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When I am Copyeditor General ...: The New Yorker will not test my faith


The New Yorker will not test my faith

I love The New Yorker for many reasons, chief among which is their renowned attitude toward accuracy. Every word is proofed; every fact is checked; every quote is verified with its progenitor.

The graceful writing, the clean editing, and the backbone of truthful reporting allow me to read without fear of encountering typos and grammatical foul play. (Though they also make every Seymour Hersh article about the Middle East extra-depressing, because it's all true.)

So when The Boy said to me last week, "I think I found an error in The New Yorker," (and yes, he said the title in italics, because that's how we work at CGHQ) my heart sank. How could such a thing happen?

It was in the April 7 Financial Page column:

(I'm doing this slowly, because it's so painful. Okay, here goes):

But is it an error? First glance suggests there's a preposition missing from the second sentence: it should read "That will probably mean that we end up with fewer business failures ..."

But this being The New Yorker, which doesn't let me down ever ever (right?), I'm willing to believe (read: hope) that the meaning of the sentence is "That means we, as a society, can self-identify as failures on fewer occasions."

Copyeditor General's ruling: What do you think? Does the sentence make sense without the preposition, or is this a test of my faith in the infallibility of my editorial role model?


Scooter said...

I think you were right the first time: it is an error. Let's grant the most forgiving scenario: take a group of 10 people, all of whom would have ended up business failures. Under the new regime, 6 of them end up business failures. But those 10 people did not end up 6 business failures; they ended up 6 failures and 4 successes. 10 people cannot end up 6 failures. Right?

If they did intend the meaning you're hoping for, there are a few ways to do it: "less frequently end up business failures" (or "end up business failures less frequently"). Even that would be improved by changing "end up" to "end up as," wouldn't it?

Unless I'm much mistaken, a copy editor's job is not just to ensure that every sentence could arguably be grammatically correct, as long as you know the intended meaning and tilt your head to the left with one eye shut. Rather, her job is to ensure that the writing is the best it can be: the wording is correct, and the author's intent cannot be mistaken. If we accept this as the bar, then I'm afraid the New Yorker failed to clear it.

But take heart! Rather than bemoan the failure of a hero, use this to reassure yourself that the people who get it right so very often are not, in fact, flawless automatons. Rather, they're humans who are capable of error and yet manage to avoid errors with impressive frequency.

I love this blog.

Laura Matthews said...

I also think the "law" in the first phrase should be plural.

Harold Ross would be turning in his grave....

LimeyG said...

Can I hug you both, please?

Holly said...

I think the 'with' should be there, but I think it was probably missed because your brain puts it in automatically. Anyway, that is what happened with me...I had to read it twice to see where the error was that you were trying to point out!
Great blog - I feel your red-ink-stained pain!

LimeyG said...

I think you're right, Holly; the problem is that I think of The New Yorker as being above the errors that mere mortals make!

F. Escobar said...

My respect for The New Yorker also leads me to astonished disbelief when a typo pops up. I know I'm coming very, very late to this discussion, and you may have mentioned this one later, but an honest-to-God, hands-down typo did surface in a story published in 2010 (here): it says, "it got too hot too work." Too work!

I'll add this: even if the folks at TNY are almost infallible in English, when their short stories turn to Spanish, to those bits and pieces of Spanish authors sometimes flaunt, they almost invariably allow a mistake to slip in--or 6 of them, like in Junot Díaz's recent "The Pura Principle." Daniel Alarcón's "Second Lives" had two, and Valdez-Quade's "The Five Wounds" had a couple. Don't they have someone at hand who could look over those words?

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