They’re the words no journalist wants to hear.

“There’s a typo in your story,” said my colleague.

“What?” I quickly flicked through the newspaper to the indicated page. “That can’t be. I read that thing through at least a half dozen times.”

And yet there it was. My eyes zoomed right to it: an extra “s.” It could not have been more obvious if it were circled in cocaine and lit by a disco ball.

I’d written “professionals photographers” instead of “professional photographers.” Crap!

I know: it’s not the end of the world. But the reading public expects a newspaper’s content to be perfect. I’d let them down. On top of that, I imagined staffers at the The Competition shaking their heads, making a “tsk-tsk” sound and noting that “oh, so he’s not as perfect as he’d like everyone to believe.” Double crap!

It’s not the first time a typo has slipped through. Inevitably, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. And, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, an extra “s” is more sloppy than embarrassing.

If you’re looking for embarrassing, the king of them all is, of course, omitting the “l” from “public.”

“The mayor called for a pubic debate on the issue.” “The president was encouraged by pubic reaction to his speech.”

Ouch and double ouch. That is the epitome of cringe-worthy. And yet I have seen it done.

An interesting flip side to that was found in a magazine story I was reading about Brazilians. It read something like, “More and more men are opting to have the hair removed from their public areas.”

A typo in reverse. Now that’s a new one.

I was spurred to share these thoughts by a recent headline I spotted in one of our national newspapers.

It was datelined the United States and read “tenn girls murdered by ‘Speed freak killers’ named”.

My first thought was that the headline writer was using the abbreviation for Tennessee (Tenn.) and had simply forgot to uppercase the “T” and add the period. I was wrong. Because the third sentence in the story mentioned teen girls. So the headline should have read “Teen girls murdered . . . ”

Somewhat less than professional, methinks.

Of course newspaper typos aren’t limited to journalists — sales reps have messed up as well. Viking Woman should know. In another life, she sold newspaper ads and told me the normal chain of command would involve a design person putting the ad together, which would then be proofed both by the sales rep and the person/company paying for the ad. So that’s three sets of eyes before the ad goes to print.

Which doesn’t explain how one supermarket ended up advertising a 99-cent deal on two-litre Cock. I’m going to guess that store manager sprayed Coke out his nose when he read that in the morning paper. On the bright side, he did report an upswing in the number of female customers. I guess size – and weight – does matter.

Another Viking Woman whoopsie involved a small classified ad that was supposed to read “some shift work required.” It appeared in the paper (after passing through the proofing process) as “some shit work required.”

Not exactly a laughing matter at the time but Viking Woman did hear from several sources that various staff room bulletin boards had that ad posted and circled with remarks along the lines of “So you think your job is bad.”

An extra “s”? Yeah, I’m not going to sweat it. But lesson learned: I will be more diligent in the future. Especially if the story involves someone drinking Cock in pubic.

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Little Old Lady has haunted me my entire journalism career.

I’ve never actually met her but I imagine her to be sour of expression, someone who stands in her front yard shaking her cane at the kids playing in the street, berating them for being too loud, having too much hair, wearing their pants too low and their baseball caps backwards.

She owns a small dog and feeds it slices of cheese even though that nice man on the TV says human food is not good for animals. She knits while she watches daytime soaps and yells at the characters for being gullible fools. She doesn’t answer the phone if it rings during American Idol, thinking only an idiot would dare interrupt quite possibly the greatest entertainment ever invented.

She forgets where she put her glasses. She sometimes forgets to put her teeth in. She believes anyone who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War has the God-given right to bitch about everything and anything.

And, oh yeah, she hates me. Or, more specifically, my writing. In fact, she hates all journalism.

I know this to be true because every newspaper I’ve ever worked for — a Times, a Star, a News, a Herald, another Herald and now a Courier — fear Little Old Lady more than they fear the Internet.

Which is why every story I’ve ever written — every story you see printed in a respectable newspaper — has to pass this litmus test: Will it offend Little Old Lady? If an editor experiences even the slightest niggle that Little Old Lady will take umbrage with the content, the story will be edited or quite possibly  killed.

Little Old Lady enjoys sharing her opinions. Her morals violated by something she finds offensive, she will phone an editor to vent her spleen. Or, even worse, mail (!) a handwritten (!!) letter explaining, in no uncertain terms that, should the paper continue to print such objectionable trash, she will have no alternative but to cancel her subscription. No one has the balls to tell Little Old Lady that the paper is actually delivered free.

I was envisioning Little Old Lady this week while writing a story about a new horse trail. On the surface, this is not the sort of story that would normally raise wrinkled hackles but my plan was to use the word “shirty” to describe some rather nasty people who’d objected to equestrian invaders.

“Shirty” is one of those Kiwi-isms Viking Woman and I encountered when we moved to New Zealand. I know it’s not a real (read: North American) word but I have this sneaky hunch Kiwis use it in polite company when what they really mean is “shitty.”

Is Old Little Old Lady going to read that sentence and not give it a second thought because, after all, that’s how everyone speaks here?

Or will she stop short, raise a weathered eyebrow, clack her dentures in disgust and reach a quivering hand for the phone?

I guess I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.