Thou Shalt.

I imagine a lot of Hatters already know about the “Wicked Bible” of 1631, which (unfortunately for the printer) included the commandment “Thou shalt commit adultery.” But it’s still worth reading this Priceonomics account, which is lively and full of interesting details; my favorite is this timeless rant by the Archbishop of Canterbury, “who’d been disgraced and criticized as a result of the typo”:

I knew the time when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the best, but now the paper is nought, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned.

Yea and verily, ’tis even so today!


  1. Richard Hershberger says

    Note also that the linked article described the quoted text as a rant about grammar. I am pretty used to people using “grammar” to mean “stuff about language” but I had not seen it extended to copy editing and paper quality.

  2. Yes, that bothered me too.

  3. One of the most spectacularly annoying comments I’ve ever seen, in a discussion about baby names a few weeks ago: “La-a. Except she get’s really offended when you mispronounce it. It’s Ladasha. SHE ASSUMES EVERYONE KNOWS TO PRONOUNCE GRAMMAR.”

  4. marie-lucie says

    Lazar, this appears to be a hoax, with the same story attributed to several different locations.

  5. Oh I know, that’s why I added the link. It was the combination of the racist urban legend with the grammar thing that made the comment so annoying.

  6. marie-lucie says

    Very annoying, yes.

  7. In Alfred Bester’s 1953 novel The Demolished Man, many of the characters actually do have symbols of this kind in the spellings of their otherwise-conventional names, like @kins ‘Atkins’, Wyg& ‘Wygand’, and ¼maine ‘Qua(r)termaine’ (both rhotic and non-rhotic spellings of this surname are in actual use, and it’s not clear which one Bester intended — he was almost certainly non-rhotic himself, being born in Manhattan in 1913).

    The original magazine version also had T8 ‘Tate’ and $$son ‘Jackson’ < jack ‘money’, but these were changed by the author for book publication as he considered them too obscure.

  8. Hatters gonna hat.

  9. marie-lucie says

    Many people who choose their own license plates for their cars do that. I don’t know how old a custom that is.

  10. Nobody’s perfect. In Priceonomics’ “small selection of errors” gaue him is said to be an error for gave him (Wisdom 10:4) . But what they printed in the 1613 edition was gaue them. It was the plural pronoun that was wrong, not the spelling gaue (U and V were allographs of each other).

  11. Excellent catch — I wondered about that, but was too lazy to check!

  12. Don’t forget the New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee.

  13. But according to the link that 8 stands for its numerical value, being symbolic of good fortune in Chinese culture, not its sound.

  14. Except that the 8 (no period, I believe) doesn’t stand for anything. John CowanEmerson explained it here.

  15. If so he did it invisibly. But quoth John Emerson: the "8" was based on some kind of numerological belief.

    Did you mean ‘doesn’t stand for anything’ as ‘is just itself’? But 8 is a number symbol, not a number in itself, and I’m pretty sure numerology doesn’t ascribe different significance to numbers depending on how they are spelled.

    On the other hand, Jennifer 8 Lee might not agree that her name can be spelled with a pattern of eight dots, for instance, or with the word "Eight" — none of which would change the numerological import.

  16. “Except that the 8 (no period, I believe) doesn’t stand for anything.”

    That depends on the context. 八 (8) and 发 (to develop, send out, etc. – part of the very common expression 发才 get rich – it’s part of a very standard New year’s greeting, as it happens) are homophones in Fuzhou speech (not in Mandarin, which has ba1/fa1 and also not in Cantonese which has baat3/faat3). So if you seize a phone from a Fuzhou guy and the directory is full of phone numbers that are heavy with 8s, that’s taken as evidence, or at least and indicator, that he is somehow involved with organized crime. They settled on one digit to use and re-use to simplify memorizing their associates’ numbers and eight was the luckiest option.

    And as it happens, Jennifer 8 Lee is of Fujian ancestry, although not from Fuzhou but down by Xiamen, with a quite different language, Minnan. I don’t know but suspect the same homophony holds in that language too since the Sinitic languages of Fujian form a group and may share this conservative feature.

  17. If so he did it invisibly.

    Oops, thanks!

    Did you mean ‘doesn’t stand for anything’ as ‘is just itself’?

    No, I meant “doesn’t stand for anything” as “doesn’t stand for anything [in the way that the symbols in @kins, Wyg&, and ¼maine do in the comment by, yes, John Cowan I was responding to do]. This should also dispose of Jim’s comment qua objection to mine, although of course it is interesting in its own right.

  18. Yes, the 8 doesn’t stand for its name qua symbol, unlike those other ones — which is relevant, but which I also said myself, so I wasn’t sure if you meant something else.

  19. Ah, the problem is that I wasn’t responding to you, I was responding to MattF (and agreeing with you, though I’m not sure I’d seen your comment when I posted mine).

  20. Yes, the Min language subfamily (Fuzhou is part of Eastern Min, Xiamen/Amoy is part of Southern Min) branched off before Middle Chinese, so they don’t have /f/ in native words.

  21. vrai.cabecou says

    Fyi, Jenny Lee definitely was an 8 with a period. The 8 served as a middle initial.

  22. @vrai.cabecou: I’m not sure that link demonstrates anything. The AP style (and that of most American publications, I believe) is to put a period after the middle initial of people whose middle initial doesn’t stand for anything—unless the person’s preference to have it without the period is known. According to the AP’s style guide, they originated this policy with Harry S. Truman; when asked whether his middle initial (which was to honor both of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young) should have a period after it, he said he didn’t care, and an arbitrary style decision was made. It would be no surprise if that policy were extended to somebody whose middle initial was a single numeral.

  23. vrai.cabecou says

    @Brett: But it’s that way on her website and Twitter account too, where she’s not beholden to somebody else’s style rules. Some years back, I read an article in which the Times’s style arbiter discussed his thoughts about her byline, but now I can’t find it. Certainly, though, there have been quite a few curiosities in how the paper handles bylines, including years in which it published no bylines at all.

  24. people using “grammar” to mean “stuff about language”
    Is it just me, or are prescriptivists the ones most likely to use the word in this way? That would be ironic.

  25. marie-lucie says

    Yvy tyvy: people using “grammar” to mean “stuff about language”

    Some time ago an English teacher in an American high school got hold of a page that Trump had written, and scribbled all over it with red ink before returning it to DT, to show him and the whole country where he had allegedly committed unforgivable grammatical errors. One of those that I remember was using the same word in two sentences occurring one after the other. This is style, not grammar! And not necessarily to be avoided. Such people have memorized lists of artificial prohibitions which they consider their duty to enforce, whether they make sense or not. No wonder many people dislike “grammar”, a list much longer than the Ten Commandments.

  26. Such people have memorized lists of artificial prohibitions which they consider their duty to enforce, whether they make sense or not.

    I think that that’s very true.

  27. Is it just me, or are prescriptivists the ones most likely to use the word in this way?

    There are (broadly speaking) two kinds of prescriptivists — educated people who know what “grammar” means but think all the language-related shibboleths they were taught are Eternal Truth, and less educated people who just like ranting about everything they think is wrong with the world. It is the latter who are most likely to use the word in the overextended way. (Note: I am not saying less educated people are bad people; they are just less likely to know the standard meaning of “grammar.”)

  28. Marie-Lucie: but as an old joke goes “coveting your neighbor’s wife is in”.

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