Monday, March 26, 2012

When spell-check replaces editing

"Back in the house anti-personnel mines, assorted assault rifles, Canadian Sterlings, Mats, Madsens, a few Chinese 79s, sweating in the heat. ... The ordinance (sic) sweated. They sweated." (pg. 19)
and
"The receptionist punched a button on her consul (sic) ... " (pg. 110)
and
"Paulo was hardly out of Global Enterprises than (sic) his phone rang ... " (pg. 153)
and
"I drive a Duetto. You horde (sic) money. ... To invest isn't to horde (sic). .... What we've got in the Cayman's a horde (sic), in case you've forgotten." (pg. 164)
***
Those are all from the UK edition of Payback (2009), by South Africa's Mike Nicol, a terrific thriller marred by shocking errors that suggest the publisher did, in fact, dispense with proofreading in favor of a quick pass with a spell-check program.

Payback is atmospheric, suspenseful, full of dark humor, with likable but dangerous protagonists and as evil (and believable) a villain as you're likely to find anywhere. It's the kind of book one can tell the author had tons of fun writing, and I'm having tons of fun reading it. As much as I enjoy the image of a secretary punching a commercial attaché's buttons, though, I suggest the publishers pay a few pounds, rand, (or dollars) to a good proofreader next time. They owe it to Nicol and to readers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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31 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

The errors are funny in the recounting, but yes, they would be distracting when you're getting deeply into a story.ouri

March 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The funny thing about these mistakes is that the publisher's lapse is so much clearer than such lapses usually are. Why pay for editing when you can use a machine?

March 25, 2012  
Blogger Sindhu S said...

Oh - I have seen this happen so many times. If only editors read and proofread instead of relying on 'spell-check'.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

You may imagine what a lot of university student essays look like these days, Peter. Mind you, the real bogglers are the ones where the student has made prolific use of Roget, under the impression that any word in the Roget entry can be substituted for the word they had in mind.

March 26, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I suspect they all are the author's fault. The repetition of the "horde"/"hoard" spelling suggests as much.
Typos happen. They happen to me a lot because I don't touch-type and don't see the screen. But ultimately, I proof-read, and if I have a publisher, I proof-read again and again and again as the ms. passes through different hands.
I also used to "stet" a lot. Perhaps the particular author preferred his own spelling?

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I read a self-published novel that used "aqua-tinted" instead of "acquainted." A couple that had previously met were rendered blue because of spellchecker. Sad.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sindhu, thanks for the comment. I'm an editor by profession, and I specialize in finding mistakes. But this was the first time I'd been able to make a fairly confident guess at the reason for the mistakes.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, you sound dangerously like a crotchety old man who suggests the world is going to hell. I sometimes enjoy speculating about the results is promiscuous thesaurus-trolling. But one would think that someone enterprising enough to consult a thesaurus might spend the time reading a book or a good newspaper instead.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, I like that image of a couple blue with love. Hmm, aqua-tinted. They were probably both printmakers.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., such errors' occurrence may be an author's fault, but their publication is a publisher's. I almost always twist myself into knots trying to come up with explanations for mistakes, but I can't manage it this time. I even looked up the words in question to see if the odd spellings were listed as South African variants, but I found no evidence that they were. (If I had proofread the book, I'd have consulted a dictionary of South African English, of course.)

But even if they had been, they were not the sorts of variants that added to the novel's local atmosphere and thus would have needed to be changed anyhow.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'm quite surprised by the ordinance ordnance thing. You say this is the UK edition? In Britain they have the Ordinance Survey Office, perhaps thats where the copyeditor got confused?

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ordnance Survey, that is, further evidence that the word can cause confusion. I've caught misuse of one for the other more than once in my job

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is to say that the mistake is a frequent one and easy to make -- all the more reason for publishers and editors to be on the lookout for it.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Ordnance Survey whose maps are truly beautiful objects. I wonder if they'll be scrapped now that GPS and Google maps is so prevalent.

March 26, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I feel your pain. Lately, in preparation for uploading "legacy" data, I spend a good portion of my workdays re-indexing old abstracts from those Dark Years when someone thought machine-indexing could take the place of human indexing. Today's Howler Highlight was finding the word "circumcisions" as an index term. Why? because the abstract referred to a painting depicting The Circumcision by Luca Signorelli... With very few exceptions, we do not index on names of works but the machine was only looking for words from its dictionary. Words like "oil paintings" and "cleaning" -- what the abstract was about weren't in the term list at all.

In another one, the surveying technique "remote sensing" winds up as "remote" and "sensing" on two different lines because the concept of compound terms and "concept" indexing was beyond the machine's grasp.

At least my predecessors saw the error of their ways and, after about 3 or 4 volumes of that nonsense, went back to indexing by humans, indexing that employs a combination of keyword and concept indexing.

I harbor no such hopes for machine spell-checking vs. human spell-checking + reading for meaning. It's only going to get worse.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Looks like the Ordnance Survey has gone a bit high-tech itself.

March 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth: With respect to feeling pain and overreliance on machines, I don't know for a fact that the final editor of this book relied on a spell-check program in place of thorough proofreading, though the kinds of errors I found lead me to suspect this is the case.

But I should emphasize again that this is a terrific book; I recommend it highly.

March 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, one would have thought that such misplaced faith in machines was the stuff of pulp science fiction. But that was before the potent combination of leftover Sixties self-righteousness plus residual faith in machines plus the ineluctable power of consumerism produced Steve Jobs. These days, skepticism about machines may be more heretical than ever.

March 27, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter I think I've remarked previously on the declining standards of the venerable old 'Irish Times' in that respect.
I'm sure its got worse since my previous comment.

A rash of errors such as you've listed could, cumulatively, amount to the equivalent of driving on a badly potholed road.

I might be inclined to give up and metaphorically 'go home' in disgust with 'Payback'

March 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, I've written often about the New York Times' declining interest in getting details right, and for all I know, the same might be the case at other newspapers.

Payback is so good that I suspect you'd stick with it. But such errors could well make the difference between keeping on and tossing the book aside with a lesser novel.

March 27, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I've written often about the New York Times' declining interest in getting details right

Peter, you might enjoy this little beauty from the NYT last week:

This year, Mr. Adelson has given at least $10 million, along with his wife, to support Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

Now, that's what I call a generous campaign donor. Or maybe not. Perhaps, it's a case of Take my wife — please!

March 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, that is delicious. After verifying that it did appear thus, I will spread it around as lavishly as the New York Times seems to think Nr, Adelson does his wife.

March 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, that is delicious. After verifying that it did appear thus, I will spread it around as lavishly as the New York Times seems to think Mr. Adelson does his wife.

March 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Times, which still does not know what the word "chutzpah" means, has corrected its statement that Mr. Adelson is pandering his wife. It has not, however, acknowledged what the mistake says about the quality of writing and copy editing at the newspaper.

March 27, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I should have mentioned that the NYT owned up to this blooper in its regular copy editing blog which appears on most Tuesdays.

The blog has been around for a little short of four years. What's striking in that time is not a decline in standards but a failure to improve standards. The same copy editing gripes come up time after time.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Mike Nicol said...

Have to fess up that the mistakes are mine in the first instance. Very embarrassing. The use of 'than' instead of 'when' is not so much a mistake as a South Africanism. Very grateful for the list as the book is about to be reprinted.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, do you mean the "After Deadline" column? The column is brave about acknowledging obvious errors and thereby creating the illusion that the Times is open to criticism, but it's silent on mistakes that could shed real light on the standards of the paper's writing and editing. A Times article a little more than a year ago blatantly misused the word "chutzpah," for instance. I am still waiting for "After Deadline" to acknowledge and the Times to correct the error.

Read the ignoble tale here. And go here for
how I learned about the quality of the Times' writing and the depth of its devotion to its customers. I gave up waiting some time ago for "After Deadline" to acknowledge and the Times to correct those mistakes, too.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I forgot to mention what that story taught me about the Times' devotion to its customers.

Sometime after I mentioned that I'd started finding errors and sloppiness in Times wire-service stories, someone told me that the Times had gutted its in-house wire-service copy desk and farmed the work out to a cheaper non-union shop in Florida.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome, Mike, but I reject your confession. The most careful of authors will commit a lapse or two in a 400-page novel. A publisher who does not take every reasonable step to ensure that such lapses are corrected is cheating the author and readers.

I should mention, too, that had I been proofreading the book, I'd have verified whether any apparent lapses were, in fact, local usage. That's another thing a machine can't do.

March 28, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defined chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts,' presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." He also called it "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan

Rosten might be accused of chutzpah himself, since he never mentioned that his example of chutzpah is more yankee than yiddish. It's a mid 19th century
story by Artemus Ward that is as American as apple pie:

But the hardest case we ever heard of lived in Arkansas. He was only fourteen years old. One night he deliberately murdered his father and mother in cold blood, with a meat-axe. He was tried and found guilty. The Judge drew on his black cap, and in a voice choked with emotion asked the young prisoner if he had anything to say before the sentence of the Court was passed on him. The court-room was densely crowded and there was not a dry eye in the vast assembly. The youth of the prisoner, his beauty and innocent looks, the mild, lamblike manner in which he had conducted himself during the trial--all, all had thoroughly enlisted the sympathy of the spectators, the ladies in particular. And even the Jury, who had found it to be their stern duty to declare him guilty of the appalling crime--even the Jury now wept aloud at this awful moment.

"Have you anything to say?" repeated the deeply moved Judge.

"Why, no," replied the prisoner, "I think I haven't, though I hope yer Honor will show some consideration FOR THE FEELINGS OF A POOR ORPHAN!"

The Judge sentenced the perfect young wretch without delay.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know what Rosten said about that particular word, but he forthrightly declares in his introduction that The Joys of Yiddish is not about Yiddish but rather about English. I suspect he'd be delighted by your observation.

But the point is that, whatever the word's origin, the Times misused it and refused to correct or acknowledge its mistake.

March 28, 2012  

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