Stuff one of Serge’s burgers into my mouth before I scream…

August 24, 2009 at 1:53 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve bitched about bad subbing before, but I just have to repeat that it is extraordinarily frustrating finding errors published in the paper that weren’t there when I submitted my work. It’s usually small things, but that’s hardly the point. Details matter. And once it’s published, it looks like my mistake, because it’s my name at the top, and that drives me insane. Absolutely insane. Over the weekend, this happened twice, one mistake apiece in two different papers. The first was a random capitalisation of the letter ‘a’ mid-sentence; it did not appear as A in the original. I checked. The second was worse, a real pet peeve of mine, and that was the removal of an apostrophe that should have been retained. ‘Serge’s burgers’ inexplicably became ‘Serges burgers.’ Well, no, you see, that apostrophe was there for a damn good reason, the reason being that there is a Serge, and they’re his burgers. And, as usual, this sloppy piece of sub-editing makes it look like the mistake is mine.

Oh, how this makes me gnash my teeth. And I can’t do a thing about it; in fact, it’s difficult even pointing it out to my editor, because he gets irritated, and then he’s potentially less likely to give me more work because I am the nagging pedant among his contributors. I get it. I’m annoying. So I try to make light of it, which only ever succeeds in doubly emphasising my irritation because I take it all very seriously indeed. Looking at ‘Serges’ makes me seethe.

It’s not that I don’t ever make mistakes. I do. I have confused ‘steed’ with ‘stead’ and ‘populous’ with ‘populace.’ I am fallible, and sometimes I get things wrong. And that’s exactly what a sub is there to do: detect errors and correct them before an article hits the press. What they’re really not supposed to do is put errors into a piece of work that had it right the first time. I can’t even imagine how that happens, and it happens with depressing regularity. All I’ve got as recourse is a series of deep breathing techniques, but I still know those mistakes are there, and I still really hate them. And breathe in, two, three, four…



  1. charlotteotter said,

    That would make me scream too, especially, ESPECIALLY the removal of the apostrophe. The random capital A just looks like a typo, but the apostrophe loss looks like stupidity (to the three people left in the world who know how to use apostrophes – the rest don’t care). How can subs exist who don’t care or know about apostrophes? They should go and get jobs as baristas immediately!

  2. Fugitive Pieces said,

    I’m with you. So, apparently, is Giles Coren – even if he doesn’t sub his own e-mails:
    (expletive warning, people…to the power of ten)

  3. doctordi said,

    Charlotte, I care DEEPLY about apostrophes. Witness the 2006 Apostrophe Police post on this very subject. It really kills me. How do you even get a job as a sub if you aren’t on the side of grammar and punctuation? How?

    Thanks, Fugitive – that is a very colourful and convincing argument! You tell ’em, Giles.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    How annoying! And bizarre. You’d think all they have to do is just take your story and plug it into their publishing software. But I’ve experienced the same thing.

    • doctordi said,

      Lilian, I think that’s exactly what they do, but here at least, it’s only after a story has been placed in its final layout form that the subs descend and all hell breaks loose…

  5. Grad said,

    I double-ditto all the above. I have long worried that English grammar and composition have gone (or are in danger of going) the way of penmanship in our school curriculum. (By the way, my dad got that last word wrong in a spelling bee when he was in grade school, costing him the crown. He was a great storyteller and told that particular story again and again – each time with more dramatics.) I’m afraid I’ll have to agree with Charlotteotter that , in all probability, very few readers noticed the “fall of the apostrophe.”

  6. Grad said,

    I just read the link from Fugitive Pieces. I thought it was a laugh-riot. Swearing sounds much better with a British accent than it does with a flat Yankee accent…or even a southern drawl. It actually sounds sort of…refined. It reminds me of that line from “Educating Rita,” in which Rita is explaining how the “upper crust” swears so much more than the rest of us…”It’s all ‘pass the fooking pheasant’ with them, isn’t it?” (My interpretation of the way the “f” word sounds in British-speak to my tin ear.)

    • doctordi said,

      Graddikins, I loved the English piece, too (incredibly, I’d read it before). And I totally agree with you about Brits knowing how to wield a fine expletive. It sounds hilarious instead of uncouth. I don’t know quite how they do it, but I suspect it’s related to their having a queen.

      Poor Grad Dad missing out by one lousy word! And yes, it’s so sad that no one knows or cares… it’s a genuine tragedy as far as I’m concerned.

  7. litlove said,

    I would be really, really mad. The way I see it, I make enough mistakes of my own without anybody planting extras. Is there any possibility here for subtle revenge?

  8. doctordi said,

    Oh, Litlove, I was f-u-r-i-o-u-s, but then, I always am, and nothing ever changes, and sometimes I think they do it to spite me for complaining the last time, so no, revenge is off the table, I just can’t risk it! It’s like sending back your steak – you know they piss on it then, don’t you?!

  9. Grad said,

    We had a runner once that was a source of contention in the office – divided one side against the other, that sort of thing. The flap was over getting lunch. One of the partners felt that the runner should go pick up lunch if asked, as had been traditionally the way. This runner was a middle aged man who had run his own office before he “retired,” and thought it demeaning to get lunch. The argument the partner wanted to make was that, if you don’t want to do “runs” don’t be the runner. Although I agreed in principal, I would have worried what was actually in that tuna sandwich he brought from the deli. So, discretion being the better part of honor, I opted to bring my lunch – and preserve my sleep at night.

  10. doctordi said,

    There you go. Exactly. I agree with your boss that it’s very curious taking a job you pointblank refuse to do (keeping himself entertained after retirement is all well and good, but… not at the company’s expense, one wouldn’t have thought), but I’m still not entrusting my lunch to the embittered runner.

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