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Sunday, November 27, 2022

My Life in Error – The New York Times

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Proofreading a new edition of a 50-year-old translation of a French classic, I was stopped in my tracks by a section of a half-dozen or so unattributed lines of dialogue in which one line seemed to be missing. He said, I pointed with my finger, she said, he said, she said … she said again? (It’s an indication of my stubborn faith in the printed word that I had to run my finger down that passage several times before I was sure that the error was on the page and not in my head.)

As it happened, the novel’s translator was still alive, and he was (I was told) delighted to fill in the missing line, which had apparently gone unnoticed all this time.

A more elaborate version of this story occurred a number of years later, when a puzzled email from a reader about what appeared to be a continuity glitch in a major work of 20th-century science fiction inspired me to do a bit of detective work. Assisted by a book pirate’s online post of the entire text, I uncovered eight paragraphs that had somehow gone missing decades before.

How can this happen? you might be wondering. I can’t be certain, but I infer that in the translation of the book from its original hardcover version to a mass-market paperback, an overburdened editorial assistant, tasked with photocopying the original, skipped a spread — two consecutive pages, a left and a right, that is. Or perhaps that assistant dropped the spread on the floor, and because the missing text, improbably and unluckily, began at the beginning of a sentence and concluded at the end of one, the gap went unremarked. (To be fair, this particular book drones on so uneventfully for pages and pages that one could be forgiven for not noticing that some of the drone was absent.) Of course, we fixed the error.

I’m occasionally asked whether I can make my way through the world without shivering under the constant bombardment of typos. When I’m not on the clock, the answer is: mostly. A restaurant sign advertising a “pre-fix” menu will stop me in my tracks (I won’t eat there). And once, watching the movie “My Week With Marilyn,” I elbowed my husband sharply in the ribs over a prescription bottle, visible on a night table for approximately a second and a half, whose label read “Tunial” instead of “Tuinal.”

“I think it must hurt sometimes to live in your brain,” my husband has said on occasion, not unkindly. But, as he also notes, in a kind of nursery rhyme mantra, “Your strengths are your weaknesses, your weaknesses are your strengths.”

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