The art formerly known as misprints

'I have to check the accents on French words in menus, which is what others call sad and I call a lot of fun'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Somebody once told me that if you look hard enough through any menu, you will find a misprint or a misspelling. Anyone with pedantic leanings, which includes me, needs no second invitation, and now whenever I go to a restaurant I spend far longer conning the menu than anyone else at the table.

Somebody once told me that if you look hard enough through any menu, you will find a misprint or a misspelling. Anyone with pedantic leanings, which includes me, needs no second invitation, and now whenever I go to a restaurant I spend far longer conning the menu than anyone else at the table.

"Decided yet?" someone asks.

"He decided hours ago," says my wife. "He's just looking for misprints now."

And my verdict is that, yes, almost every menu contains misprints. Often they are blatant. Sometimes they are modest, such as "medallions" instead of "médaillons", and occasionally I have to resort to checking the accents on the French words, which is what other people call sad and I call a lot of fun; but my conclusion is that sooner or later one will find errors in menus.

On blackboards outside pubs as well. The pub in the next village recently advertised a special dinner in January for "Burn's Night". I am not sure who Robbie Burn was, but, as if not to be outdone, the pub in our village has advertised for this very evening a special dinner for "St Davids' Day", as if Wales has plenty of patron saints to spare...

And in the Radio Times as well.

The Radio Times is a great training ground for pedants.

Years ago, when I worked on Punch and the staff was so small that everyone did a bit of everything, I did quite a lot of proof-reading, looking for the slightest mistake in any text, and after a while it became second nature to spot literals, which is the British printer's term for a mistake concerning a single character. I haven't done a staff job for nearly 20 years now, but the proof-reading habit is hard to kick, and ever and anon when I am perusing the Radio Times, I utter a cry of astonishment and triumph.

"Aha!" it might be, or "Woo hoo!"

"An interesting programme coming up?" says my wife, ever the optimist.

"No," I say, "but there's a misprint the Radio Times hasn't done before..."

She tends to lose interest about there, which is why I am turning to the readers today to record that last night on Radio 2 there was listed a programme about the origins of funk "in Senegelese drum percussion". All right, so there isn't much difference between Senegal and Senegel. It's just that Senegel doesn't exist. And you'd think a magazine as rich as the Radio Times would have proof-readers.

And what about the entry on Monday for the book of the week, In the Steps of Genghis Khan? This, according to the Radio Times, took us right back to the "birthplace of Genhis Khan". Same name, spelled two different ways within six lines. Most distressing. Although "most gratifying" is what I really mean, I suppose...

Sometimes misprints get a more permanent home. My first wife and I once went for a walk in Trent Park, which lies at the top of the Piccadilly line, and were idly reading a stone-engraved inscription about some duchess or other, when we realised with joy that it had been spelt "Dutchess". A female person from The Netherlands? No, just a misprint and one that it would have been too expensive to alter.

I believe that the Rolling Stones LP Between the Buttons was never meant to have that title. "Between the Buttons" was the art director's pencilled instructions to the printers, indicating the exact position of some lettering on the sleeve design, but the printers took it to be the title, and as the Stones felt it was as good as any, they stuck with it.

Art directors muck it up, too. The art editor of Punch used to pencil comments on rejected cartoons such as "Nearly" or "Been Done", before sending them back to the artist. There was a drawing sent in once that showed a telephone engineer mending lines in a Post Office hole in the road and talking into a phone. The art editor pencilled "Sorry, Not This One" on it. Unfortunately, it got put into the accepted pile, and the cartoon was not rejected but sent to the printer. It then appeared in the magazine without the original caption, whatever that was, but with the engineer saying into the phone, mysteriously: "Sorry, not this one." It was not thought to be one of Punch's funnier cartoons...

Oh, by the way, there is a gloomy tradition among writers that in any article about misprints, there will inevitably be another, unintentional misprint. So if anyone should spot one in this piece, please don't tell me. And for heaven's sake, don't tell my wife. She won't be interested.

Comments