When Gremlins invade the press room

For whatever reason the final paragraph of my May 30 column never made it into print. I typically save the main idea to the end, so that particular column might have left you wondering if I had experienced a senior moment and forgot to get to the point. In case you don’t remember it, the heading said, What owns you? and ended with me driving the boss’  Rolls Royce. It should have concluded with this thought: “You can best measure a man, not by what he owns, but by what owns him. Fortunately, life has not tested me by allowing me to own a Rolls.”

And don’t fret if you can’t remember what I wrote two weeks ago. As often as not, I can’t recall what I wrote last week.

Errors do creep into newspapers and printed material. As humans we all make mistakes, although outwardly we blame them on gremlins that creep into the system and disrupt the communication. Inwardly, those of us who write blame the editors, and the editors accuse the writers. In one case a newspaper (not The Wellington Advertiser) neglected to print the first paragraph of my column. On that occasion the whole column didn’t make much sense.

The funniest error occurred when I wrote, edited, and illustrated a technical manual for my employer. It had a two-colour cover and over 100 pages, many of them containing detailed drawings, and it took over one year to prepare. One Friday when the project wasn’t quite finished, my boss said, “The VP wants you to get that manual to the printer on Monday.” I arranged for my wife to help me proofread it on Saturday and for a secretary, Sara, to make the corrections on Sunday. Things went well. When I came in on Monday, I scooped up the final copy and took it to the printer. A few days later a thousand copies arrived and with considerable pride and excitement I took one to my desk and began leafing through it. Almost immediately, an error on the Table of Contents page jumped out at me. In a section about working in underground structures, or manholes, Sara had typed manhold instead of manhole. 

I rushed to Sara’s office and pointed out the offending typo. Now I should tell you that Sara was the prettiest girl in the office and always had a string of male admirers. She looked at the offending word, fluttered her eyebrows, and said, “I guess I didn’t have my mind on my work.”

Of course, in this case, I had made the major error by not proofreading her corrections before rushing madly off to the printer. That little blunder seems to have set a trend that has continued to this day. Of the eight books I have written, seven of which I have also had much to do with publishing, every one has arrived from the printer with typographical errors. In most cases, the first person who flipped through the book found an error. Some have proved embarrassing. When I gave a copy of my book I Cannot Dream Less to a graphic artist who had prepared a chart for it, she couldn’t find it. I had put the wrong page number in the Table of Contents. I knew my book Disciples of Joy contained no errors until I proudly showed it to a college representative and discovered I had misnamed the college.

Getting back to the error in my column. An editor must have made that blunder. As you can see, I’ve long since made enough mistakes to last a lifetime.

Copy Editor’s note: There is an especially warm place reserved in the next life for those who make errors when they do a correction. We will watch Ray’s column more closely in the future – if it was our fault – and not the fault of the Gremlins.


Ray Wiseman