Thursday, September 09, 2010

Mistakes beyond borders

As of this posting, the following still appears in the Toronto Star's Sept. 4 review of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom:

"The women are strong, a little slutty and adverse to self-analysis and other intellectual pursuits ..."
Illiteracy is always painful (the word the reviewer wanted was averse), but especially so in a book review.

(If the Star has corrected its mistake, thanks.)

***
The Star preserves the error as of  6:14 p.m., Jan. 23, 2012 7:46 p.m., March 28, 2013— and yes, it has been notified of the mistake. Correct English usage is apparently obviously optional at the Toronto Star.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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34 Comments:

Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I regularly spot similar errors in Irish newspapers these days,including the venerable Irish Times.
And ex-Irish soccer manager, Steve 'Stan' Staunton has morphed into something of a modern-day Mrs Malaprop
"thats another fine mess he's got himself into!"

Peter I take it you haven't heard that my Tipperary dethroned the 'Drive for Five' seeking Kilkenny in last Sunday's All-Ireland Hurling Final.
And did it in some style, too

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had so heard, but i did not know or had forgotten that you were a Tip man.

I had scouted out two bars here where the match was being shown, but alas, it was not meant to be for me to get out of bed and go to a bar so early on a Sunday. I did watch some highlights, though, and Tipperary's keeper made quite a number of fine saves. And hurlers must be stronger men than their American counterparts in other sports. That Henry Shefflin was able to try to play so soon after a ligament injury is something one would not likely see here.

I don't read the Star regularly enough to know if that sort of thing is typical there, but it's a depressing error because it's so easy to make, whether or nor the writer is even aware he's making a mistake. The error is so easy to make -- if one is momentarily distracted while writing, for example -- that editors need to train themselves to look out for it.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

A particular bugbear of mine, quite apart from poor proofreading, or whatever the newspaper disciplines that are supposed to trap such errors, are the quality of article structure here, particularly the sizes, and variety of length, of paragraphs.

I don't know about you but I believe there's a happy medium between the occasional paragraph of 24 lines length, and a succession of 4 line paragraphs.

As for Henry Shefflin's injury; a whole circus grew out of speculation as to whether he, and a number of key players, would be fit for the Final; I don't know was it intended to deflect the pressure from the players , given that they were on the cusp of history, or was it prompted by observation of how much the 'drive for five' talk was getting to them.
Either way the beating was more comprehensive than the final scoreline would indicate.

Many of the Tipp players feature in the Under-21 Final v Galway, this coming Saturday

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That sort of structural problem, which can put readers to sleep, should be taken care of before the article gets to the sub-editor's desk.

Assuming the problem is merely poor division of paragraphs, and not incurably wretched prose, the trouble can be fixed with a few clicks of the return key.

Shefflin had to come off the field with an injury during the final, didn't he? Was that to the same knee he had injured earlier?

Mmm, it appears that Tír na nÓg here in Philadelphia will not show the Under-21 final. I would think Tipperary's presence in that final indicates the potential for continued strength at the senior level. I remember that Kilkenny played in, and I think won, the U-18 final which preceded the All-Ireland final that I saw. I remember thinking then that this meant Kilkenny would probably continue at the top for a few more years.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The structural problem I get really annoyed with these days is the single-sentence paragraph.

Bill Plaschke of the LA Times sports page is the most frequent practitioner of this I've run across. It's bad enough I disagree with him about 90% of the time, but his style is as obnoxious as his opinion.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A one-sentence paragraph, judiciously used, can be as effectively surprising as the occasional "bullshit." Overused, it becomes an annoying, innefective quirk. I wonder if newspaper writers display such quirks more than they used to.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

Using what is clearly the wrong word does tend to cast doubt on the reviewer's qualifications to criticize a work of literary fiction. It's amazing how many news sources don't see how errors such as this--which is nothing but sloppiness--can cast doubt on the accuracy of everything in the paper.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"That sort of structural problem, which can put readers to sleep, should be taken care of before the article gets to the sub-editor's desk."
I wonder is it a sign that the writer didn't take enough time to re-read his article, to decide which sentences/paragraphs he wished to most emphasise?

I've also noticed quite a few journalists who regularly pepper their articles with a number of one-sentence paragraphs.
Which, granted, can often be effective, but whose overuse might lead one to conclude an over-dependence on soundbites
And how about (approximately) ten uses of ellipse in an opening paragraph?

I'm sure by this stage you're probably regretting opening this 'Pandora's Box', Peter, but it does seem to me the standards of journalism here have slipped consideably in the past year or more

As regards the Under 21 Final, three of the key players in the Senior team, all of whom look shoo-ins for selection of the Team of the Year, star in Saturday's Final, - Noel McGrath, and Brendan and Pardraig Maher (no relation).

I saw the previous two games and they serve to provide great encouragement that we are best equipped to go on a run of consecutive senior wins.

A minor (under 18) victory is no guarantee of subsequent senior success, but, given the current structures in place in both Tipperary and Kilkenny, the other counties are fearful that we will be sharing the Senior title over the course of the next decade, at least.

btw, I meant to ask you, prior to the Final, of your memories of the Islanders 'Drive for Five' which Wayne Gretzky's Oilers thwarted

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, the reviewer might -- might -- deserve the benefit of the doubt. Anyone can be distracted for a moment while typing. But where was the reviewer's assigning editor? Where were the copy editors -- assuming the Star still gives its copy that scrutiny?

It does not amaze me that news sources fail to see how such errors can cast doubt on the accuracy of everything in the paper. In hard economic times, copy editing, which might be called quality control in other industries, is always the first to suffer. In addition, newsrooms are generally run by former reporters, not by former copy editors.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

" In hard economic times, copy editing, which might be called quality control in other industries, is always the first to suffer."
Well, lets hope your particular job is safe for a while yet.

I wonder has the Irish Times cut back on its copy editor staff?
I would have thought that, irrespective of the content of its articles, any quality newspaper would want to ensure that it continues to be perceived to be so, and it is the finished product that they will ultimately be judged on, and not the work that went into it, or the honourable intentions.

In my profession, accountant, I had such a reputation for forensic scrutiny of final accounts that colleagues often didn't want me to read them before publication.
But I've spotted some incredible howlers over the years that had the potential to scupper the respective employer's reputation

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder is it a sign that the writer didn't take enough time to re-read his article, to decide which sentences/paragraphs he wished to most emphasise?

It could be. The shrinking size of the page in some newspapers, with the consequent narrowing of columns, might share responsibility as well. If a reporter's computer displays the story at the width it will appear in the paper, even shortish paragraphs can seem awfully long. Hence, perhaps, a tendency to break up paragraphs.

Which, granted, can often be effective, but whose overuse might lead one to conclude an over-dependence on soundbites

Yep.

And how about (approximately) ten uses of ellipse in an opening paragraph?
That is bad. As with one-sentence paragraphs, the three dots used by writers to indicate ellipses and overused by writers who think this lends urgency to their prose, lose their effectiveness rapidly with overuse. An ellipsis mark ought to be reserved for an ellipsis -- to indicate omissions in quoted material. Its overuse otherwise may indicate writers' ignorance of traditional punctuation marks.

I'm sure by this stage you're probably regretting opening this 'Pandora's Box', Peter, but it does seem to me the standards of journalism here have slipped considerably in the past year or more

Professional considerations prevent me from commenting.

...

btw, I meant to ask you, prior to the Final, of your memories of the Islanders 'Drive for Five' which Wayne Gretzky's Oilers thwarted

It has been a while since I followed sports in a big way, but memories would likelier be of the Montreal Canadiens' drive for five, which those Islanders thwarted.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"It has been a while since I followed sports in a big way, but memories would likelier be of the Montreal Canadiens' drive for five, which those Islanders thwarted"
I know you mentioned you had attended the 2008 All-Ireland Final, but its just a pity that it hadn't been one of the two succeeding Finals you had got to, each of whom has been described as one of the, if not the greatest in living memory, both for the skill levels, and physical intensity and commitment of the play.

The 2008 Final was arguably the biggest non-event in living memory, even if it displayed this great Kilkenny team at the peak of their powers.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if the current run of All-Ireland Finals is exhausting the superlatives of Irish sports writers and fans. Sportswriters fell over themselves trying to come up with adequate praise for the 2008 Kilkenny team. Perhaps they did the same trying to descibe the quality of competition in the two more recent Finals.

I do remember that the 2008 Final ceased to be competitive after the first nine or ten minutes. It was quite something to see.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Its funny because its usually more the case that one views the past more favourably through a golden veil of nostalgia, but I can't honestly remember seeing two better games, in over 40 years of watching.
That might be partly due to the fitness levels and physiques of the current players, who have still managed to maintain the delicate artistry of the best players of past generations.
For example many of the former greats like our own Michael 'Babs' Keating, John Leahy - pronounced La-Hee in Tipperary - and Cork's Gerald McCarthy, were either relatively rotund or short and squat, where most of today's greats are rangy, athletic six-footers.

Incidentally, speaking of Leahy's pronunciation, the Cork equivalent is pronounced phonetically; the great Kilkenny hurler, Tommy Walsh's surname is usually pronounced Welsh in Kilkenny and Tipperary, but pronounced phonetically elsewhere
Go figure!

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, maybe this really is a golden age of hurling. The friend I stayed with in Ireland is a lifelong fan who also played the game, and he called the 2008 Kilkenny team possibly the best ever.

Leahy has always been pronounced Lay-hee here, as far as I know. The pronunciation lesson I for at the 2008 Final was from the Waterford supporter who kept saying: "Ahfer foegh's sake!"

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

its pronounced "'ah-fer fook's ache", or perhaps that might be 'fuke's' in non-West Brit/Durt areas of Dublin.

btw, Michael Gambon, who's from the North Side of Dublin, and acquired/developed a somewhat plummy British accent over the course of a long and distinguished acting career, gave the best rendition of a "ah-fer fook's ache" Dublin accent in Kevin Costner's 'Open Range', particularly in the climactic stages

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I never knew Gambon was Irish. He was appearing on stage when I was in Dublin, but no tickets were available.

I remember thinking that I had seen "fook" in Irish writing and the euphemistic "feck." But this guy's pronunciation was more like "Ah-fer fock's sake."

Since he was rooting for Waterford, I thought his might be a regional pronunciation.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah, his pronunciation was probably regional; the pronunciation in my corner of Ireland, South Tipp, South-West Kilkenny, North Waterford is largely indistinguishable, - quite flat, and something of a drawl, - but I haven't lived there in 30 years so I can't quite place your friend's accent.

Feck is something of a polite - for religious reasons- compromise.
As is the cuter, non-blasphemous, Jay-sus!

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know I could imitate the pronunciation perfectly today, but I think I had it down pretty well at the time. I got to hear it more than once, the way Waterford played that afternoon.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would have thought that, irrespective of the content of its articles, any quality newspaper would want to ensure that it continues to be perceived to be so, and it is the finished product that they will ultimately be judged on, and not the work that went into it, or the honourable intentions.

I repeat: Newsrooms are generally run by former reporters and not former copy editors. It has always been my impression that reporters tend to be vain about their ability as writers and that this accounts for newspapers' failure to fully embrace copy editors, much of whose work consists of correcting reporters' mistakes.

At the same time, the former reporters who run newsrooms may think of their mission as something more noble than making sure their staffs write elegant, correct prose. Hence, there is a kind of double conspiracy against copy editors and, hence, against good writing.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I wouldn't say the women in Franzen's book are any more averse to self-analysis and other intellectual pursuits than the men are. Granted, that may not be a very high bar.

In fact, a key portion of the book is devoted to the self-analytical journal of the main female characters. As my own complaint is that it sounds a little too much like the narrative voice of the rest of the book, I don't think it's fair to accuse the author of dumbing it down.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's a second try at this comment. (I don't know if the problem is with my computer, or whether Blogger is eating comments again.)

The review held my interest despite the mistake that is the occasion of this post. I take it that Franzen's purportedly unself-analytical characters step aside to let the excessively talky, Woody Allenish ones take over.

As to the attitudes that sparked Adrian's post about Franzen, I have noticed what I take to be differences in attitudes toward work and leadership among colleagues and others with working-class background, on the one hand, and my own middle-class way of thinking on the other. None of these differences has anything to do with strength, sluttiness or intellectual pursuits, however.

September 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Woody Allen may be a good analogy, for better or worse.

I am fascinated by the reaction to this book, to be honest. I am in a kind of odd spot of being a fan of Franzen's earlier writing and being a friend of some sort in present time. I think this a substantial and ambitious book. Beyond that, I really don't know. I am surprised that everyone in the column writing world seems to have formed their opinions so easily.

I don't think he was aiming to write about the working class world particularly. I think he had these characters, particularly one character, in his head, and probably the suicide of his real life friend, David Foster Wallace in his thoughts as well. And he wrote this book based on these threads in his life and hoped for the best. And here, as anywhere, I congratulate him for pulling it off.

September 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't read Franzen, but it's nice that a novel can be a subject of public discussion, as opposed to the hoopla surrounding a novel, a la Stieg Larsson or Rowling.

September 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I agree, although I think there is a bit of hoopla around this one, all the same.

September 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have read some of the hoopla, and said hoopla focuses more on the book than, say, on draconian security arrangements surrounding its release, or whether or not the author was a fantasy-obsessed misogynist.

September 10, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

True.

September 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think it was Joseph Finder at the Huffington Post who wrote a piece that said essentially why is everyone tearing this guy down? He's an author. People are arguing about a book. This is good.

September 11, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I don't know if it's a great book or not, but it's certainly full of lots of interesting things. I usually have not read a talked about book ahead of the curve, so I'm finding it interesting to read what everyone thinks about it, and I find myself agreeing with much said on both sides.

September 11, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

There's lots of hoopla around "Freedom," see it all around in blogspots, on websites, in columns. It's been reviewed in the NT Times, then commentary all over cyberspace.

Is it deserving of all of this?
I have no interest in it.

I don't know but I don't think it's my thing and I'm going back to Southern Africa, Scandinavia, Italy and Argentina right now.

Deon Meyer, Malla Nunn, Margie Orford, Michael Stanley, Caryl Ferey, Hakan Nesser, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Jo Nesbo, Claudia Piniero and Giancarlo Carofiglio are calling.

September 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's quite a pile. Maybe you can read "Freedom" once the hype has died down.

September 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, it appears from the Toronto Star that Freedom is certainly an ambitious novel. That's a worthy goal in this chaotic age, I'd say, and probably not an easy one to achieve, either.

September 11, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, my own grasp of the English language is not the greatest but I felt my teeth grinding when I read the following in the NYT recently:

It resonated then, as now, times that are not all that much different.

My initial feeling was that this was wrong but I looked up a couple of online dictionaries and they confirmed that resonate has a transitive use.

Still sounds horrible to me. Maybe it's an Irish thing.

September 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a bad sentence for reasons other than its use of the verb. If resonated is transitive in that sentence, what is its direct object? A plural phrase (times that are ...) appears to have a singular antecedent (It). Much is superfluous, unless the writer inserted it in an effort at a conversational tone, in which case it's superfluous, patronizing, and evidence of a tin ear.

September 11, 2010  

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