Friday, August 03, 2007

In Mourning

Today I am in mourning.

I am lamenting the passing of one of my favorite people: the copy editor.

When I was younger it was a wicked little pleasure to find a typo in a book because they were so rare. Nowdays it's just a nuisance.

Yesterday I found two typos in as many pages in a book on aesthetics. One moment I was reading about values and the next thing I knew we were discussing valves. It was really quite distracting. Rather like being on a train when someone has pulled the emergency brake (well, I'm really guessing on that account because I've never been on a train when that has happened--but it looks like that). The thoughts start falling all over each other as the brain comes crashing to a halt. Valves? Where do valves come into this discussion. Oh, oh, it's a typo. A dratted typographical error. And that was the second one, after a from/form mix-up. Both of which tell me that someone relied on spellcheck.

Which, I suppose, was better than the book I was reading today where the editorial staff couldn't even be bothered to use spellcheck, as evinced by their immensely creative spelling of words such as generally. I don't remember what the other misspelling was and quite frankly, I'm glad--it's all too depressing. Having worked for several years as an editor, I really hate typos and strive to even keep my e-mails free from them. When I comment on someone's blog and then discover that in my haste I left a typo I feel like I should post an apology.

But e-mails and comments are one thing--academic books about fine art (hidden in a plain white cover, amongst the dull books of academia--I knew it had color photos the moment I picked it up: I could feel the weight of the clay-coated glossy paper inside) are quite another. I'm only halfway through Umberto Eco's "History of Beauty" and have already found three typos. Where are the copy editors?! The irony to me is that it seems like spell check would make things easier. I mean they used to set all that type with little metal letters put into trays backwards--shouldn't we have fewer errors now?

So, I have to conclude that copy editors are rapidly going the way of the wooly mammoth. Wave good-bye now because they are going fast--perhaps they're a victim of global warming.

Thank you to Liam for the picture of the old books.


Liam Quin said...

You're very welcome, thank you for taking the care to credit the photograph of old books!

Errors, whether typographical, editorial or substantive, are not, of course, a new thing. My own books are riddled with them, despite the work of copy editors!


larin said...

Of course you're right--errors are nothing new. At one point in history spelling wasn't even standardized--which we may be going back to with the advent of e-mail and instant and text messaging. I frequently have to post and re-post things on my blog to get all my typing errors corrected. I just think that in the age of spellcheck too much is taken for granted in published material and that it shouldn't be. I'm not paying to read someone's blog, but I am paying for the book on my table. Recently I found a very well known quote attributed to the wrong person altogether. Maybe it's just the training of my last boss, who was a consumate editor, but I miss the person who used to catch all those things. Sniff! I love your site, btw, and have it bookmarked. It was the first place I thought of when I wanted a book pic. Thanks for reading my blog! --LaRinda

Liam Quin said...

I admit it, once a week or so I do a technoarti search to see who has linked to me. If they're interested in my Web site, maybe I'm interested in the other things that they find, too :-)

I have more problems, in a way, with places where someone obviously accepted a spelling chacker's suggestion even though it's clearly the wrong word, than with genuine typing errors.

I think what's happening is that more people are self-publishin these days, and we are seeing more raw, unedited text than used to be the case.



Unknown said...

U have done a lot of proofreading and copy editing and I agree tht it is annoying. I was reading a book about homeschooling and I have been marking the errors (like misspelling a chapter title). There are a bunch and I think that makes the writing appear weak, even if there are good things the author is saying. I wish writers (especially self-publishers) would make the investment to make the book the best they can instead of trying to cut corners and have a friend or relative edit for free. In the long run I think it cuts into their credibility.

viva copy editing!