Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let Us Give Thanks...For Copy Editors

We fully admit we are jealous we did not get to attend this swank White House party. This is why we got a good chuckle out of the New York Times blog post this morning making fun of the editing on the menu:

The White House pulled out all the stops in preparation for President Obama’s first state dinner on Tuesday night, hiring a new florist, selecting a renowned guest chef and even inviting a number of high-profile musicians to perform.

But one person the White House apparently neglected to hire was a spell checker.

The special dinner menu — a lavish mélange of Indian and American favorites as well as several excellent wines — was rife with typos.

The second course of the evening was paired, for example, with a delicious 2006 Brooks Riesling, which, the menu noted, was bottled in “Wilamette Valley, Oregon.”

A diligent copy editor would have changed that to the proper spelling, “Willamette Valley.”

For their third course, the 320 guests were offered a dish that, according to the menu, included potato dumplings with tomato chutney and “chick peas,” which should in fact have been “chickpeas.” That course, the menu noted, was paired with an excellent red wine, a “2007 Granache” from Beckmen Vineyards. The correct spelling of the popular varietal, one of the most widely planted types of red grape in the world, is actually “Grenache” with only one “a,” not two.

The last bottle of the night was equally impressive, a sparkling chardonnay from Virginia. It was listed as a “Thibaut Janisson Brut,” missing a hyphen between the first two words. And last but not least, the dessert may have been free of error in taste, but not so in spelling. It included, according to the menu, passion fruit and vanilla “Gelees,” the French word for “gelled,” which, when written correctly, includes an acute accent on the second “e.”

For future reference, SPOGG is always available for menu editing. We work for food.


Barry Leiba said...

Here's a link to the Times blog post. Mr O'Connor might be right about needing a "spell checker" — perhaps one of those would have found the right hex to fix those errors. I doubt that many spelling checkers, though, would have caught any of them.

"Chick" and "pea" are both words, and would have made it through electronic scrutiny just fine (though perhaps a human copy editor would have seen it). The others, proper names and a foreign word, would have also stumped a human, unless that human happened to know the correct spellings or looked every one of them up.

As it happens, I would have known "Willamette" and "Grenache", and I know French spelling well enough to fix "gelée. No hope for me on "Thibaut-Janisson", though, woe betide me.

I'm afraid Mr O'Connor is grasping, here, Ms B.

Martha Brockenbrough said...

I don't think he's grasping too much, though a "spell checker" isn't what was really called for--an editor was. Surely you're not saying that anything a spell checker would let slide should be OK? Or am I missing something?

Barry Leiba said...

No, 'course I'm not saying that. Mr O'Connor said that a "spell checker" was in order, and I was pointing out that an electronic spelling checker wouldn't have helped. In any case, I think we over-rely on spelling checkers, and don't actually proofread enough any more. No, I certainly don't think that anything they miss is OK.

But even so, would a copy editor really look up and verify every proper noun, every name, every foreign word? It seems unlikely, when I see all the errors that show up in the New York Times, for instance.

Finally, I was making a joke about "spell checkers", which would be things to check spells, and "spelling checkers", which are what check spelling. We lost that one, of course, long ago, but I still like to poke fun at it. Most people miss my point, because, well, we lost that one so long ago.