Tenafly, New Jersey. It's not a city or a town. It's not a village or even a hamlet. It's a borough. But just because it's a mere borough doesn't mean its name deserves anything less than accurate spelling on government-issued road signage. After all, Manhattan is a borough and no one would ever allow an official sign to be posted that depicts a misspelling of Manhattan. Tenafly deserves the same courtesy, yet recently, had been deprived of that simple dignity on a sign in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey--until the Proofreader did something about it.
As you can see in the highlighted picture above, this directional road sign situated at the intersection of Hudson Terrace and Palisade Avenue featured a glaring misspelling: "Teanfly." The name Tenafly traces its roots back to 1688 and is derived from Dutch words meaning "ten swamps" after settlers named it "Tiene Vly." That's actually a cool bit of trivia behind the borough's name, something that shouldn't be sullied by incompetent use of the language. What about Teanfly?
Teanfly is derived from sloppy writing and careless proofreading and means nothing--not nearly as cool as Tenafly. How does a mistake like this happen anyway, given that so many sets of eyes view the copy written on the sign before it gets posted? Even the guy who physically put the sign up didn't notice Tenafly was misspelled? Or did he notice the error, ignore it and hang a faulty sign without notifying his superiors?
We may never know. After discovering the error, the Proofreader contacted Peter Rustin, mayor of Tenafly, who confirmed that the sign was the responsibility of Bergen County. In early 2009, when the mistake was brought to the attention of Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, a self-described stickler for accuracy, he was reluctant to speculate on its origin.
According to County Executive McNerney, one man, whom he declined to name, makes that particular type of directional road signs for all the counties in the state. County Executive McNerney was unable to say if Bergen County sent the sign maker flawed copy or whether the sign maker screwed up Bergen County's copy. Either way, despite all the opportunities for the mistake to have been noticed and a new sign to have been made, the defective sign was still put up.
As much as that apparent breakdown feeds the perception of government ineptitude, once the mistake was brought to County Executive McNerney's attention, the county executive, to his credit, leaped into action and ordered a new sign. A few weeks later, the directional sign with the misspelling was taken down and replaced with a brand new sign that featured the correct spelling of Tenafly, as you can see in the picture below.
When contacted by e-mail for comment on the posting of the new sign, Mayor Rustin responded, "The misspelling of our name reflected poorly not only on the County but our municipality as well. [This is] One small victory for accuracy and correct spelling!"
Governments are generally thought to waste money doing things the wrong way and, a lot of the time, that's true. While this scenario, in which Bergen County wasted money on a mistake that never should've been made, is by no means the portrait of government efficiency, at least the County acknowledged the mistake and promptly fixed it. Hopefully this kind of response will be a trend that gains traction with all governments, regardless of their size and the size of problems with which they're faced.
This post was originally published on April 2, 2009.