“Totem Poll?” You’re putting me on, right?

Dear Internets:

Totem poll?” Really?

The Bay State’s grades went up over the past four years when it came to transparency and releasing information about child deaths and near fatalities, but still ranked low on the totem poll. (Metro Boston, 18 April 2012; you’ll find it in the sidebar on page 2.)

(Metro is far from alone in making this error, but the reference was at hand; it’s nothing personal, Metro, I pick you up at least once a week…even if most of the time it’s only for the sudoku.)

Let’s clear this up.

A poll is something you use to gather information:

Suzy surveyed 250 people. Her poll discovered that 56% preferred potato chips over pretzels.

It’s also where you go to vote (typically plural):

Despite the weather, there was a record turnout at the polls.

A pole is a long stick:

Vince had trouble pitching the tent, as it was missing a pole.

It’s also one of the points at each end of the Earth’s axis:

Beatrice knew her brother’s expedition to the North Pole to trap penguins was doomed before it began.

A totem pole is a pole on which totems are hung or carved. They’re often considered sacred objects,  and can be quite beautiful works of art. A totem poll is a careless misspelling, at best.

This “pole vs. poll” error seems to be rampant on “teh Internets,” although it’s difficult to get clean data because many people *do* know the difference, but use the misspelling humorously or ironically. A few recent searches on Google reveal this distribution:

totem pole: about 14.9 million results
totem poll: about 477,000 results
totem polls: about 106,000 results

The errors appear to be around 3% of the total, which isn’t at all terrible. But the raw numbers are very large compared to most other Internet errors I’ve investigated, so it could be much more prominent than it appears. This one bears watching.


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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