NO, NO, THAT’S A BOOK.

I never thought I’d see a correction notice to match this one, but the Feb. 6 New Yorker (yes, I’m falling behind again) contains the following gem from the Guardian (of April 22, 2004, according to this site):

In our profile of Daniel Dennett (pages 20 to 23, Review, April 17), we said he was born in Beirut. In fact, he was born in Boston. His father died in 1947, not 1948. He married in 1962, not 1963. The seminar at which Stephen Jay Gould was rigorously questioned by Dennett’s students was Dennett’s seminar at Tufts, not Gould’s at Harvard. Dennett wrote Darwin’s Dangerous Idea before, not after, Gould called him a “Darwinian fundamentalist”. Only one chapter in the book, not four, is devoted to taking issue with Gould. The list of Dennett’s books omitted Elbow Room, 1984, and The Intentional Stance, 1987. The marble sculpture, recollected by a friend, that Dennett was working on in 1963 was not a mother and child. It was a man reading a book.

You’ve got to admire a publication that can correct itself with such panache.

Comments

  1. I liked that one too, but the best correction of all time was this one, correcting the Virginian-Pilot’s story on the Wright Brothers flight 100 years later. The original was apparently concocted from the barest of facts by an imaginative reporter.
    Upon preview, registration seems to be required, so here’s the whole correction, published December 17, 2003:
    A story and headline in the Dec. 18, 1903, Virginian-Pilot [Hampton Roads, VA] contained errors.
    Orville Wright was the pilot for the first flight of the Wright Flyer. It was not Wilbur, whose name is not spelled Wilber.
    The plane’s wing span was 40 feet, 4 inches. The wings were 6 feet 2 inches apart vertically and 6 feet, 6 inches from front to rear. They were covered in muslin, not canvas.
    The engine rested on top of the lower wing. It did not hang below it.
    The propellers had two blades each, not six. They both were mounted on the rear side of the wings. There was no propeller providing upward force.
    Rudders in the front and rear and warping of the wings controlled the plane. There was not a single, huge fan-shaped rudder that could be moved side to side and raised and lowered.
    The pilot lay prone on the lower wing. There was no pilot’s car.
    The Wrights have always said they were equal inventors of the machine. Wilbur never took credit as the chief inventor. The brothers had no plans to build a much larger machine and never did.
    Their success came after four years of work, not three.
    They took one trip to the Outer Banks in the summer and two trips in the fall prior to 1903. They did not spend almost the entire winter, fall and early spring on the Outer Banks for three years.
    They arrived on Sept. 26 in 1903, not on Sept. 1.
    The plane took off under its own power after traveling 40 feet down a rail on flat land. It was not sent down a slope after Orville Wright released a catch. The engine was started before takeoff. It was not started after the plane had rolled halfway down a 100-foot hill.
    The plane flew 120 feet, 8 to 10 feet off the ground in a straight line on the first of four flights. It did not soar 60 feet in the air. It did not circle and fly 3 miles over breakers and dunes. It did not tack to port, then to starboard.
    The plane’s ground speed was 8 to 10 mph. Its air speed was 30 to 35 mph. It did not fly at 8 mph.
    The plane hit the ground nose-first after its fourth flight, damaging the front rudder mechanism, and was later destroyed by a gust of wind. It did not descend gracefully and rest lightly at a spot chosen by the aviator after one attempt.
    Five onlookers helped the brothers and watched the flights. A small crowd did not run after the plane and give up after it outpaced them.
    The flight took place at the foot of Kill Devil Hill. Orville Wright did not declare the flight a success before a crowd on the beach after the first mile. The flights were not on the beach.
    Wilbur Wright was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. His eyes were blue-gray and his hair dark brown. He was not 5 feet 6 inches tall and did not weigh 150 pounds. He did not have raven-hued hair. His eyes were not deep blue.
    Orville Wright was 5 feet 8 inches tall and had blue-gray eyes and dark brown hair. He did not have black eyes. He did not have sandy blond hair.

  2. Now I know what the new epilogue for “A Million Little Pieces” will read like.

  3. I think that it’s sort of picky to make a fine distinction between Beirut and Boston.

  4. Whaddya wanna bet the Beirut/Boston confusion was either an autocomplete setting in Word or a blind acceptance of the spellchecker’s correction for some odd mistyping of Boston? Autocomplete may be slightly more likely than spellcheck.
    Another possibility is that the writer was selecting from a drop down menu, though that kind of error is usually with countries, not cities.

  5. Yeah, I see lots and lots of software-caused errors in proofreading.
    If one doesn’t already exist, Steve should solicit a nice Latin or Greek name for this particular kind of errors (caused by autocorrect, reliance on spellcheck, autocomplete, etc.) Sort of like “iatrogenic”.

  6. Paul Bennett says:

    Oh, fricken gawd bless the Grauniad. That’s priceless, but sadly typical of their “fact” “checking”.
    From time to time, they get the big story, and they get it right, but it’s like the boy who cried “8-foot tall robot gerbil with six legs!”
    After a while, you just gotta stop trying to figure out what to believe.

  7. The latest Guardian corrections column: http://www.guardian.co.uk/corrections/story/0,,1714854,00.html
    contains the usual catalogue of errors, including:
    “Our obituary of George Psychoundakis declared that his memoir, The Cretan Runner, was translated “with inimical lyricism” by Patrick Leigh Fermor. Inimitable, we meant. (Inimical = unfavourable, hostile).”

  8. I prefer this, from the same page: “On a map indicating the environmental impact of airports planning to expand, page 7, February 20, we showed Teesside airport, incorrectly spelling it “Teeside”. In any case, it has for some time been Durham Tees Valley airport.” They managed to get getting the thing wrong, wrong.

  9. They should put out a collection of corrections. I’ll bet it would sell.

  10. As the review of the corrections collection mentioned by x points out, one of the joys of Guardian corrections is the occasional dry aside. Witness this recent correction from February 10, 2006:
    “”Soave, fluent, funny …” (Further diary, page 8, Education, January 31). That would have been the wine talking.”

  11. X pwns Hat.

  12. Hat is delighted to be pwned. From x’s link:
    He has a pretty wit and the best deadpan style since Jack Benny. As a favourite he offered: “The building illustrating Simon Hoggart’s Diary was not the Cheltenham Town Hall, as the caption suggested it might be. It was Boots the Chemist’s.” “Quite close for us,” he added, sotto voce…
    Sometimes a note of weariness enters Mr Mayes’s prose. “We spelt Morecambe, a town in Lancashire, wrong again yesterday. We often do.”

  13. Life would be bleaker without the Guardian, the only newspaper I know of whose stylebook specifically allows “fuck” and bars “political correctness.” Downloadable at http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2004/07/15/styleguidepdfjuly2004.pdf, near which you can also find a PDF of the 1928 style guide.

  14. I much more trust a newspaper that has a corrections column than a newspaper that doesn’t – and congrats to the Guardian for just winning the award for “World’s Best Designed Newspaper” from the Society for News Design, based in New York.

  15. Fev: barring “political correctness” means relatively little when this is also in the stylebook:

    disabled people, not “the disabled”. Use positive language about disability,
    avoiding outdated terms that stereotype or stigmatise. Terms to avoid, with
    acceptable alternatives in brackets, include victim of, crippled by,
    suffering from, afflicted by (prefer person who has, person with);
    wheelchair-bound, in a wheelchair (uses a wheelchair); invalid (disabled
    person); mentally handicapped, backward, retarded, slow (person with
    learning difficulties); the disabled, the handicapped, the blind, the deaf
    (disabled people, blind people, deaf people); deaf and dumb (deaf and
    speech-impaired, hearing and speech-impaired).

    As to swearing, well, British broadsheet-ethos papers have been European about it for twenty years at least now. The Guardian isn’t exceptional in its attitude there today.

  16. Sorry if I was unclear; what it bars is the phrase itself, not the sort of language often grouped under the concept. I’ve seen few stylebooks that are as open about the role of language in reflecting the paper’s philosophy.
    On swearing in general, sure; the British press is far less prudish than the American. But it’s still a matter of degree. On one example that springs to mind — John Lydon’s unblipped live outburst on “Celebrity” a couple of years ago — I think it’s fair to say that the Guardian was, well, franker than the qualities or the tabs. The Sun, the Guardian and the Telegraph all rendered Lydon’s interjection “f***ing c***s” or the like. The Guardian not only spelled it out but put it in big type.

  17. Apologies to all; that’s “the Sun, the Independent and the Telegraph.”
    Or “Eds: Insert dropped word ‘not’,” as the wires would have it.

  18. Well, the BBC still prefers prissy circumlocutions like “the F-word”, including on their news site — I mentioned an instance only today.
    As for corrections, your examples are simply stupefying. Still, I was a bit taken aback by the NYT having to print this clarification not long ago. I mean, really, by now people should know about the old hat of “all sex is rape”. (The clarification includes a link to Snopes, no less.)

  19. I’ve seen few stylebooks that are as open about the role of language in reflecting the paper’s philosophy.

    Ah, right. And when their philosophy involves believing the phrases “the disabled, the handicapped, the blind, the deaf” to be somehow different to and worse than “disabled people, blind people, deaf people”; it’s the Süddeutsche Zeitung for me.

  20. And when their philosophy involves believing the phrases “the disabled, the handicapped, the blind, the deaf” to be somehow different to and worse than “disabled people, blind people, deaf people”
    Surely one does not have to “believe” such phrases are “worse”; I assume it’s a matter of adopting the principle (which is also mine) of avoiding terms that offend the people referred to. Does the Süddeutsche Zeitung make a practice of deliberately using the most offensive terms they can find for people not like “normal Germans”? If not, I fail to see the distinction.
    And if you’re going to say “Oh, but nobody’s offended by those terms except a few troublemakers,” I’ll want to see some statistics.

  21. One has to believe them different on a level deeper than that of grammar; that’s something I have trouble with, just as I would have trouble accepting that “the French” means something different to “French people” or “the young” means something different to “young people.”
    And to prefer one to the other is to think the first better for one’s purposes than the second; perhaps not better in general, but certainly better in context. That this preference is listed in the APA style guide, which seems to be the source of the idea as a textual norm, isn’t enough to convince me that it’s widely held, and thus actually better in context. Swathes of people hold illogical ideas all the time, sure, but logical ones tend to be the default case–and if the Wikipedia is to be believed, the question’s not resolved yet.

  22. When I read corrections like this, with so much incorrect, it makes me a little nervous about trusting what I read!!

  23. I think Aidan’s (rather deliberately) missing the point. Most stylebooks and news guides present news language as a sort of clear pane of glass — a nonrefractory, affect-free substance we hold up to give the rest of you a clear view of the world. (I think Deborah Cameron, the British linguist and pioneer of stylebook paleontology, came up with the glass metaphor, but I can’t find the reference from here.) What makes the Guardian unusual is that rather than contending all its choices are value-free, it acknowledges that most _do_ come with ideological baggage.
    What’s interesting is not whether there is or isn’t some perfectly neutral, Edenic way of saying “people in wheelchairs” or “people whose skin is darker than mine” (or some Edenic way of spelling “Muhammad,” but I’m filing that with the collection of coins marked 6 BC). What’s interesting is what goes on in newsrooms by way of producing language that’s perceived as neutral and “correct.” Whether we should all follow Fowler in demanding a return to “Mahomet” is really kind of beside the point. Something of some import, though, went on when the guy became “prophet of Islam” rather than “founder of Islam” in the AP stylebook.
    I don’t know of anybody who’s suggested that the matters in question have been “resolved.” But enjoy your Suddeutsche Zeitung. More beer for the rest of us.

  24. Swathes of people hold illogical ideas all the time, sure, but logical ones tend to be the default case
    I’m not sure whether I want to live in your universe or not, but it sure isn’t the one I’m currently living in. I submit that 1) it’s “illogical” to object to any word that has a clear referent, and 2) a vast majority of people object to such words (eg, “bitch,” “wog,” “darkie,” “crip”) when applied to themselves or someone they care about. Whether to pay attention to such preferences is not, of course, a matter for logic to decide.

  25. I think Aidan’s (rather deliberately) missing the
    point.

    I’m not deliberately missing anything; from the
    looks of things, we value different aspects of publishing
    newspapers.

    I’m not sure whether I want to live in your
    universe or not, but it sure isn’t the one I’m currently living
    in.

    ? I don’t understand you there. People do tend
    towards logic more than illogic; otherwise, logic in itself would have
    limited value, because it could not be used as a tool to win
    arguments.

    I submit that 1) it’s “illogical” to object to
    any word that has a clear referent, and 2) a vast majority of people object
    to such words (eg, “bitch,” “wog,” “darkie,” “crip”) when applied to
    themselves or someone they care about.

    Accepted, that
    it’s illogical to object to any word that has a clear referent. Not
    accepted, that an adjective in a nominalising usage should have a different
    value judgement applied to it than the same adjective in attributive usage
    in the language I grew up speaking and have a reasonably-grounded confidence
    about.

  26. Oooh! Nominalizing usage fight! Nominalizing usage fight! Nominalizing usage fight!

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