Monday, January 12, 2009

Nice work, but how about springing for some copy editing?

The New York subway gunman was Bernhard Goetz, with an h, not Bernard; loath and loathe are not the same word; and a candidate who raises $40 million to his opponent's $32 million has outraised her by 25 percent, not 20 percent.

One of those mistakes is from the graphic novel Ex Machina, one is from the novel The Wheelman, and one is from the Daily Kos (which has refused to correct or acknowledge its error).

Now, all three of these are fine pieces of work, but making sure names are spelled correctly, looking out for frequently confused words, and calculating percentage change correctly are three of the first lessons any good copy editor learns.

Sadly, some publishers and blogs apparently treat copy editing the way some newspapers now do: as a luxury easily dispensed with when times are tight. Readers, get ready for floods of mistakes.

What errors have crept into books you've read? Who published those books? And where can you write to those publishers to let them know you'd have appreciated a job done right?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Labels: ,

39 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Oh, man, there are too many to count in too many places.

"Try and do X" is creeping into books, where before I'd seen it only in newspapers and magazines, usually quoting someone who can't be bothered to say "try to," which is correct.

But. Our local news anchors say use that locution all the time. It's only because we paid so much for the TV that I've kept myself from throwing things at it.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anyone who expects any better of television has been fooled by the hype over "The Wire." And did you ever stop to think that maybe part of the lavish praise is overcompensation born of insecurity about the medium?

If there are too many to count, stop, take a deep breath, compile some of the worst ones, post them here, and remember that the people who could repair the problem don't care what you or I think.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

A little later in the year would you ne interested in a joint "fisking" (to use Andrew Sullivan's word) or plain ol fact checking of a chapter in Cultural Amnesia? Maybe our favourite chapter.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

ah the classic n for b blunder. surely thats pardonable...

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Did someone tell you to go fisk yourself?

I had not heard the term fisking before your comment, and some quick research left me uneasy. For one thing, there seems to be some disagreement over the word's meaning. For another, reaction against the practice could too easily bleed into disdain for fact-checking and editing, and to an attitude that getting the facts right is not important.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I can't remember the book [it was total rubbish] but a hand gun was selected for the wife that was 'light as a feather at 3 KILOGRAMS'. The author had done some research but he thought that 300 grams was 3 kilograms. 1000 grams = 1 kilogram.

I don't think the publishers care when the author is a veteran writer as he was in this case. A new writer would probably be told the book was rejected for this one glaring error.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or else he had a pretty strong wife.

I suspect that the publisher would agree that error was regrettable. Whether the publisher would take the necessary steps to reduce the chances the error would be repeated is questionable.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Uriah

I once had a row/discussion with a guy about whether Glock's had safety catches. I told him I had fired a Glock with a manual safety, but he was unconvinced and mentioned in his review that I didnt know a thing about semi automatic pistols.

Peter

Ok forget the fisking lets just do a fact check festival on Uncle Clive. Are you in? You have nothing to gain but the animus of a powerful man. We could double down on Bono's work for the New York Times.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Rare is the crime novel -- and much else -- I read that does not have errors that should have been dealt with by the editor or copy editor, assuming, of course, that they were not responsible for making said errors in the first place, as they most certainly sometimes are. I was reminded once again recently that taking publishers to task over these things is difficult. Having hugely enjoyed Helene Tursten's first Inspector Huss novel, splendidly translated by Steven T. Murray, I was incensed by the translations of the next two Huss books by one Katharina E. Tucker. And so to the Soho Press website with a view to holding forth, only to find once again a publisher who provides addresses for many purposes, but not for reader feedback. Fools.

The latest errors to come my way were, of course, in the crime novel I finished last night: one of J.F. Englert's Randolph novels from Bantam Dell, clever stuff and a lovely sorbet between courses of heavier fare. Therein, what should have been 'sheer' was 'shear' and 'brooch' was rendered 'broach'. This jars considerably. One of the salient characteristics of Randolph, who narrates, is that he is considerably more literate and erudite than your average human, so such errors he would not make. And, therefore, nor would Englert, which is why I suspect here the doings of an editor of some sort. Of course, publishers now farm out copy editing, we know to whom, and we know those copy editors are not in the mould of Peter Rozovsky, if I may so say.

The worst case I've come across? Easy, though this was many years ago and I cannot now recall the book, except that it was a considerable effort by a considerable author, which is why I was so astonished when, about halfway through, I found that the names of most of the major characters had changed. I can surmise what happened there, but not how.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger paul d brazill said...

Dyslexics Untie! Bill Bryson's 'Troublesome Words' is worth a peek, if only to make you feel better when you fisk up!

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I remember making errors like these in my freshman lit class many years ago. My professor learned, I mean, taught me the error of my ways very quickly. Also, if you submitted a paper with a single misspelling, he'd give you an "F."

January 12, 2009  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

I can't remember the books off hand, although I'm sure I've written down the errors when writing about the books on my Literary Memento blog, but I often come across spelling errors.

But before the copy editor, shoudn't the writer themselves have this taken care of?

January 12, 2009  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

I feel for copy editors. When I got back the manuscript of my first book and the copy editor had corrected "blowjob," to "blow job, (two words)" and included the note, "OED," I felt bad this nice lady had to look up stuff like that.

Then I thought about the rest of the stuff she had to look up to edit my book.

There's a story about an Elmore Leonard novel in which he changed the name of the main character because a movie company had bought the rights to the character along with a previous novel - but missed making the change on one page.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

The most egregious examples I've seen of late are in my local newspaper, The Washington Post. Misspelled words, bad grammar, you name it. I've traded notes with one of their columnists who agrees with me-errors that simple to correct, or to do right in the first place, cast doubt on the accuracy of everything else you read--but given the current state of newspapers, we don't see it getting any better.

As for the plight of copy editors, would it kill publishers to hire some whose knowledge of the written word extends beyond the Chicago manual of style? John's "blowjob" story is not a new phenomenon. The most famous story I know of is from Raymond Chandler, who once responded to suggested edits with the following:

"Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have."

January 12, 2009  
Blogger paul d brazill said...

Smashing Dana! Bryson is also good on the urban legend that is 'the split infinative'. The correct place for an adverb( including an adverb of manner) is before the main verb and after the verb 'to be'.Of course, we now live in a world where it's okay to use a state verb in the continuous (I'm lovin' it). I'd have had my ears boxed for that when I was at school but the golden arches have a lot more clout than my old English teacher...

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I once had a row/discussion with a guy about whether Glock's had safety catches. I told him I had fired a Glock with a manual safety, but he was unconvinced and mentioned in his review that I didnt know a thing about semi automatic pistols.

Who was right? Again seeking the bland middle way, is there any possible confusion over the definition of "safety"?

Ok forget the fisking lets just do a fact check festival on Uncle Clive. Are you in? You have nothing to gain but the animus of a powerful man. We could double down on Bono's work for the New York Times.

A fisk fest on Clive James is just too gargantuan a task right now unless I were to be paid for it, in which case I'd happily take on the job as long as it paid by the hour. As for Bono, the first piece was so jaw-droppingly awful that it should be allowed to speak for himself. Perhaps his next piece, should there unfortunately be one, he will get preachy and serious, perhaps even opening with "But seriously, folks."

In re fisk, I salute your patience in not complaining that that was the name of a Red Sox great -- until the team screwed up and let him get away. Of course, even you must acknowledge that a player whose given name is Carlton and nickname is Pudge deserves respect.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rare is the crime novel -- and much else -- I read that does not have errors that should have been dealt with by the editor or copy editor, assuming, of course, that they were not responsible for making said errors in the first place, as they most certainly sometimes are. I was reminded once again recently that taking publishers to task over these things is difficult. Having hugely enjoyed Helene Tursten's first Inspector Huss novel, splendidly translated by Steven T. Murray, I was incensed by the translations of the next two Huss books by one Katharina E. Tucker. And so to the Soho Press website with a view to holding forth, only to find once again a publisher who provides addresses for many purposes, but not for reader feedback. Fools.

The latest errors to come my way were, of course, in the crime novel I finished last night: one of J.F. Englert's Randolph novels from Bantam Dell, clever stuff and a lovely sorbet between courses of heavier fare. Therein, what should have been 'sheer' was 'shear' and 'brooch' was rendered 'broach'. This jars considerably. One of the salient characteristics of Randolph, who narrates, is that he is considerably more literate and erudite than your average human, so such errors he would not make. And, therefore, nor would Englert, which is why I suspect here the doings of an editor of some sort. Of course, publishers now farm out copy editing, we know to whom, and we know those copy editors are not in the mould of Peter Rozovsky, if I may so say.


My favorite example is and always will be the reprint of a Donald Westlake novel, "The Outfit," I think, that spelled a character's name three ways in three uses over two pages. Publishers probably don't care. In fact, let it be said here that written English is reverting to the seventeenth century, back before the time of standardized spelling. If publishers are like newspaper managers, they will deny this and refuse to admit the obvious. As for Soho’s failure to provide an address for feedback, perhaps you might fill the mailboxes of all the addresses, all the while with apologies for the necessity of so doing.

I would not absolve Englert so easily. It's easy to suspect he might have been distracted at the moment he intended to write or type brooch and as a result typed the wrong word. Or perhaps he sought verisimilitude, as Randolph often frets about the unsuitability of his canine appendages for typing.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dyslexics Untie! Bill Bryson's 'Troublesome Words' is worth a peek, if only to make you feel better when you fisk up!

I enjoy Bill Bryson's wrirting, but I have found it hard to stomach best-selling books such as that one, or "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." Those are queer phenomena, books issued by publishers about skills, rules and standards in whose erosion publishers are complicit. Of course, such books may be a concession of defeat on publishers' parts. "There's no way we can pay to ensure the quality of our product," they may be saying, "so all you out there better learn to edit yourself."

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember making errors like these in my freshman lit class many years ago. My professor learned, I mean, taught me the error of my ways very quickly. Also, if you submitted a paper with a single misspelling, he'd give you an "F."

I admit I went to journalism school for a master's degree. One professor there gave an automatic zero for any assignment with, I think, three misspellings or with a single misspelling of a proper noun. I long ago had occasion to observe that writers and assigning editors were held to no such standards at my newspaper, and the situation has become far, far worse since then.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Clandestine Samurai said...
I can't remember the books off hand, although I'm sure I've written down the errors when writing about the books on my Literary Memento blog, but I often come across spelling errors.

But before the copy editor, shoudn't the writer themselves have this taken care of?


I'll visit your blog to look for your citations of those errors.

Yes, a writer should do everything he or she can to ensure a perfect manuscript. But the publisher should not rely on that happening. And, of course, even the most careful writer will slip up.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John McFetridge said...
I feel for copy editors. When I got back the manuscript of my first book and the copy editor had corrected "blowjob," to "blow job, (two words)" and included the note, "OED," I felt bad this nice lady had to look up stuff like that.


I like the idea of blow job and OED in such close proximity. But that copy editor was doing her job. If only more publishers hired people like her.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I'm not surprised that the columnist agrees with you. Everybody pays lip service to that proposition, but when the time comes to cut staff, look who ges booted out the door.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, the stative-verb thing may have some sociology behind it. i first became aware of the "I'm loving it" slogan on signs in Philadelphia's subways, which are highly segregated by race and class. (A writer in my newspaper once contrasted this with New York, where even the billionaire mayor rides the subway to work.)

I also know that stative use of normally non-stative verbs is a feature of at least some varieties of black American English, as in "I've been knowing her for years." Further, I once read that some African languages use stative verbs more frequently than English.

Whether this explains the feature in black American English, I don't know, but McDonalds' use of the slogan may be a calculated commercial appeal to potential black customers.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger N/A said...

Peter,

Now I'm afraid to write you.

I try not to make errors, but in a rush to publish or post I often do.
I use spellcheck, so that helps with spelling.

I once made an error writing my online "Crime Beat" column about AFI's list of greatest heroes and villains. I picked Ian Fleming's Goldfinger as one of the great villains (I also picked Orson Welles' Harry Lime among others).

I meant to write that Goldfinger attempted to rob the gold depositary at Fort Knox, but what I wrote was that Goldfinger attempted to rob the gold suppository...

My editor is a good one, but he missed the error, and later a reader responded that he thought I was being clever. I admitted that it was an error.

Paul
daviswrite@aol.com

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The gold suppository ... very good, but it was the finger that was gold not, er, some other body part.

In fact, there is no need to afraid of writing to me. I've made my share of errors on this blog, which is not a tragedy because this is still a somewhat informal forum. Such mistakes only demonstrate the need for a second set of editorial eyes when the forum is more formal. And that's what I plan to say to anyone who catches mistakes in my writing here: Of course there are mistakes. The writer is the only person who read this before publication. There was no copy editor.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Nice discussion, everyone. And I agree with Peter (I think) in saying that it would be a real shame if anyone who wanted to post a thought here was afraid to because of the inevitable errors we all make in our posts.

I once heard from someone I very much respected that texts inevitably contain errors. The more they are passed down, copied and recopied, the more errors they contain. You would think this problem might be eliminated in the electronic age, but it ain't necessarily so. Programs have their own share of bugs in them.

Blogs and their comments are informal, yes, but the great potentiality in them is that their copy editing can be almost immediate, because other posters can say, no, that's not exactly right, here's why. It's still informal, but it is a kind of check and balance. Which is quite different from many publishing ventures today.

January 12, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I don't think Paul is really afraid to post here.

Your suggestion sounds something like group copy editing, which sounds like a Wikipedia-type argument. That sort of thing might work for factual errors, but I'm not sure it would work for fine-tuning copy. I might jump in and correct a Clive James on helicopters, for example, but I probably would not bother to complain about the sorts of sloppy usage or misspellings that a copy editor might catch. Hence, errors reproduce themselves. Everyone heralds the democratization of information brought about by the Internet, but the boosters are less likely to suggest that this could mean a loosening (or a decline, depending on one's perspective) of standards in matter of spelling, grammar, usage and so on. To acknowledge this would not be boosterish.

Now, people communicated perfectly well before English spelling was standardized in the eighteenth century, and there's no reason to suppose that they will not do so again if spelling, grammar and so on become destandardized. Where this becomes dangerous, as with Clive James' trouble with helicopters or the Daily Kos' ignorance of basic math, I can't predict. We in the West have a habit of thinking that everything progresses. The suggestion that a technological advance can bring regression or de-evolution is not often made, I think.

January 13, 2009  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

Great thread, Peter. So good I have to break my AA pledge (to no longer distract myself by blogging) and chip in. (And by the way, how about that for a split infinitive? Chandler spit your little black heart out.)

Anyhow, when I worked as an editor, I had to disarm about twenty verbal mines a day - and sadly missed just as many.
My favourite concerned how the Derry football manager was going to bring on some young talent at the end of the season. The headline, as written by my sports ed, read: 'Derry boss poised to experiment with youth'...

I caught that one - but the same writer was a devil for the 'literallys'. The famous one-that-got-away concerned a centre-forward who missed his shot and was "literally beside himself with rage". And a least once a week, I would discover a striker "literally a mile offside". And yes, we also once announced how a player who scored his first goal was "literally over the moon".

The sports hack, as if you hadn't guessed, was an ex-boxer.

I'm sure you've heard many times the (no doubt apocryphal) tale of Queen Victoria opening the new O'Connell Street bridge in Dublin in the late 1890s.

The Irish Times headline the next day was supposed to read: 'Queen passes over new bridge'.

But allegedly a disgruntled sub (as we refer to copy editors in these parts) changed the 'a' in the second word to an 'i'...

I would like to believe such a thing could never happen - but then I am the man whose newspaper once told its readership that there would be a 'pubic inquiry' into allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

Lesson for today: nothing is gremlin-proof.

January 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Garbhan, as harshly as I may denounce my newspaper, the first injunction in its stylebook makes great sense: Trust your ear. And avoiding an odd-sounding sentence is the only valid reason to avoid splitting an infinitive. (Whether a given staff member has ears worth trusting or enough gray matter to keep those ears from banging into each other is another question.)

I had not heard about the "Queen passes over new bridge" headline. Had I been running the paper, I'd have called in the offending sub-editor, relieved him of his duties, and made him a columnist at a hefty raise.

"Lesson for today: nothing is gremlin-proof."

Lesson for today: The world offers rich opportunity for comedy.

P.S. Did "pubic inquiry" make it into the paper the same day "Derry boss poised to experiment with youth" got held out, or would that be too rich a bounty to hope for?

And have you ever heard or read the American comedians Bobd and Ray? Among many other wonderdul things, they did highly entertaining skits about a sportscaster who could well have written for your paper.

January 13, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Hey! Who's (not whose!) to say it was the fault of unnamed gremlins? This may be a case in which Hanlon's Razor should apply.

January 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Er, that's "Bob and Ray," not "Bobd and Ray."

Malice would make for tragedy, stupidity for comedy and satire, I suppose.

January 13, 2009  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

On the whole, I can live with split infinitives and the like, but I get irritated by errors that suggest the writer doesn't know (or hasn't thought about) how to string a sentence together. Last weekend,in a serious newspaper, I read a major review by a fairly well-known author which included the phrase: 'each section of the novel makes their own contribution'. I assume that the writer had grown accustomed to using 'their' as an alternative to 'his or her' in phrases of this kind and hadn't stopped to think that, in this case, he could use a perfectly non-contentious 'its'. Or maybe he wasn't sure whether 'its' should have an apostrophe.

Funnily enough, I seem to recall that there's a chapter in 'Cultural Amnesia' where Clive James attacks just this kind of lazy writing/thinking. The phrase 'hostage to fortune' springs to mind...

January 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hate to sound like an old fart, but perhaps that writer is too young to recognize his error. Perhaps the error was deliberate, and the writer congratulates himself for being open-minded in matters of gender. And yes, I mean gender. I feel compelled to explain this because puritanical misuse of gender when the writer means but is afraid to use sex is another of those things that drive me nuts. For a while I was sure that the misuse of their as a singular was coming to be acceptable. Now I'm not so sure.

And thanks for the defense of Clive James. You remained surprisingly silent during the recent great helicopter debate here.

January 13, 2009  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

Yes, I was away over Christmas and so missed the great Clive James debate - by the time I was back on-line, everything seemed to have been said. And James needs no defence from me, especially if the great Peter Temple is there to take up the cudgels. For what it's worth, I think 'Cultural Amnesia' is a terrific book. I don't agree with everything James writes (and his generalisations can be breathtakingly sweeping) but I admire his wit and wisdom. And I think we should applaud his intellectual ambition, even if we should also point out his errors.

And, yes, I suspect we're both old farts for knowing the difference between 'gender' and 'sex'.

January 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Damn, we're not old farts, we're comrades in arms.

I did track down, read and enjoy what Clive James had to say about Richard Burton's haircut in the movie in question. I love the idea that James is enough of a generalist to range widely in his commentary. We need more such people. I shall be pleased if I find no more errors in his writing, disappointed and anxious if I do. I would hate for errors to deprive me of the pleasure of his wit.

January 14, 2009  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

Love the Hanlon’s razor concept. Fuck-ups are always a lot more likely than stitch-ups.
I still reserve my right to believe that the devil will leave a bullet in an empty chamber, though.
I’ve proof-read infinite newspapers and countless books and know for certain fact that errors appear magically in printed copy that weren’t there when I read the last draft.
I also accept entirely our host’s argument that the (proof-reading) world offers rich opportunity for comedy. Though often it’s not that funny at the time…
Years ago, before computers, a paper I worked for employed a typesetter whose job it was to input death notices, and memoriam ads, all day every day. He was brilliant at it.
Until one day, he was inputting an obituary poem which began: “Daddy you are now in heaven…” Our staffer had, it is suggested, been on the beer the night before and unfortunately so had the entire (two-man) copy-reading department. So what appeared in the paper was: “Daddy, you are NOT in heaven…”
Not a patch on the ‘Curb Your Experience’ sketch about the dead aunt’s obit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpDiZLrTHX4) but it nearly cost our man his job. As it was, he was sent round to the distraught family’s home with a bunch of flowers and warned not to come back until he was sure they weren’t suing. God be with the days...Today they'd have driven off in the owner's Jag.
Around that same time, the production department of the same paper went out for a Christmas lunch and got ploughed. They then decided it would be a great idea to drop in a few naughty words into the Classified Ads' pages to see if the copy-readers were awake.
Alas, they weren’t. And the following day, an ad appeared, announcing: “Tractor for sale. Owner a sheep farmer (pervert). Contact…”
This time there was a sacking.

January 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hanlon's razor makes sense. Malice is hard work; stupidity is easy. I am reading, for practical reasons, a wonderful little book by a moral philospher called On Bullshit. The book makes a similar point that I may discuss here later.

What, was that a Lord's Prayer from one of those new Bible versions:

"Our daddy, you are in heaven."

Was the prduction department sacked after calls from customers angry that there was no tractor?

January 14, 2009  
Blogger Matthew E said...

The error I remember best was from one of Parnell Hall's mystery novels. He referred to DOS as standing for 'Direct Operating System', instead of 'Disk Operating System'. And then he did it again in another book that he wrote as J.P. Hailey. Just in case anyone had any doubts about the pseudonym...

January 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

At least Parnell Hall has the courage of his mistakes, no matter what name he uses. At least, too, publishing houses will still likely exist in the next six months to two years, providing a home for these mistakes to make their way into print. The same might not be the case for newspapers.

January 15, 2009  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home