Monday, April 19, 2010

You need what for this recipe? Adventures in typos and people who instead of apologizing just make it worse

Usually writing about books is pretty tame: either the writing is reviews, or a news article on the content of the book in general. Or in the case of Sofi Oksanen, whether she's hot or not and how that sells/does not sell her books.

So you can imagine my delight this morning when I saw this bit of news: A Cook-Book Misprint Costs Australian Publishers Dear. The original linking text to it was something akin to "Cookbook turned into pulp because of a typing error", which caught my eye a wee bit more. Proofreaders and editors are important!

What I was not delighted with was the absolutely stupid comments by the head of publishing at Penguin Books, Bob Sessions.

"We're mortified that this has become an issue of any kind, and why anyone would be offended, we don't know," says Bob. See, he has no clue why on Earth anyone would be taken aback when a simple tagliatelle recipe asks you to use ground black people. Newsflash to Bob: if someone is offended, then there probably was a reason for that person to be offended - it doesn't matter if you personally were not, because I assure you, we can find something that offends you but doesn't offend others. Let's not play that game. You, Bob, are not there to make a judgment about whether there was anything to be offended about. Just acknowledge the mishap, apologize for causing distress, and move on. Simple as that.

But as a professional linguist I take extra beef with his reasoning for why this misprint should have been forgiveable:

When it comes to the proof-reader, of course they should have picked it up, but proof-reading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable.

Excuse me? Proofreading a cookbook is extremely difficult? What kind of an effed up excuse is that? If proofreading a cookbook is extremely difficult, what then is proofreading a novel with an ample amount of metaphors and run-on sentences? Is that then extremely-extremely difficult? What is easy to proofread? I would have imagined that cookbooks are easy to proofread as the text usually follows a pattern: first the recipe, then the instructions. Instructions use certain type of grammar, and you can expect certain words to be repeated a lot (bake, whisk, whip, mix etc.).

What I think happened was this: the proofreader did a bad job. End of discussion. Unfortunately, this time the mistake the proofreader made was just a pretty bad one. The last three books I have read have all had some kind of typos in there. It's annoying, but those get away with it because spelling "deity" with "diety" isn't going to make anyone think of the KKK (Alan Moore - I'm looking at you. Get that "diety" of yours checked).

God. I'm so annoyed by that shitty excuse you can't even believe it. It's like saying "Oh, teaching kids how to read is extremely difficult, so I find it forgivable that little Johnny never learned to distinguish his Hs from his Ns." Unless you have hired a completely incompetent proofreader to do the job who just decided to be lazy and skim over the text, the point of the text being difficult should not be it. How can it be difficult not to realize that "ground people" doesn't really fit in the text? You only do this if you are really tired/distracted and you are not focusing on your proofreading work. It's not like "OMG this text is so difficult... how on Earth do I know whether the author really wants to use ground up people or pepper??"

Bob Sessions's entire retort reads like "screw you, cry-babies - I'm having a tantrum because I lost all this money", and I don't think that's a very good idea from a marketing stand point.

No comments:

Post a Comment