Kate Santon

writer • editor • copywriter

The cumulative effect of errors

I have far too many books. 

Partly this is down to having been in some way connected to the book trade for most of my working life, and partly it is down to the fact that I just love those rectangular things with the paper inside. 

Too many books? I think not…


And I freely admit that there are books on my shelves which – shh, don’t tell anyone – I have not yet read. Most of them are the illustrated books, the books about carpets or Korean pottery or a year in an oakwood. I’ve looked at them – lots. But I’ve not settled down to actually read them.

And so, wandering around the place looking for something to read, I picked one of them up. I’m not going to be specific, because I’m sure I know how this mess happened – but, boy, was it a mess.

It was a craft book, and it had been tied into a TV series. I’ve worked on TV tie-ins, and I know the immense pressure they can generate.

In this case I suspect that the copyeditor and proofreader had thrown themselves under buses at some stage, because there was very little sign that they’d been used much. Or rather, they’d been used in parts. I know they were there at one point, because the author actually thanks them for their contribution.

And I could also tell that the first chapters of the book were actually the last to be delivered by the author, presumably after the editorial team had walked out, because they were all over the place. All over the place. 

There were sentences that simply didn’t make sense. Sometimes this was because part of the sentence had become the start of the next sentence – a random full stop had appeared from nowhere, making what would have otherwise been fine into total gibberish. Sometimes they were so muddled up grammatically that nobody could have understood them. Some had no punctuation whatsoever, or too much – almost as though all the punctuation marks had been frightened out of one sentence and run away to hide in another.

There were loads of typos, as well. There are often a few that slip through the net, but here there were lots. Sometimes a place name was correct in the text, but wrong in a caption; sometimes errors were in both places. 

Old techniques were ‘spurred’, not ‘spurned’; Grimes Graves in Norfolk found itself transformed into Grimes Caves, and the coastal village of Salthouse became Sathouse. Bath’s Roman name became just Aqua Sulis (Aquae – it should be waters, not water), and ‘pods’ were dug to create water heads. Ponds. Ponds – wet things. Not pods. Except in science fiction movies, possibly. Oh, and the national psyche had a deep cord which had been struck. I had to read that several times before I realised it should have been ‘chord’. 

By the end, I was foaming slightly at the mouth, but I pressed on – more in search of typos than anything else. It was the perfect illustration of how errors can obscure the message. I’m sure this book had interesting things to say, and in places that came over. But generally I was looking for more pods and cords. And that’s just the stuff I knew about – I was also doubting the accuracy of everything else. 

Oh, and now it’s bound for a charity shop…



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