Another sign of the end of the world: ‘Freshly ground black people.’
Did you hear the one about the cookbook with a recipe that calls for “salt and freshly ground black people?” This is not the beginning of a bad joke, but a true story — as scary-sad in its small way as anything I’ve heard lately.
The offending term turned up in a new cookbook published by Penguin Australia, reports the Guardian. In a recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto, to be exact.
Tellingly, Penguin remained unaware of “the one-word slip” until readers pointed it out, after which the company pulped the 7,000 copies of The Pasta Bible still in its warehouse.
Doing the right thing, in this case, will cost Penguin $20,000. Copies of the book already shipped to stores will not be recalled, although the company issued a boiler-plate apology “for any offense this error may have caused.”
Penguin also offered to “”willingly replace a copy of The Pasta Bible owned by anyone who feels uncomfortable about having a copy of the book in their possession.” Willingly, as opposed to, you know, at gun point.
Publisher Robert Sessions is understandably touchy on the subject — who wants to be associated with a racism controversy over what was clearly, as he terms it, “a silly mistake?” Surely no one can believe Penguin perpetrated this error on purpose.
What I find dispiriting, though, is Sessions’ defense of the company’s proofreaders: He blames the misprint on a spell-check program. To which I say: If you have sufficient professional proofreaders, why are you using spell check?
As anyone who’s used spell check knows, it’s as likely to insert errors as it is to catch them.
The real moral of this story has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the inexorable dehumanizing trend of digital automation.
When I went to work for the Sun-Sentinel in 1986, there was a room deep in the bowels of the building where 12 or 15 specifically trained people did nothing but proof copy — news stories, ads, everything that went into the paper. By the early ’90s, all these people were gone, sacrificed on the altar of computer automation.
Let me point out, parenthetically, that proofreading is not just a matter of scanning a text for errors. It is a craft that takes training to master and professionalism to practice. Like most skills of handicraft, it is being lost — if indeed it’s not lost already.
Not coincidentally, calls and letters from readers complaining about typos in the paper increased exponentially.
At the same time I saw typos and other errors in finished books, sent from New York for review, skyrocket, and assumed publishers were dispensing with professional proofreading, too.
That’s because there’s no substitute for the human eye and the human brain that lies behind it. But companies will continue to get rid of people, as a cost-cutting measure, whenever a digital replacement comes along.
I can see the effects in my industry — books, magazines and newspapers today are rife with typos. I tremble to think what mistakes digital technology is seeding into professions I know nothing about: Air traffic control, for instance. Radiology and other medical services. Nuclear power plants. Food safety.
Yikes. Where’s my blankie?
So get used to living in an increasingly shabby, error-prone and inhuman world: A world without proofreaders.
Can you name any ways digital automation has made your profession less human? And less reliable?!?