A couple of years ago, at the end of a favorable review of Boris Gasparov’s Beyond Pure Reason, I complained bitterly about “the terrible proofreading and editing of this important scholarly book”; I am happy to see that the TLS has given over an entire page (subscriber-only, I’m afraid) to a similar complaint by the great Robert Bringhurst (who graced this LH thread with his comments) about the way the University of California Press has treated the poet Robert Duncan in its collected edition of his work:
There are, if I’ve counted correctly, just over 200 words of Greek scattered through the two volumes [The Collected Early Poems and Plays and The Collected Later Poems and Plays], and in those words alone I count 130 typographic errors. The errors are new and original, not copied from Duncan’s manuscripts or from previous editions of work. They are also persistently inventive. When a Greek word or phrase is repeated in the text or the editor’s notes, it is misspelled differently each time. The errors stand out in books that are otherwise handsomely produced (typographic errors outside the Greek are mercifully rare). This beats by a huge margin everything else in Duncan’s own error-infested publication history. Even the famously error-prone New Directions editions of Pound’s Cantos come nowhere close. The Greek passages in The Cantos average a mere twenty errors per hundred words. There are well over sixty per hundred in the Duncan.
The errors caught me especially by surprise. The volumes in question are edited by Peter Quartermain, a first-class scholar of modern American literature. When he began, Quartermain sought help from a number of specialists and from several of Duncan’s old colleagues. I was asked to check and correct all of the Greek quotations and the few bits of Chinese. I identified the sources, fixed the errant spellings and provided translations (mostly superfluous, since Duncan included English glosses for almost all his Greek phrases and Chinese glyphs). Knowing that UC Press had no classically trained compositors or editors on staff, I also set all the Greek and Chinese quotations in Unicode-compliant digital type, so that each such passage could be electronically copied and pasted into place by whatever typesetting firm was given the job. I was unaware until recently that when Quartermain presented his vast manuscript to the Press and offered them the corrected digital Greek, they turned him down, offering to handle the work themselves.
Most of the errors in the books could only have been made by someone altogether innocent of Greek. Letters that can only be used at the beginnings or ends of Greek words are placed in the middle, letters with similar shapes are confused with one another, and the diacritics that abound in classical Greek are freely interchanged or replaced with diacritics borrowed from Latin or Cyrillic. The Greek letter nu (ν), corresponding to Latin n, caused particular confusion. The typesetter sometimes replaced it with upsilon (υ), the Greek form of u, but more often with izhitsa (ѵ), a Cyrillic letter formerly used in Russian but now employed only, so far as I know, in liturgical Slavonic.
He sums up by saying “Duncan’s dream of a multidimensional poetry of all poetries has been reduced to alphabet soup.” What a shame! It reminds me the mess Google Books has made of metadata (see this LH post) due to a similar we-don’t-need-your-help hubris.
To wash the bad taste out of your mouth, a nice map: Countries as Named in Their Own Languages.