or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fix This Book

I'm reading Morgan Spurlock's book "Don't Eat This Book", and while it's (mildly) amusing and (quite) informative, I was stopped cold on page 4 by this:

In 1998, without ever explicitly admitting to any wrongdoing, the big tobacco companies agreed to a massive $246 billion settlement, to be paid to forty-fix states and five territories over twenty-five years.

Yes, it does in fact say "forty-fix" in the book. Wouldn't you have thought that after a hardcover edition, such an error would have been noticed, by someone, anyone, and corrected? (At least three people had to have read the galleys in the first place.) I sure would have thought that, and I guess I would have been wrong.

But such things do happen. They shouldn't, but they do. And I really can't argue with the editing of the book as a whole, at least not up through Chapter 8; I would have taken a ruthless pen to some of Spurlock's more annoying rhetorical tics, but Spurlock, the editor, and the copy-editor have seen to it that "data" is used as a plural (I don't care if it's being displaced--I like it), that everything agrees in number--you know, the basic elements of grammar that seem to be falling by the wayside.


Someone else who takes such things very seriously, bless him, is Languagehat, who writes about a dim little error on a sports page:

In a story in today's NY Times sports section, "No Good-Conduct Medal for Ugly Americans" by Selena Roberts...a description of the Olympic ideal...is followed by the sentence "But how can anyone demand Diva Interruptis?"

....[I]nterruptus is a masculine form and diva is feminine; the phrase, if you insisted on using what seems to me a construction too silly even for the sports page, would be diva interrupta. But this is not about the illiteracy of sports reporters (though there is much to be said on that topic); it would be unfair and certainly unrealistic to expect the average American, even the average American reporter, to know Latin adjectival declension or the proper spelling of Latin borrowings. That's what editors are for, which is what this is about.

Anyone who knows even a little scrap of Latin--someone like me, say--can instantly see that "interrupta" would have to be the correct form. And it's certainly the case that it's "too silly even for the sports page", not to mention pretentious. But I've edited more than a few sports stories in my time, and you can take it from me that newspapers tend to think of their sports readers as borderline literate, not the sort of people who would concern themselves with whether a Latin adjective had the correct gender termination.

Obviously--to me--the writer was thinking of "coitus interruptus". Too bad he spelled even "interruptus" wrong.


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