Update – “Encountering the Unfamiliar:” Crossing Out, Underscoring, and Misspelling

I am firmly grounded in the editing portion of my essay, “Encountering the Unfamiliar.” As I’ve slowly worked through my various silly mistakes, vague statements, and unsupported arguments over the last four weeks I’ve discovered how truly grateful I am for word-processing. I’ve also developed some sympathy for the many overland emigrants who had to settle with crossing out words, or sloppily scribbling over errant phrases or misspellings. Often times, when more information about a certain dramatic event like a shooting or a supposed-scare by Native Americans, emigrants would include a “note” about the event in days to follow. The most avid diarists recorded their thoughts daily, sometimes at multiple instances during the day, and could only record information as they encountered it. The often poetic sentence structure and clever turns of phrase evidenced in emigrant records by necessity were planned and recorded one word after another. Those who remember the type-writer know the frustrations endemic to this form of writing. We denizens of the digital age have it lucky – the tens of thousands of emigrants who recorded their thoughts about sites like Scotts Bluff made plenty of mistakes, but each one of those peculiar errors (and corrections) reveal little insights into the personality of the writer. Crossing on May 23 1854, Winfield Ebey described the theft of some horses by unseen perpetrators with underlines and strike-throughs that are indicative of his unique writing style: “wolves that had frightened the Cattle Horses.” Why did wolves deserve an underline? Why did he briefly confuse Cattle with Horses? These questions are difficult to answer, but are nevertheless interesting for their value in separating Ebey from other diarists.

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