to go back to the bus stop myself with a bottle of Liquid Paper.

Ah, but I was wrong. The next time I passed the stop, the second f was gone. It’s no exaggeration to say that the sight of that amendment restored my faith in humanity (and Translink).

At the same time, I was a bit disappointed that my intervention hadn’t been publicly acknowledged. I didn’t expect grand gestures: a simple inscription somewhere on the bus stop would have sufficed—something along the lines of The Brisbane City Council, in association with Translink and other key stakeholders, extends its heartfelt gratitude to David Cohen, etc.

But like most true heroes, I remain anonymous. Never mind: correct spelling is its own reward—although, as rewards go, I prefer cash.

Remedial Spelling (2021)

A couple of months ago I walked into a complementary health clinic in South Brisbane to inform them that the word ‘acupuncture’ on their sign was misspelt.

It had been like that for ages—and this wasn’t some insignificant, handwritten sign, but a large, prominent, professionally designed one. ‘Remedial massage’ was spelled correctly (as was ‘therapeutic massage’, the acupuncturist’s additional specialisation). ‘Visceral manipulation’ was spelled correctly. Even ‘Craniosacral therapy’ was spelled correctly. So what was the story with ‘acupunture’?

Could it be that the acupuncturist didn’t actually know how to spell the name of his own area of expertise, so had never corrected the error? A profoundly depressing thought. Imagine: someone shows up for an appointment, sees the typo and thinks, But wait a minute. If the acupuncturist doesn’t even know how to spell ‘acupuncture’, how can I be sure he’ll know where to put the needles? Hmm, maybe I should try craniosacral therapy instead.

I’m not suggesting that there’s any inherent connection between being an acupuncturist and not knowing how to spell, but a missing c can’t help but reflect badly on the profession.

A more likely scenario is that the acupuncturist did know how to spell the name of his own area of expertise, but hadn’t noticed the typo—which would call into question his attention to detail. An acupuncturist who overlooks such an error might be an acupuncturist who says, ‘I’m just going to insert this needle along your lung meridian,’ while absent-mindedly inserting it along your spleen meridian, and carrying on as if nothing’s amiss.

A third and perhaps even more unsettling possibility is that the acupuncturist knew how to spell the name of his own area of expertise, had noticed the typo, but simply didn’t care. While such a near-enough-is-good-enough attitude can’t do any serious harm in the textual realm, a similar approach when it comes to treatment(‘I’ll just stick this needle in the general vicinity of the lung meridian and hope for the best’) is problematic.

Whatever the reasons behind the ongoing absence of the second c, it was really beginning to do my head in. So, having first googled the word ‘acupunture’—just to eliminate the possibility that it’s an actual form of complementary medicine I’d never heard of—I walked into the clinic. I walked in as if I were just a regular patient with no particular interest in spelling, all the while preparing for an intervention (‘Hold on a minute now: I’m not here to get acupuncture; I’m here on behalf of the word “acupuncture”.’). As to the acupuncturist’s reaction, that was anyone’s guess. Shock? Disbelief? Resentment? Maybe even denial? But, if all went well, ultimately humble gratitude, along with a commitment to rectifying the sign without delay.

As it turned out, the only person in the clinic at that time was the remedial massage specialist, who informed me that the acupuncturist had finished for the day (it was, admittedly, after 5pm). Would I like to make an appointment? I said I’d prefer not to, and that I’d really come to talk about the missing c on the sign outside.

She had no idea what I was on about, so I drew her attention to the typo.

She said, ‘I’ve never noticed that.’

‘And neither, it seems, has the acupuncturist,’ I rejoined.

She replied that, although she couldn’t speak for the acupuncturist, this did appear to be the case.

‘But the thing is,’ she explained, ‘that sign’s going to be replaced soon anyway—it needs updating—so we’ll obviously correct the typo at the same time. Thanks for pointing it out.’

Two months later, the original sign remains, as does the typo. (Could it be that this ‘new sign’ business is a line they feed to anyone who points out the error, just to avoid having to go to the trouble of fixing it)? Since nobody, including the acupuncturist himself, seems concerned about this, I’ve got half a mind to correct it myself while we wait for the ‘new sign’ to arrive. I just need to lay my hands on a c. I’m sure there are plenty around, at a loose end, more than happy to step in and do the job. In fact, just the other day I passed a shop with a sign outside: Vaccuum Cleaner Repairs. I’ll have a word with them: maybe we can make a deal.