Thursday, April 22, 2010

Copy-editing error turns up in classic movie

Alfred Hitchcock's movie Shadow of a Doubt is all about a young California woman's realization of the shocking truth about her beloved Uncle Charlie.

Just as shocking is bald evidence that bad copy editing goes back at least to 1943. A pivotal scene has Teresa Wright's Charlotte learning from a newspaper article about the past that Joseph Cotten's Charles, for whom she was named, so desperately conceals.

The article trumpets the quest for the notorious Merry-Widow Murderer (with a hyphen), who is referred to later in the same article, however, as the hyphenless Merry Widow Murderer. A competent copy editor would have caught this inconsistency. The reassessment of Hitchcock's critical reputation begins now.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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27 Comments:

Anonymous Ernest said...

I always thought Hitchcock was overrated.

"...leaning from a newspaper article..." Sounds dangerous.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You are proof that editing standards have risen since Hitchcock's time. Thanks.

I am among the Hitchcock-worshipers, I'm afraid.

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Cute, very.

However, among my editor/copyeditor friends the issue of hyphenating double word modifiers before nouns is controversial.

Some put in the hyphens, some take them out. It gets confusing. Everyone has an explanation.

This particular example would have them agreeing or disagreeing as to the right form.

I used to be pro-hyphen but have moderated my position recently.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I am still pro-hyphen, though not quite as staunchly as I once was. Broad-minded as I am, however, some of my best friends go hyphenless. Still, one ought not to switch in mid-article.

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Consistency, as they say, is what counts. If the style is consistent within the article, or within the page if there are a few articles, then that seems to be the rule.

What gets confusing is if the editor, copyeditor and proofreaders prefer different styles on this--or anything else.

Now my issue these days is what is happening to emdashes? Folks I know are using commas more and emdashes less even if a clause really needs to be emphasized and/or separated out from the sentence.

What's up with this?

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

That's it, the Fat Man's legacy is ruined.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, my issue for some time has been use of semi-colons where a comma or even a period is called for. I always suspected that writers thought this lent their work a thoughtful air, as if they were so full of significant pronouncements that they had to add just one more thought when they were about to break off the sentence.

I had not noticed the em-dash phenomenon, but I can guess at an explanation: Writers may not know how to produce the mark on their keyboard. I don't know how to do this on my computer at home, for instance. When you see an em dash on my blog — and I use them often — I have cut-and-pasted it from elsewhere.

What gets confusing is if the editor, copyeditor and proofreaders prefer different styles on this--or anything else.

Which is why publications need style guides. A given practice in punctuation or spelling or capitalization may not be wrong in any reasonable sense, but inconsistency of usage will make a publication look sloppy.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's it, the Fat Man's legacy is ruined.

Loren, it's a shame Hitchcock never made one of his whimsically marginal cameo appearances in the role of a copy editor.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

were it not for Mrs. Hitchcock, Janet Leigh would have swallowed while laying dead after the shower scene in PSYCHO. She caught it in a home screening after Hitch thought the film was done.

Another grain of sand in the "Hitchcock was a hack pile."

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I'm reading He Died with His Eyes Open at the moment and that's got some very peculiar hyphenation going on: pro-foundly, cheer-fully and even the character's name Staniland gets a hyphen stuck in the middle of it at one point.

BTW, you can get an em-dash by holding down alt and pressing 0151 on the numeric keypad. On my laptop, which has no numeric keypad, you have to have numlock on, hold down alt and press mjij

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I could use your evidence to reach an opposite conclusion: that Hitchcock was a master of detail who knew how to assemble the right people to make a movie.

If that Mrs. Hitchcock was Alma Reville, she was a frequent collaborator, at least on the writing side. This would be just one more contribution on her part.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, thanks for the tip on the em dash and how to achieve it. That's one of my favorite punctuation marks.

I wonder if that odd hyphenation is an attention-getting visual device. I don't know much about Derek Raymond, but somehow that strikes me as the sort of thing he might do, just one more bit of bitter revolt against his privileged upbringing.

Fashions in hyphenation change. The style at my newspaper is generally to hyphenate compound modifiers unless the compound is so well known as to eliminate any possibility of confusion. Thus, major league baseball, high school dance but two-book deal. Obviously compounds can shed their hyphens as they become more common — and they do, as one will see from reading books printed as recently as the early or middle twentieth century.

Two additional factors come into play: the increasing sloppiness and illiteracy of the American public, with less attention paid to niceties of punctuation, and writing across national boundaries via the Internet and other means. British and, I think, Irish practice will tend to include a hyphen between a modifier and the word it modifies, where American writing would not. Writers and editors must decide which practice to follow when writing for an international audience. And, while major league baseball can go hyphenless in America, the same might not be the case in India, Australia or Ireland.

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I'm not a huge Raymond fan but his style is all I could wish for: simple, direct, unaffected. So, I'd be pretty sure the odd insertion of hyphens had nothing to do with him.

I don't pay too much attention to best practice on hyphens myself. I only worry about clarity. If the meaning looks perfectly clear without a hyphen, then I tend to leave it out. And be damned with what the style manuals say. Although, as has been pointed out here already, consistency is desirable.

Having made such a perfectly sensible comment, it does seem a trifle unfair that my v-word should be dipiness.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My profession dictates that I pay attention to hyphens. I'll indulge a reporter and assigning editor who send a story to the copy desk with incorrect hyphenation; they stray, and they can be rendered literate with my loving care. I will absolutely not abide slobs who care so little for their own work that they don't even bother to make sure it's consistent, whether in matter of hyphens, punctuation, usage or any other matter of style.

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I'm sure those reporters and assigning editors love you with a devotion that is impossible to quantify.

It did occur to me after my last comment that what is admirably clear to me is not something that is necessarily clear to someone else. But I find that no matter how long I contemplate a comment, no matter how often I preview it, what I really want to say only occurs to me after I press 'Publish Your Comment.'

I think the v-word has decided to suck up to me. The current one is verslike.

BTW, have you ever come across the tvtropes.org site
? My well-developed inner-nerd finds it weirdly-fascinating. The origens of this site seem to be in TV, SF, fantasy and anime, but I think it's very appropriate to crime fiction given how often the same conventions and devices are used by crime writers.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

They love me with a devotion impossible sometimes even to express.

The beauty of a blog is that you can always post an additional comment. The beauty of that is that it builds up my traffic.

Congratulations on your succession of telling v-words. And thanks for that trope list. It has some relevance to my next post, which should be up in a few hours. That post also concerns a novel set in Dublin.

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, being something of a clodpate on internet matters my idea of traffic is a little bit different than yours.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Groovy! That's the band with the guy whose music was in the beer commercials, isn't it?

I saw Stevie Winwood live in Barcelona once as part of an all-star band that also included Arturo Sandoval and Tito Puente. Some of his stuff sounded good in that line-up. Some did not.

April 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I agree on needing periods at the end of complete sentences, and not just adding on more via use of a semi-colon. I do not see why--in articles or books--a sentence can't simply end and then a new one begin.

I read a book which had an enormous number of exclamation points, a few on each page. It was awful. One didn't know what was really being emphasized.

And that book also used colons constantly, a few on each page. All sorts of constructs popped up using colons.

One sentence made me laugh as it was so awkward. Here is a facsimile of it:

There were many types of footprints in the yard: cats', rabbits' and badgers'.

So while colons are being used more and sometimes very wisely, it's not always good.

April 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've been noticing less misuse of exclamation points recently.

There were many types of footprints in the yard: cats', rabbits' and badgers'.

The excruciatingly correct use of the plural possessive in a series is what makes that sentence awkward.

April 23, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Awkward's the least unpleasant word you could use to describe that. Yuk.

Small mammals' footprints could be seen all over the yard.

Which reminds me of the vocalized joke I heard somewhere: "Hark! I hear footprints!"

Test—test—test. Huh. I typically just double the hyphen when I want a dash. Nice to know there's an alternative.

April 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Footprints covered the yard --
Cats. Rabbits. Badgers.

Cats. Rabbits. Badgers. Small footprints covered the yard.

April 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Footpritns covered the yard, and not human ones, either. Cats. Rabbits. A badger that favored its left front foot and walked with a cane that had left deep circular impressions in the dewy sod.

April 24, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

Your badger sounds like a character dropped from Treasure Island.

April 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

That's what the badger wanted me to think, but I knew better.

April 24, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Several small mammals had scampered through the backyard: cats, rabbits, badgets.

Forget the footprints.

I like the disabled badger. Must be a clue to an unsolved crime. The badger's uneven footprints were found at the scene of a murder. Upon closer examination, he was found to be using a cane, a cane which had been lost by a disabled boy in a village ten miles away. The cane tied in the child's uncle to the murder as he had used it to hit the poor victim. Fingerprints were on the cane.

April 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Little fingerprints left by cats, rabbits, and, saddest of all for one unfortuante Mydaus javanensis, badgers.

April 24, 2010  

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