Sunday, 27 February 2011


I wonder if I am missing a very clever play on words here. It seems to me that the 'too' in this headline to a letter in the London Review of Books ought to be a 'to':

Could they really have made such a silly mistake?

Friday, 25 February 2011

A Warning from my Brother

If you're going to an Elvis Costello concert, be sure you wear protective clothing - apparently he's got a pop rock cannon

I Heart Heaps Good

She reads the Sydney Morning Herald very, very carefully, including the ads.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Fiction Editing

The other day the Guardian bemoaned the death of editing. Hark at them, you might say, given their fabled error rate. The article wasn't about newspapers though; it was about publishers of fiction and the demise of careful editing in that context.

After reading the Guardian article, I discovered that it was possible to download the first chapter of a new book called When God was a Rabbit. It was written by a 'debut novelist' called Sarah Winman, and I had heard that it was supposed to be exciting and fresh - so exciting and fresh, in fact, that it has earned itself a place on Waterstone's list of recommended books this season.

Sadly, I found it impossible to read beyond the first paragaph of When God was a Rabbit. It seemed that the Guardian's claims were correct, at least in this instance: the text appeared to have been left quite unedited. This is how it  goes:  

"I decided to enter this world just as my mother got off the bus after an unproductive shopping trip to Ilford. She’d gone to change a pair of trousers and, distracted by my shifting position, found it impossible to choose between patched denims or velvet flares, and fearful that my place of birth would be a department store, she made a staggered journey back to the safe confines of her postcode, where her waters broke just as the heavens opened. And during the seventy-yard walk back down to our house, her amniotic fluid mixed with the December rain and spiralled down the gutter until the cycle of life was momentously and, one might say, poetically complete."

The first thing that put me off was that long clunky first sentence, the use of 'this' in it (what other world were you thinking of?) and the overloading of trip with a mound of heavy words. The second thing that put me off was that long clunky second sentence - 'and ... and ... staggered journey... where'. The third and final thing that put me off was that long clunky third sentence, with its portentous mixing of amniotic fluid and December rain, its repetition of 'back', which has appeared already in the second sentence, and its random use of 'poetically' - thrown in presumably to add a bit of tone.

Had I been given the manuscript, I would probably have thrown it in the rubbish bin on the evidence of this paragraph. If I'd been told I couldn't do that, that the book was a work of genius, that I had to polish it up to make it a tiny bit more readable, I might have suggested this: 

'I decided to enter the world just as my mother got off the bus after an unproductive trip to Ilford. She'd gone to change a pair of trousers, but, distracted by my shifting position, found it impossible to choose between patched denims or velvet flares. Fearful that my place of birth would be a department store, she'd journeyed back to the safe confines of her postcode, where her waters broke just as the heavens opened. As she staggered the seventy yards down the road to our house, her amniotic fluid mixed with the December rain and spiralled down the gutter. Some might say that the cycle of life was thus momentously - perhaps even poetically - complete.' [In an ideal world that last sentence would be cut completely, but I have a feeling that it is probably one of the author's darlings.]

The author might argue that she was trying to create a special clumsy kind of style that would embody the sense of a gabbling narrator. I would say that she still has to charm the reader and that, although there is quite enough of the narrator's rather self-aggrandising silliness left in my version, if she accepts my changes her readers' eyes will no longer glaze over before they've finished the first page.

Not that an absence of elegance will matter to Winman or her publishers in the short term - all the money that might have gone into editing the text is being poured into promoting the novel instead, which should guarantee that it sells well, regardless of the quality of its prose. What we won't know for a long time though is whether, in its current semi-edited form, it will continue to interest readers once they aren't having it shoved down their throats by marketers. Will it ever become a successful battered penguin?  Only time will tell.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

It All Depends on the Zone

Surely only the states that have the right kind of climate to grow double flowering daisies would need to take out diaster insurance? [Paragraph 4, line 2]

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Another Useful Guide

Raphael gave me this link, which I pass on to the copy editors of Australia. I don't imagine they'll take a blind bit of notice, of course.

What - Even Grammar Mistakes?

The people at the Australian don't even know how to use a verb any more:

Monday, 21 February 2011

Give Us a Break

Refreshed from the weekend, the copy editors at the Sydney Morning Herald thought it might be nice to have a mistake right there in the middle of the front page, just to get the week off to a good start:

Sunday, 20 February 2011

A First Step

To all those who believe they are editing Australian newspapers brilliantly, this should help you, as you begin your long journey toward understanding the English language.

Buy a Grammar Book

The word you are groping toward, Sydney Morning Herald, is 'whom':

'...many of them who experienced ...' - eurgh.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

One Final Insult

It is the main story on the front page of the Australian - the funeral in Sydney of children who died in the SIEV-221 boat disaster. Somehow the newspaper cannot summon enough interest, even in the face of such a terrible event, to bother with apostrophes:

Monday, 14 February 2011

My Brother Passed Me This


What Can I Say?

These are all mistakes from the first few pages of today's Sydney Morning Herald. There is nothing especially interesting about them, apart from the fact that they are all wrong:

The only one of those that might not be self-evident is the one that says: 'One of the big reasons for the health shake-up was to stop the different levels of government fiddling the books to try to shift costs to each other and increasing transparency so everyone would know it was happening.' Now, either there are two reasons there - stopping the government fiddling the books and also increasing transparency, in which case you can't start the sentence with the phrase, 'One of the big reasons', or the government is fiddling the books to try to shift costs and also to increase transparency. If the latter is the case, what has been printed in the paper is correct; if not, what has been printed in the paper is wrong.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Don't Waste Your Cash

If you are going to set up in business as a proofreading service, it is a good idea not to include sentences like these on the home page of your site: 

"Certainly errors will have gone unnoticed, or even inserted since your last check."

("even inserted" - "even been inserted", surely?)

"Never assume that because it was correct on the Word document when you last saw it that it will be correct when laid out in the design."

(too many "that"s in that.)

 The people in charge might like to have a long, hard think about commas too.

Food for Thought

My brother sent me a link to this Guardian article  on what it calls the 'lost art of editing'. I hope it is only mislaid.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

I Offer You My Eagle Eyes

AequoetBono, aka Angus Macinnis tweeted this today:
'Oh dear. Someone has just sent me a press release extolling their "pain-staking" attention to detail.'

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

So Good They Said it Twice

"I said, 'Love', I said, 'Pet', I said, 'Love', I said ...", to quote Magda Szubanski:

After leaving out words last week, the 'folk' (to quote Kevin Rudd) at the Sydney Morning Herald have decided that this week they're going to bung a few extra in here and there, (probably in an attempt to protect themselves from having to pay me that ten cents a missing word that I was proposing.)

Ooh Look, Pretty Commas

It is not well-known - at least not at the Australian Financial Review - that there is a logic to the use of commas. You are not simply meant to sprinkle them through a paragraph so that they land wherever you think they look nice:

Monday, 7 February 2011

This Takes Today's Biscuit

You really need to hone your skills, Sydney Morning Herald:

Full Text Please

Dear Sydney Morning Herald
Please may I have ten cents for every word that is missing from your articles? I enclose three examples, to give you an idea of the kind of thing I mean:

And how about five cents for every letter missing in the middle of a word:

Pedant Power

You could probably power the national grid, if you could work out a way of harnessing nitpickers' exasperation in the face of typographical errors. The National Library has understood this and used the knowledge to the advantage of us all. (I can't help wondering about that hyphen in 'eagle-eye' though.)

A Verb is a Doing Word

The Sydney Morning Herald reports this morning that Tony Abbott is facing internal criticism. Well, here's a bit of external criticism - 'criticise' is not a noun:

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Auntie Makes a Mistake

The ABC's 'flagship' current affairs programme returns next week after a long break in which it was probably not studying English grammar:

What kind of credibility can a programme possess if it allows 'many Australian's say' to appear on its website?

Nabkov is One of My Favourite Authors

Worm sent me this picture of a book he bought recently:

I've said it before (and no doubt I'll say it again), but, for the time being, this one pretty much takes the cake.

Friday, 4 February 2011

What Happens When You Let Your Standards Drop

In this week's Spectator, Charles Moore claims almost no-one in government can write decent English any more:

He also picks up this bit of scrambled, unedited prose:

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Australian Illiterate Review

I have only read four of the articles in the latest issue of the Australian Literary Review, but already I have been dismayed by the number of basic proofing errors. The publication cannot take refuge in the excuse that it has to be prepared in an enormous rush - it only comes out once a month.

As well as the one featured yesterday, there was another typo in the editorial:


Then came an article whose introductory line seemed to me to indicate that it was about how Britain was saved from Europe's excesses by abandoning Australia:

 Replacing 'it' by 'us' might have given readers a clearer indication of the article's contents (which were very interesting.)

Once again, the journal seemed to have trouble with the word 'century' - this time in a review of a couple of books of Australian social history:

By the final article, it had thrown all shame to the winds:
'Its stirring stuff', indeed.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Bought Means Paid Money For

The new editor of the Australian Literary Review might want to stop swanking about reading Italian novels in the original - I can do that too, it's not that impressive; what is impressive is vigilant copy-editing:

Heaps Good Grammars

Look at this blog if you want to see more of the kind of hopelessness you normally find here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I Had Expected Better

All is not lost - I have not yet discovered an error in the New Yorker. All the same, things are looking grim. While the New Yorker remains a bastion of text perfection, I had thought the London Review of Books could rival it, until I found this on the first page of the current issue:

Rossellini's piece is, of course, The Taking of Power by Louis XIV