or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, February 14, 2011

Acts of Shame

Having an instinctive eye and brain for typographical errors and the like is a double-edged sword.

The blessing: If you can find someone to hire you, you make a really top-notch copy-editor. A photographer friend of mine gave me the text for a brochure she's producing, and one of the the phrases she used was "mature photography", which sort of sounds like it means pornography. I had to ask her if in fact she meant "nature photography" (which she did). This sort of error is so easy to commit--the two letters are side by side on the keyboard--and so easy to miss, because no spellchecker will catch it, no grammar-checker could, either, and only a reader with at least a little distance from the piece is likely to notice it.

The curse: Sometimes it's just about impossible to read something (for pleasure as opposed to work), because it's so full of errors that you can't concentrate. Case in point: This Slate piece (of course) about movie actors.

First mistake, in the third paragraph: Or think back to the godfather of these performances, as Bale himself made clear with his shout-out to De Niro at the Golden Globes last month: De Niro's turn as Jack La Motta in Raging Bull. Last I checked, his name was Jake, not Jack. Since the author of the piece, Tom Shone, is British, perhaps he can be forgiven for not knowing the name of an American boxer: but there are supposed to be editors to keep this sort of thing from happening.

I was almost willing to overlook this, because mistakes do happen, but then I found the second mistake, in paragraph 5: Movie stars had transformed for their roles before, of course—Lon Cheney in the Wolfman movies.... It's Chaney, not Cheney.

By now my brain was completely primed to take nothing in the article at face value, so I was not surprised when I found a third mistake, in the same paragraph: But De Niro's performance in Raging Bull was something else again, another level of centrifugal force, pulling the entire drama into his orbit.... Now, I am not a physicist, but my understanding is that centrifugal force is not responsible for pulling anything into an orbit--it's experienced as an outward force, away from the centre of rotation (a rapidly spinning merry-go-round will fling you off). What the author meant to say was presumably "centripetal force", and I'm not even entirely sure that that would pull something into orbit, but as I said, I am not a physicist. And even if it isn't a mistake, or is a loose usage of the term, the two previous mistakes made me extremely disinclined to trust anything the author said.

And so that is that point at which I stopped reading. A man can take only so much. There may be more mistakes in the article. I don't want to know.

A mistake may creep into a piece of writing, because nobody is perfect, but an editor is supposed to be there to catch it. Two mistakes may show up, but their presence suggests that the writer is really not paying attention. Three mistakes? Inexcusable. Unreadable.


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