I’ve barely begun Thomas Laqueur’s very long LRB review of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark, and I already have a nit to pick. Laqueur says “Clark, however, begins with an earlier terrorist act, the grotesque murder in 1903 of the Serbian King Alexander and his wife, Draga, by a small group of officers acting as part of a larger conspiracy. … One of the plotters – Dragutin Dimitrijević, ‘Apis’ (the Serbian word for ‘bull’) as he was known – would in 1911 become a founding member of the secret, ultra-nationalist organisation Union or Death, a.k.a. the Black Hand.” To get the nit out of the way immediately, the Serbian word for ‘bull’ is not apis, it is bik (cognate with Russian бык). Apis is not a Serbian word at all.
A couple of decades ago I would have found this annoying but forgivable; after all, not many English-speakers know South Slavic languages, and while it wouldn’t have been all that hard to check on a Serbian word, I can see how it might have seemed too much trouble. Now, however, it’s ridiculously easy. Not only is the internet full of translation sites, if you go to the Wikipedia article for Dimitrijević, just about the first thing you see is “also known as Apis (Апис),” and that link takes you to an article on “Apis or Hapis (alternatively spelled Hapi-ankh),” “a bull-deity that was worshipped in the Memphis region” of ancient Egypt. I can’t say I’m shocked, but I am disappointed that neither Laqueur, a historian who presumably has to deal with foreign languages now and again, nor anyone at the LRB bothered to check on this. Come on, people, you can and should do better.
(That said, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the review, because like so many people I have an insatiable appetite for material about World War I.)