Monday, July 5, 2010

Grammar, Typos, and Omissions

Only in grammar can you be more than perfect. - William Safire

I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July.

Last Monday at Mystery Writing is Murder, Elizabeth Spann Craig blogged about "Little Mistakes - How Much Do They Matter," which got me thinking (as good blogs should and hers always do) how much do they matter.

I’m not talking content errors – I discussed those in a previous blog titled “Bloopers.” I mean simple little mistakes that have to do with typos, grammar and word omissions. So I began my intensive internet research. OK it wasn’t really a thorough search—more of a diversion to keep from working on a different writing project. Although minor errors are more difficult to track down, I thought I’d share some of what I discovered.

Omitting a three letter word made a big difference in one edition of the Bible. Printed in 1631, the now infamous "Wicked Bible" contains the phrase, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” (News headlines make me wonder if we are still handing out this version to our politicians.)

There’s a theory that the name 'Imogene' from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was most likely supposed to be the old Gaelic name, Innogen. It seems that a printing error in 1623 created the new name.

In more recent accounts, the books in the Twilight series popped up regularly. It seems along with numerous reports of content mistakes there are also many typos and word omissions. Readers don’t seem a bit put off by the mistakes as the books keep selling. Errors also didn’t keep the books from being made into movies. I can’t imagine Stephenie Meyer is losing too much sleep over any of the slip-ups.

Since the 1950s there’s been an omission of an “a” in Chapter 2 of an educational edition of Lord of the Flies.

Someone thinks the use of the word “Enamored” in Chapter 12 of To Kill a Mockingbird is a mistake as the definition doesn’t make sense in the way the word is used.

There’s a report that six professional proofreaders failed to catch the mistake in a new edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which read, “To be or to be.”

There are 75 instances in Jane Austen’s six novels where she used ‘their’ instead of ‘his’ or ‘her.’ (For Jane Austen fans, there’s a great site call Jane Austen Information where I ran across the article “Jane Austen and other famous authors violate what everyone learned in their English class.” )

In May of 2008 Princeton University Press recalled all copies of one of its spring titles when they discovered more than 90 spelling and grammar mistakes in the 245-page book. You can read the entire article here.

Other than the above example, what I got out of my research is that if you’ve got a good story, don’t sweat the small stuff. Though I’ll continue to make my writing as error free as I can, I am determined to quit beating myself up whenever I find a mistake in my own work.

I admit it doesn’t bother me if I run across a few grammar errors, typos or word omissions when I’m reading, but if the mistakes become excessive, I do lose track of the story and focus more on finding another error.

Do you have any examples of proofreading oversights in popular books? Have you ever quit reading a book because of mistakes? Are you bothered more by your own errors than those of others?

By the way, I suggest stopping by Mystery Writing is Murder to read Elizabeth’s blog on this subject, and while you’re there you’ll probably want to read a lot more of her posts. They’re always entertaining, interesting and informative.

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope to see you next Monday.

Tags: William Safire, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Shakespeare, Wicked Bible, Jane Austen,Stephenie Meyer


Jan Morrison said...

Hi Jane - hmmm...I don't mind if I find them but not too many as you say. I'm grammatically challenged myself so depend on a line editor when I get to that point. My partner is a fanatic so he does the job! I was thinking that I know some books that were published before they were finished but that is a bigger deal - grammatical and spelling errors were the least of it. It must be tempting when you have a publisher urging you to let them have at it but it still needs another revision to be done. Only the author can know this...

Helen Ginger said...

As long as it's only one or two errors in a book, it doesn't bother me too much. But if it keeps happening, it does. In my own work, I hopefully catch them as I edit and read and re-read. I try to always read comments I leave because I often type so fast that I leave out words or put in wrong words. But...mistakes happen. To even the classic writers.

Straight From Hel

Joanne said...

One or two typos, okay. More than that and it can get annoying. What bothers me more are story errors ... I read a novel recently where the main character was walking down the hallway in her home in the middle of night, and the hallway was illuminated by moonlight spilling in the window. And in the next paragraph it was a pouring rain night. Moonlight and pouring rain? Hm ...

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I do think they're a little distracting, but if the story is good (like I guess Twilight's was for its fans), then I can overlook the boo-boos.

Thanks so much for the mention on your blog! And for sharing all the info on historical typos. :)

Karen Walker said...

I'm with you, Jane. If I don't find too many, I don't mind. I consider myself to be a pretty good proofreader, but as many times as I went over my manuscript, I still missed things. Professionals are also human. Humans make mistakes.

Laura S. said...

I don't put a book down when I see errors. Errors are inevitable; we're humans and prone to making many mistakes! As long as we learn from them, like future editions don't contain the same errors, then it's okay! :)

Carol Kilgore said...

It's heartening - or maybe disheartening - to learn even the pros make mistakes. I love Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog, too. She always writes about things that make me think.

Darcia Helle said...

Another great post, Jane! I haven't read the Twilight series and had no idea there were so many mistakes throughout.

A few minor mistakes don't bother me at all. (Although it drives me crazy that I have them in my own books!) I have to agree with Joanne about the story errors being worse than typos. Those things really bug me.

I did have to stop reading one book because of editing. However, this was way beyond a few typos. The author confused tenses throughout the story - even within the same sentence! Another time, the author I was reading had an addiction to the word obviously. It got so bad that I stopped paying attention to the story and started counting the times she used that word. The most was 7 times on one page! I never went one page without finding the word. Those things will distract me far more than a typo!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Good point, Jan. It’s got to be tough when a publisher makes demands that force a writer to turn in manuscripts that are simply not ready.

Helen, I also worry that my comments are sometimes full of mistakes. Hopefully they can at least be deciphered.

Joanne, I find story errors more annoying also.

Elizabeth, I think Twilight fans are a different breed of reader and aren’t distracted regardless of the number of mistakes. I mentioned your blog because I always enjoy my stop there.

Karen, I read my manuscript so many times I almost had it memorized, yet each time I’d find more mistakes.

Laura, you’re right, errors are inevitable. That’s why I think we should do all we can to keep them to a minimum.

Carol, I like to think of it as heartening – if the pros make mistakes it takes some of the pressure off us mere mortals. I agree that Elizabeth’s blog is one of the best.

Darcia, I haven’t read the Twilight series either but the books popped up often in my search. It sounds as if the “obviously” author obviously did not have anyone else read her book before publishing it. I depend on my critique group to help me catch over-used words.

Unknown said...

My mom recently gave me a letter I wrote to a school textbook publisher where I pointed out errors in their books. I'm not perfect but I know that may books I've read, even popular ones have errors.


Ann Best said...

Grammar and typos really distract me when I'm reading a book. Like most commenters here said, a few are okay. And yes, if it's definitely a good read, I'll keep going.

Hart Johnson said...

I confess to being irritated when I run across mistakes--one or two a book, okay--they happen. But books produced too quickly seems sloppy to me--like somehow the process is being disrespected. In a MODERN work, 'their' instead of 'his or her' I think is technically accepted--speaking has changed what is allowed and 'his or her' is the kind of thing that is cumbersome and blocks flow (something almost worth using poor grammar to avoid) but mostly I feel like if a writer is making the same mistake again and again, they maybe need a little help with the basics before they should be publishing.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Clarissa, I’m wondering about your age when you wrote that letter - maybe you were born to be an editor.

Ann, since writing this blog, I began reading a book with more than a few errors and I’m only on page 70 something. I want to concentrate on the story because it’s written by someone I know, but I am already distracted.

Hart, you make a good point. Publishers today do seem more intent on getting a book out quickly rather than making sure it’s the best product they can produce. I think I am going to have to do more research the ‘their’ question.

Holly, I think it’s harder to find errors in our own writing and that’s why critique groups, early readers and professional editors are so important to a writer. Would you ever consider writing an author about mistakes in one of his or hers books?

Unknown said...

I even need an editor for my blogs! I go back and can end up correcting and making changes more times than I care to count! If someone sends a comment, I quickly got check it out because I'm sure there are mistakes - and there usually are.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Ciss, I also worry about my blogs (and the comments I leave) because I don’t have the time to do the many revisions they need. But, as a blogger I am more forgiving of goofs in posts (mine and others) simply because I know the time factor plays a big part and we all have other lives.

Helen Ginger said...

Jane, if your comments are full of errors, I have never noticed it, which probably means they're not! Besides, comments are personal and not to be critiqued, I think.

Anonymous said...

LOL! Yeahm the "Thou Shalt Commit Adultery" is a biggie in the world of typos. Typos are pesky little varmits that are not easy to see from the writer. Thanks God for proofreaders and editors to clean up our mistakes.

Stephen Tremp

The Old Silly said...

Good post and article. Elizabeth's on this subject was great too! Will see ya again on Monday, Jane!

JournoMich said...

Wow! I can't believe all of those mistakes...and then I can. I catch them all the time in books and I wonder, how? Of course, I've never proofread a book, so maybe it's completely understandable.

Southern City Mysteries

Glynis Peters said...

Jane you can read minds! I had a conversation with DH today. I said that I can only get my ms perfected so far. I am sure there will be errors. During edits, I have been careful, and corrected what I have found.
I have stopped reading a book because of errors. It was self published, and so full of mistakes, I couldn't finish it.

I love Elizabeth's blog too!
Thanks for an interesting post.

CA Heaven said...

Always doing my best, but the most dusty corners of the English-grammar temple are not easy to find for 2nd-language English writers. I guess it makes the natives giggle from time to time >:)

Cold As Heaven

Patricia Stoltey said...

I saw eminent used instead of imminent not long ago. So distracting.

I notice typos and errors in grammar and punctuation a lot more now that I've had to deal with my own editor's edits. That was a real education.

Hope all is well.

John Betcher said...

Some published copies of The Books of Elsewhere: Shadows, have apparently been released with omitted pages, and worse, additional pages FROM AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT BOOK added in. I know that's not the author's fault. But especially when such page errors come near the end of the story (as these did) the effect can be very disappointing.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world