In case my previous posts have given any of you the idea that I float peremptorily above all English errors like some haloed celestial body, this post should lay the notion to rest.
Of all the errors that have passed unfiltered through my editorial sieve, three still haunt me, even though many moons have passed since their commission. The first is the most painful, because it lives on for all to read (or more likely not read) in my first book, Tokyo, My Everest. In my initial manuscript I inserted an A between the M and C of McDonald’s, the fast-food chain’s flagship Big Mac having evidently crossed my spelling wires. Much as I’d like to blame my publisher’s copy-editing process for the failure to catch the error, I was part of that process: as per usual custom, I had the opportunity to proofread the galleys. How hard would it have been for me to flip through the phonebook in my kitchen (or walk to the computer in my living room – I already had Internet by this time) to check the spelling? Point being, I guess, that when we think we know something we don’t check. A lesson to keep in mind when I review the galleys of my next, mega-bestselling book (the manuscript of which has yet to see completion).
Going back a few more years, during my ill-fated year as managing editor for a medical publishing company, my supervisor put me in charge of a periodical called Lipidology, about cholesterol and other artery-clogging niceties. One day said supervisor walked into my office (well, cubicle) and asked me how it came to pass that the latest issue bore the title of Lipodology. When I told him I had no idea, he whipped out the proofreading form with my sign-off on it. Yup, my unmistakeable signature. I believe this was the first in a series of events that led to my euphemistic “dismissal without cause” from the company. (As it turned out, several editors in the organization rehired me to do freelance work for them after I left, so I should really thank my erstwhile employer for setting my freelance career in motion.)
Rewinding the clock still further, I had a part-time gig as a secretary for a lawyer whom I later dubbed the Spelling Nazi, so obsessive was he about orthography. Evidently disillusioned by years of dictating copy to incompetent spellers, he would overenunciate all the words he spoke into his Dictaphone (yes, this is going back a few years), as in: “The princip-aaaal eeee-ffect of this verdict was to sep-aaaah-rate intent from action.” Annoyed at being presumed illiterate right at the starting gate, I assured him I had no need for such vocal pyrotechnics – and then proceeded to misspell the word “borough” a few days later. (I spelled it “burrough,” which still makes me want to burrow into a hole.)
So there you have it. When I accuse the kettle of being black, I speak as a well-used pot.