Poor spelling is a sign of ignorance
While on your travels through Nevada, you have more than likely seen several of the large, blue Nevadas adorned with silver plaques describing significant places or events in Nevada history. Others are made of concrete. You probably have given them little thought. But if you’ve ever read the entire text on these markers, you might have been surprised. Or insulted. Or embarrassed.
That is because many of these plaques contain spelling and grammatical errors, in addition to phrasing that is insensitive and, on occasion, racist.
In coming months, the Nevada Historical Preservation Office will begin work to repair and replace many of the problematic roadside markers throughout the state. The Nevada Department of Transportation has set aside $88,000 for this project, which is expected to take more than a year to complete.
Those who do not appreciate the nuances of the English language might find this superfluous. But, I assure you, these renovations are constructive. This issue is not just about maintaining roadside markers—it also delves into Nevada’s overall image and the extent to which Nevadans and Nevada officials care about how the state is perceived by visitors.
State Historical Marker No. 48 has been singled out as a particularly troublesome marker. The sign is in Tuscarora and describes the origins of the small town. One section reads, “Tuscarora’s first boom, 1872-1876, boosted its population to three thousand whites, and a like number of Chinese. Hordes of the latter had swarmed here on foot from Elko in the summer of 1869…” (Emphasis added.)
Though the majority of these signs were written more than 30 years ago, this is the message Nevada sends anyone who takes the time to read them. And the message is not a positive one—it is inappropriate and glaringly racist.
I recall some similar news last July—one of four signs leading the way into Carson City misspelled the world “capital” as in “Carson City is the state capital.” Instead, the sign declaimed Carson City is the “state capitol,” which refers to the building rather than the city itself.
So, hey, it’s an easy mistake to make. It may not seem like a big deal. Most people probably didn’t even notice, and that’s probably why the sign was approved and erected in the first place. After all, when the error was pointed out, some locals still tried to argue that it wasn’t an urgent matter, and the sign didn’t need to be fixed.
But this is a huge problem, and it reflects poorly upon the state of Nevada.
Competent people don’t submit a résumé littered with spelling errors because potential employers don’t take ignorant applicants seriously.
If you posted a tweet with a grammatical error, you would likely delete it immediately lest you be judged negatively by your peers. You understand on a personal level that simple mistakes like these destroy your credibility.
The fact that our lovely state has a history of posting incorrect and offensive signs and then neglecting to make their cleanup or correction a priority indicates that Nevadans do not take pride in how we present our state and ourselves to outsiders.
The Carson City sign was changed, as will be the historical markers. That’s the right move. More important than our sign upkeep, though, is our state pride. Nevadans must ensure that visitors know that we are intelligent, well-educated and compassionate in this state. Tourists already think of us as that state with all the gambling and prostitution—we don’t want them to get the idea that we don’t know how to look up words in a dictionary.