John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The $18,000 typo

Penguin Group Australia is pulping 7,000 copies of The Pasta Bible cookbook because the recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto called for sprinkling the dish with “salt and freshly ground black people.”

How people came to be substituted for pepper was not announced. It is not at all uncommon for the wrong synapse to fire in a writer’s brain, particularly when concentration is momentarily relaxed, substituting the wrong word for the correct word. Some errors are the result of a category called a cupertino, in which the electronic spell-check function does not recognize a typed word and substitutes the one most nearly resembling it in its dictionary file.

Then, of course, comes the embarrassment of the proofreader, who let this mistake slip through his or her hands. Once again, if attention flags even momentarily, the brain is given to pass quickly over words it recognizes. The wrong word correctly spelled is one of the great hazards that editors and proofreaders encounter.

You may snicker, but you too could have committed this error, or overlooked it. So could I. So could anyone. And this inborn propensity to get things wrong, dear ones, is why old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy, stick-in-the-mud, nineteenth-century-industrial-era-production-model editors suspect that the current enthusiasm among cheese-paring corporate types for fewer-touches, sack-editors-and-save-bucks, direct-to-the-reader, nobody-cares-about-accuracy-anyhow publishing may encounter some unanticipated expenses.


16 comments:

  1. More folly from the War on Editing . . .

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  2. Back when I was practicing law, our firm didn't have a copy editor so one lawyer and I would run our writing by each other (usually around the second or third draft). Now that I'm on the bench, I see a number of briefs that could stand the same treatment.

    Usually the mistakes are similar to that found in the Wicked Bible, which in 1631 told us "Thou shalt commit adultery." It's amazing the difference a simple three letter word can make. Sometimes it only takes two letters.

    "Your Honor, as I stated in my brief, a search under these circumstances is plainly constitutional. The motion to exclude the evidence found in the search should be denied."

    "Actually counselor, your brief asserts that the search is unconstitutional."

    "Exactly, so that ... wait ... it says what?"

    The lesson learned, of course, is that it's rarely effective to go around making your opponents' points for them. At least, I hope those lawyers learn that lesson and pay more attention to their writing. Or hire a copy editor.

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  3. Oh my, this is the funniest thing I have read all day. One of my favorite "catches" in my LIFE was when I realized a friend had left the "L" out of her Master's Degree in Public Administration on her resume. I mean, she was in the health field but I don't think her training was that specific!

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  4. You're right about the synapse. It's strange how words just land there on the page "out of nowhere." When I catch them, I find myself wondering what I was thinking. When I don't catch them I pretend I didn't write the piece.

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  5. Raising the stakes of typographic shame is an error that cost the Irish government €1 million over six years.

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  6. I've just noticed the awkward ambiguity of my previous comment. Oops. The intended meaning should be clear, though.

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  7. This is now my all-time favorite typographic error. Previously it was in a proposal from a designer who wanted to decorate a country-themed restaurant with "big, ceramic bowels."

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  8. I had read about the typo on another blog, but didn't know the cost to the publisher. Of course, when so much of our information comes to us on the Web, corrections can be made instanteously -- if the errors are spotted. It still takes a good editor -- or a crabby word nerd blogger -- to identify them.

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  9. That last sentence of the post is now one of my favorite sentences of all time.

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  10. Just as well we can snicker. I hope guffaws are acceptable, too.

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  11. You said, "Then, of course, comes the embarrassment of the proofreader, who let this mistake slip through his or her hands." That assumes there was a proofreader.

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  12. My favorite typo occurred many years ago in a 36 pt. headline in the Columbus, Ga., Enquirer. The article was about Fort Rucker, an Alabama Army post. You guess the typo.

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  14. Patricia the TerseApril 21, 2010 at 1:45 AM

    Perhaps it wasn't an error. There likely are tribes in Africa which still adhere to customs in which...well, I probably needn't elaborate. In any case, this might well be a job for an anthropologist, rather than an editor. (This story reminds me of Ray Walston in "Damn Yankees" singing "Those Were the Good Old Days."

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  15. As always, this emphasizes how wonderful it is when there are multiple steps in the proofreading process.

    My worst-ever clunker came when, immersed in small-town municipal election fervour, it completely escaped my mind that in print, Gilles Forget's last name doesn't necessarily favour the (correct) French pronounciation. "Forget new mayor of Iroquois Falls" -- now that's a header to remember.

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  16. I wonder if some poor copy editor got canned over this.

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