The devil is in the details

By September 20, 2015Content

I have agonised over the title of this post but feel this hackneyed cliché actually fits the bill rather well. In point of fact the devil comes in when you do not pay attention to the details and the slight bee I have in my bonnet is over proof-reading.

These days there is a huge over reliance on auto-correction and spell-check to correct our mistakes for us and this gives even the most experienced journalists a false sense of security. The mistakes still creep in, but now they can creep in as a correct word that may change the whole context of a sentence. There are many famous cases of misprints such as Penguin’s The Pasta Bible including a cannibalistic recipe due to an unfortunate auto correction and the imperative included in The Wicked Bible. My favourite is perhaps the misprint found in Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel An American Tragedy:

“harmoniously abandoning themselves to the rhythm of the music – like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea.”

These can be viewed as humorous, although perhaps The Pasta Bible’s mistake could be viewed as offensive unless we accept it as a genuine mistake. This does show the power of a misprint and why we should proof-read better before publishing. And, it is not only books, there are many online articles that have confusing misprints and very many examples of tweets that you can waste a while chuckling at.

The point was hammered home to me recently when my friend Shiela told me she had just arrived home when she received a troubling text from her husband Mark that read:

What do you want from life?

Shiela has always been a person who would read into things a little too much and needless to say she began to worry that Mark was having doubts about their relationship. She sat at their kitchen table and in the half an hour it took for Mark to arrive back to their house she had a sheet of paper covered with questions she wanted to ask him about how he felt about their relationship. When Mark arrived he came into the kitchen and found Shiela sitting there with tears in her eyes and immediately asked her what was wrong.

Shiela told him to sit down and said “we need to talk”.

He replied “About what?”

Shiela said “that text, you can’t start a deep conversation like that over text, we need to discuss how you feel towards me”

Confused Mark said “What? What are you on about?”

To which Shiela properly started crying and shouted “The text you sent!”

Mark looked at his phone to see what he had sent and laughed much to Shiela’s annoyance.

“Why is that funny to you?” She asked.

Mark’s reply: “because it is meant to say – What do you want from Lidl?’

One mistake from Mark’s large fingers and an overzealous auto-correction had the potential to effect Shiela’s emotions very deeply, although she laughed about it too, after a bit of time had gone by. This illustrates the effect misprints and not proof-reading can have on others. We need to make sure we are relaying the correct message at all times

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