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Psychopathology of proofreading?

April 20, 2010

Penguin Books’ Australian contingent is confused.

“We’re mortified that this has become an issue of any kind,” explained publishing head Bob Sessions, “and why anyone would be offended, we don’t know.”

Of course, what do we expect him to say? Rachel Olding explains for the Sydney Morning Herald:

Penguin Group Australia turns over $120 million a year from printing words but a one-word misprint has cost it dearly.

The publishing company was forced to pulp and reprint 7000 copies of Pasta Bible last week after a recipe called for “salt and freshly ground black people” – instead of pepper – to be added to the spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto.

The exercise will cost Penguin $20,000, the head of publishing, Bob Sessions, said. At $3300 a letter, it’s a pricey typo.

Stock will not be recalled from bookshops because it would be “extremely hard” to do so, Mr Sessions said. Copies remained on the shelves in city bookshops yesterday, selling for $20.

Mr Sessions could not understand why some readers had found the slip offensive.

Really? Is it so hard to understand, Mr. Sessions? Australia is a nation known worldwide, in part, for its racial and ethnic tensions. Many around the world view the island continent as exceptionally racist. So let’s think for a moment, shall we? Or not, because it’s really very simple. Professionally or psychologically, this just doesn’t speak well of Penguin’s Australian proofreaders. Yes, we understand that these things just happen, but some things that just happen have more severe implications than others. And blaming it on the software—

“It’s called the Pasta Bible, almost every recipe has ground black pepper in it, mostly in the same place [on each page].

“In one particular recipe [a] misprint occurs which obviously came from a spell checker. When it comes to the proofreader, of course they should have picked it up, but proofreading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable.

“We’ve said to bookstores that if anyone is small minded enough to complain about this very … silly mistake then we will happily replace [the book] for them.”

—and then insulting people who might be offended at the suggestion of racist cannibalism in a cookbook doesn’t help, either.

-bd

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