Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Fact Checking and Proofreading

Evelyn Waugh, quoted by Joseph Epstein, The Middle of My Tether: Familiar Essays (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), p. 195:
I am told that printers' readers no longer exist because clergymen are no longer unfrocked for sodomy.
For whatever reason, printers' readers, or fact checkers, or proofreaders do seem rare these days, if one may judge from the prevalence of typographical errors and mistakes of fact in modern books. The following examples come from Sy Montgomery, The Wild Out Your Window: Exploring Nature Near at Hand (Camden: Down East Books, 2002).
"Meek creatures," as the 18th-century British art critic John Ruskin called them, "the first mercy of the earth," mosses prove again the prophesy that the meek shall inherit the earth, for at the first stroke of spring, the world is theirs. (p. 13)
Ruskin lived in the 19th century, not the 18th.
Despite their questionable palettes, flies make fine pollinators, and some flowers work hard to attract them. (p. 28)
For "palettes" read "palates."
Thoreau, recording his observations of snappers in 1854, compared their journeys to Ulysses' decades-long return home in The Iliad. (p. 121)
I don't see any such comparison in Thoreau's Journal for 1854 (using the index of the Torrey-Allen edition, s.v. turtle). Besides, Thoreau knew his Homer and never would have made such an error. Ulysses' wanderings are the subject of the Odyssey, not the Iliad.
But by studying mammals' movements, researchers are now beginning to discover a whole new way of seeing the landscape—though another species' eyes. (p. 162)
Read "through" for "though."
When a young adult chipmunk or pine martin or sea lion strikes out to find new territory, he points out, "it's like Odysseus striking out over the Agean Sea—these are vast Homerian movements." (p. 163, where "he" is Patrick Zollner)
For "martin" read "marten," and for "Agean" read "Aegean." I'll let "Homerian" for "Homeric" pass, because at least it's in the dictionary.
Three decades ago, when he was a growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut, relatives sent his family four baby holly trees one Christmas. (p. 216)
Something ("boy," "child," "lad," or whatever) has dropped out between "a" and "growing." Alternatively, just omit the indefinite article.

Doubtless there are those to whom this is mere pedantic quibbling. To them I reply with the pedant's stock retort, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10).

Sometimes even a tiny misprint can be important. A few months ago I noticed in a slip opinion that the word "enforceable" appeared in a holding where the opposite ("unenforceable") was clearly called for. I emailed the judge who wrote the opinion, and he was able to make the correction before the official version was released.

I lack the qualification for a printer's reader mentioned by Waugh—I am not an unfrocked clergyman. But, in my humble opinion, I have the sharp eye, the patience, and the general knowledge needed for fact checking and proofreading. Send job offers to me at my email address.

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