marcel barang


In English on 10/09/2009 at 1:28 pm


There is this famous text in recent circulation where all words are misspelled and yet are still understandable as long as the first and last letters of each word are the same (I dni’t konw tihs! Deos it wrok in ohter lnaugaegs, too?). Meaning that we have a built-in spellchecker of sorts in the mind.

And then there are typos, the pimples of fair printed prose.

This morning, reading Sanitsuda Ekachai’s Commentary in the Bangkok Post (‘Stressed out helping the stressed?’) I did a double-take – twice.

The council’s order brought to mind a conservation I had with the abbot of my neighbourhood temple some time ago.

My mind read ‘conversation’ but my eyes said otherwise.

And then, further down the column, this:

During my conversion with my neighbourhood abbot…

Stressed out indeed. Next time, talk to the monk, or chat with him, rather than converse.

Fast or casual readers never see typos and miss most linguistic mishaps. I must be a slow reader. Years of professional editing and proofreading have taken their toll on me: I can’t read a book or any text without a pen in hand – and even I can’t help shaking my head at this, knowing full well that, like everyone else, I’m blind to my own cock-ups.

The French call it ‘déformation professionnelle’ as if it were something quaint and vaguely shameful. I’d rather call it plain ‘formation professionnelle’ dividend. Cautious book reviewers hide behind notations like ‘needs editing’, ‘better proofreading would have helped’, which doesn’t help much. When a reviewer lists howlers, he or she is accused of being prissy, or nitpicking, or what have you, as nobody in this age cares – well, some do, otherwise Eats, Shoots & Leaves wouldn’t have been such a runaway bestseller.

In my reading experience, not one novel in a hundred is entirely clean of typos. I usually find at least a half dozen even in the works put out by the best publishing houses, where texts are perused three to five times rather than one.

One author who seems to be blessed with top-notch proofreaders is Philip Roth. His Indignation, in its Vintage, August 2009 version, was spared any strike from my blue pen. But then Exit Ghost (Vintage 2008) has ‘the offspring of the socially elite’ on page 243. Or is that an Americanism?

Another blessed writer is John le Carré. His latest yarn, A Most Wanted Man, is ‘clean’ – and very good. That book is produced by Hodder and Stoughton. Which reminds me…

Last year, I read with pleasure James Clavell’s Whirlwind (1986), in the Hodder and Stoughton 2008 paperback version. It’s a huge book, 1232 pages long, beautifully produced, but marred by more than a hundred and fifty ‘boobs’ of all kinds, from typos to errors in a variety of languages – that’s more than one every ten pages. I listed them and mailed the list to the editor – to improve a next edition, and hoping she’d hire me as a proofreader. Her answer? For such a long book, it’s pretty much ‘industry level’ performance.

Yaeh, rhigt.


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