I tried to resist, I really did—I know I have a book problem—but I couldn’t resist at least looking at a book with the title Error and the Academic Self, and the table of contents was irresistible:
Introduction: The Pursuit of Error: Philology, Rhetoric, and the History of Scholarship
1. Errata: Mistakes and Masters in the Early Modern Book
2. Sublime Philology: An Elegy for Anglo-Saxon Studies
3. My Casaubon: The Novel of Scholarship and Victorian Philology
4. Ardent Etymologies: American Rhetorical Philology, from Adams to de Man
5. Making Mimesis: Exile, Errancy, and Erich Auerbach
Epilogue: Forbidden Planet and the Terrors of Philology
Every other word pushes one of my buttons, and the third chapter turns out to concern the OED as much as George Eliot. And when I turned to Seth Lerer’s Introduction and found that it began:

I do not think I have ever published anything that did not have an error in it. Typos have crept in and escaped proofreading. Miscitations and mistranslations have refused correction. Facts and judgments have, at times, seemed almost willfully in opposition to empirical evidence or received opinion…

Well, I was hooked. I’ve spent most of my adult life getting paid to correct errors, I find their weedlike ineradicability fascinating, and the idea that they were responsible for the birth of modern scholarship was something I had to explore. So I sighed and reached for my wallet.


  1. Wonderful post. Should the reader surmise that you make a living as an editor/proofreader correcting errors? I hope your erudition and passion for words has some outlet at work. Correcting other people’s errors — Lord! LH, you should be correcting their truths.

  2. A book problem. Reaching for your wallet. These seem like familiar concepts. How does one cure it? 🙂

  3. Started as a proofreader, worked my way up to editor. I draw the line at becoming a (corporate) writer, though; then I’d have to start letting the bullshit invade my innards rather than simply combing through it for foreign objects.

  4. Oh, and Chris: I’m afraid there is no cure.

  5. then I’d have to start letting the bullshit invade my innards rather than simply combing through it for foreign objects.
    Have you read this, by the way?
    I rather enjoyed it.

  6. Thanks! I just glanced over it and bookmarked it, being too tired to do it justice at the moment, but it looks great. “I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis….” Bring it on!

  7. I believe the cure involves access to a good library.
    I still want to actually own the books, but I hold out hope that that part can be cured.

  8. About 20 years ago I was moving and putting stuff in storage. I had some old-Japanese language-and-literature books I’d had for 5-10 years without reading, and I knew I was never going to study old Japanese, so I sold them.
    I still miss those books. It’s still true that I’ll never study old Japanese, but it was just nice having those books around (e.g., a Japanese-English dictionary of the Manyoshu, which was written in a bizarre kind of kanji).

  9. A different perspective on the “weedlike ineradicability” of error, and on learning and teaching its correction, can be found in David Bartholomae’s excellent extended essay “The Study of Error“; there’s also a fascinating brief annotated bibliography of error articles at the University of Indiana.
    And Anthony Grafton, in The Footnote: A Curious History suggests that the footnote was partly responsible, if not for the birth of modern scholarship, at least for modern historiography.
    I’ll echo the Tutor: thanks for the great post.

  10. “I haven’t been wrong since 1961, when I thought I made a mistake.”
    –Bob Hudson–

  11. Ben: I have access to some of the greatest civic libraries in the world. Sometimes I even use them. Alas, it doesn’t seem to affect the addiction.
    zizka: I feel your pain. And let’s not even talk about the books I discarded because I thought I’d never read or need them, and then…
    Mike: Thanks for the links!

  12. Stonking means hugely or very. So stonk-on or stonker (noun) for erectile reference, Stonking (adverb)for intensity. ‘Stonking stonker’ for fantasy or exaggeration. No verb exists (to my knowledge)
    Regards Richard from Cambridge UK

  13. We’ve admitted defeat in the book-buying-addiction fight. It’s now regarded as absolutely acceptable, and the children regard it likewise. Books, unlike toys, are bought unquestioningly as a necessity of life. I have transferred my bottomless reserves of guilt to the purchase of anything digital. And I never ever ever take a taxi anywhere.

  14. Hi, qB! While I’ve got you, your site has been crashing my browser the last couple of days — just hangs it up until I have to reboot. No big deal, but I thought you’d want to know. (And yes, I think acceptance is the best way to deal with the book addiction.)

  15. jeepers… that’s a pretty extreme reaction. i’ll try and find out if it’s a general problem… ask the question and then be in another dilemma – is no response disinterest or a global crash? (probably too many pictures. sigh)

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