Monday, March 21, 2011

Writers need better ears, eyes, brains and editors

Readers of this blog have likely noticed (or been pissed off by) my attention (affection?) for errors made by writers.

Inconsistent spelling and improper punctuation should be fixed by editors. Wrong information should be corrected by fact checkers. Unfortunately, the rush to publish, limited budget and egomania ("I doan need no steenkin editor!") of many self-published authors lead to bad books. There are defective articles in magazines and newspapers. Many websites and blogs are very far from perfect, too. And so are some broadcasts.

Time magazine has (or had) the most stringent fact-checking process in periodical publishing. Apparently, their checkers were expected to put a dot over each word in a manuscript to indicate that the word was checked, verified or changed.

Rival Newsweek has been notorious for printing "Newsweek regrets the error" at the end of the letters section.

Esquire once paid me to write an article, and months later one of the mag's fact-checkers called ME to verify something in the article. If I was not trusted to write the piece, why was I trusted to verify it?

The New York Times publishes large sections of corrections.

Some of my favorite errors:
  • The February 2009 issue of Automobile magazine told readers that Thomas Edison said, "Mr. Watson, come here." Actually, Edison was the guy with the light bulb, moving pictures, phonograph and concrete houses. Alex G. Bell was the one who spoke to Watson on the first telephone.
  • In the 1980s, a reporter for WCBS TV news used the Spanish phrase "mano a mano" to mean "man-to-man." It really means "hand-to-hand." This is a common error.
  • Every November, without fail, at least one talking head on TV will refer to the "Macy's Day Parade." The name of the holiday is Thanksgivings Day, and the event in Manhattan is the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," you idiots!
  • Another common New York broadcast blooper, at least for beginning broadcasters, is "Port of Authority." The real name of the organization is the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey."
  • Brent Sampson is the boss of Outskirts Press and author of a promotional book titled Self Publishing Simplified. Brent wrote, "Peter Mark first published the Thesaurus in 1852," strangely ignoring the much more famous Peter Roget who published his Thesaurus in the same year. Actually Mark was the middle name of Peter Mark Roget, so Brent was two thirds right.
  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch horse races in Yonkers Raceway or baseball games in Yankee stadium, which were within "walking distance." While the track is just a few blocks away, the stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. Twice on page 15, Senior mentions his house in "Muncie," New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • In Against the Odds. Inter-Tel: the First 30 Years, author Jeffrey L. Rodengen claims that in the early 1970s, "there were no domestic phone system manufacturers except AT&T. He inexplicably ignores GTE, Stromberg-Carlson, ITT, Northern Telecom and Rolm. Jeff also misspells company names, and seems to confuse intercom systems with phone systems.
  • In Desperate Networks by Bill Carter, an otherwise excellent book, there is this strange sentence on page 366: "What do expect for this?" What the heck does that mean? I'm only an amateur, but I found this and other flubs in the book. Where are the pros who get paid to find and fix them?
  • In So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star by Jacob Slichter, another book I liked very much, there's also some silly stuff. On page 237 it says, ". . . and did whatever the man in the headsets shouted at them to do." I've been using and selling headsets for years. I've even designed a few. But in all my experience, I've never seen a man who wore more than one headset at a time. Most men have two ears, and one headset will take care of both them just fine.
  • Steve Vogel's The Pentagon, a History is an extremely good book and I recommend it highly. Alas, it, too, has imperfections. On page 302 Steve describes a 1,000-foot-long vehicular tunnel illuminated by rows of neon lights. Neon lights are used for signs. I'd bet $20 that the tunnel was really illuminated by fluorescent lights. On page 276 Steve says the original Pentagon phone system had "68,600 miles of trunk lines." I'd bet $100 that's not true.
  • Joshua Levine's The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys is a very interesting retail history that details the destruction of a once-powerful institution by the dysfunctional family members who followed its founder. (At least it's very interesting to me, and I read a lot of retail histories.) On page 147 we are told that "inventory shortage is the term applied to discrepancies between the inventory recorded as sold and the actual depletion of stock on hand." The proper term is "shrinkage," not "shortage." Retailers know this, and so should writers and editors doing a book about retailing. On page 186, Joshua mentions "people called factors," who advance payments to stores based on accounts receivable. It's possible that hundreds of years ago factors were individual people, but during the Barneys era, factors have been companies. On page 244, Joshua tells us that Fred Pressman "didn't have the kichas for it . . . a Yiddish expression for intestinal fortitude." The proper term is kishkes. This error is unforgivable for a writer with a name like "Joshua Levine." The word originally meant "intestines," and is now slang for "guts."
  • In Release Your Writing: Book Publishing, Your Way!,  Helen Gallagher says, "Expert editing is a requirement." Sadly, Helen calls Stephen King, "Steven" and falsely claims that Amazon.com owns POD-printer Lightning Source. 
  • In a Wall Street Journal article published on April 2, 2008, Amy Schatz wrote, "The Carterfone rule required traditional wireline phone companies such as AT&T to allow consumers to use any phone they wanted in their homes, instead of renting or buying a phone from their local carrier." The Carterfone decision was in 1968, but at that time the phone companies were renting, not selling phones to their customers. Sales did not come until much later, probably in the 1980s, as a defensive reaction by telephone utilities to retailers who were selling phones that could now be legally plugged in. Some smaller phone companies may have sold some equipment earlier, but not AT&T's Bell System, and the Carterfone decision did not permit massive private phone ownership. That was enabled by a Supreme Court decision in 1977. And even then, people could not "use any phone they wanted." Phones had to meet FCC standards or be connected behind a protective coupling device.
  • Back on December 12, 1988, the New York Times published an article by Calvin Sims about the aftermath of the 1984 Bell System breakup. Sims wrote, "consumers have to decide whether to buy their telephones or rent them in a market where dozens of telephone manufacturers offer equipment of varying quality." While that statement was true, it had absolutely nothing to do with the demise of the Bell System. As I stated above, freedom of choice goes back to 1977. Calvin also wrote, "Consumers must choose among the nation's three long-distance carriers -- American Telephone and Telegraph, MCI Communications, and U S Sprint." While those three companies had captured the majority of the long distance calling business, there were dozens of other regional, national, and international competitors, including ITT, Metromedia, RCI, TDX and Allnet. And if consumers did not want to make a choice, a long distance carrier could be assigned arbitrarily by the local phone company. Also, long distance competition existed as far back as 1970, long before the Bell breakup.
  • Years ago, the New York Daily News reported on a teenage fashion trend: "wearing pumice." In reality, high school kids were not wearing lumps of volcanic rock that are normally used as an abrasive to remove calluses from feet. They were wearing Pumas, a brand of sneakers.
  • The Essential Guide to Telecommunications by Annabel Z. Dodd does a pretty good job covering the subject, but has some silly errors. On page 40 she says, "Rotary telephones, called 500 sets, were introduced in 1896." Actually the 500 model designation was not used until after World War II. Before that were the 300, 200 and others.
  • In a review of "Grease" in one of New York City's tabloids, the writer explained that the title refers to the lubricants used in teenage boys' hotrods. Actually, it referred to the grease in their hair. (When I was in high school, those kids were called "greasers" -- or "hoods" or "JDs" (juvenile delinquents).
  • Sadly, I can't give you a citation, but I read an interview where someone was quoted as saying "chalk full" of something instead of "chock full." I've also read "chuck full."
  • Google shows more than 600,000 links for "anchors away." The correct term is "anchors aweigh."
  • On an early job working for a magazine, I wrote something about trading-in an aging model A Ford for a new model T, and submitted my manuscript to my boss, the editor. The editor told the publisher that I made a serious error because the Model A came out after the Model T. He was wrong. What I knew, and what the editor didn’t know, was that there were two Model A Ford cars. One was first built in 1903, before the Model T, which was produced from 1908 through 1927. Another Model A was first built in 1927, after the Model T was discontinued.
Despite this long list and my know-it-all attitude, I readily admit to being human, and therefore both mortal and fallible. I therefore confess to two errors related to publishing.
  1. In 1976 I accused a co-author of bullshitting about the "baobab" tree. I thought he made it up, but the tree is real.
  2. In my first book about self-publishing, I recommended using the prime and double prime to indicate feet and inches, and minutes and seconds. I illustrated that section with vertical ditto marks. I was wrong, and my later books show correctly slanted primes.

2 comments:

  1. "On an early job working for a magazinwe, I wrote something ..."

    O editor where art thou?

    ReplyDelete
  2. To Anon:

    One extra letter in a long post is not so terrible, is it? Thanks for pointing it out so I could fix it. I need all the help I can get. Please see the note about my typing on the upper right of the page.

    ReplyDelete