Monday morning, time for a rant. Given that I persist in taking the Grauniad, I suppose I have only myself to blame that while the day is yet young I was minded to fling the paper across the room and utter execrations. What bothers me is that their highly-paid columnists – at least, paid a fat lot more than I am, i.e. nothing – betray such ignorance. It is the little details that vex me… those admittedly minor errors which, I sense, one only makes if lacking the broad sweep of what used to be called “general knowledge”.
Today’s case in point comes from fatuous television reviewer Sam Wollaston. Reviewing last night’s new Sherlock on the BBC, he notes that the modern-day setting of the series means the characters get around by black cab rather than by “the handsome carriage”. The what? He means the Hansom cab, of course. Anyone who knows that would not mistype it as “handsome”. The heavens will not fall in, the planets will continue to spin, but yet this slapdashery pains me.
A while ago, another Grauniad television reviewer, addressing himself to a new adaptation of The Turn Of The Screw, repeatedly referred to the story’s presiding evil spirit as “Peter Clint”, rather than “Quint” – this in spite of the name being clearly visible, at one point, upon a tombstone. Again, we are dealing here with what I would consider general knowledge. Henry James’ ghost story is a classic, certainly a piece with which I would have thought anybody employed in “cultural” journalism would be familiar.
Taking the cake, though, is Grauniad America editor Michael Tomasky, who sets us a history quiz. The first question is:
1. Arguably the first great work of history in the Enlightenment era was by Edward Gibbon and in six volumes described:
a. The Greco-Roman wars
b. The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire
c. The “Mohametan” conquest of Iberia
In the notes at the end of the quiz, he announces smugly “If you didn’t get this one, you should have stopped right then and there.” It is difficult to “get” one where none of the three alternatives is correct. Gibbon’s great work was, of course, The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. No doubt I will be accused of nit-picking, but it seems to me this is yet another example of blithe lack of attention to detail. And a narrative of rise and fall would be a very different book to one limited to decline and fall – the phrase, itself, one which the literate instantly recognise.
Incidentally, if the Grauniad and the rest of the papers still employed a sufficient number of subeditors, these embarrassments would be much less likely to occur. Bruce Willis is a man who is rarely right about anything, and he was never more wrong than when he wrote the immortal words “Proofreading is for pussies”.
Isn’t answer three to Tomasky’s question the most correct as ‘Decline and Fall’ did describe the conquest of Iberia by the Mohametans, albeit not over the entire six volumes?
He appears to combine a lack of general knowledge with an inability to clearly pose a pub quiz question.
What exactly is a “pussy”? I used to think it was a well-loved domestic cat, then the word was used to refer to genitalia, then it would seem it was used to refer to people who are timid and/or not physically strong.
I am not the most belligerently assertive of people, nor am I built like a brick outhouse, and I have been known to proofread on occasion – my own and others’ writing. It would seem that Bruce Willis was giving a fairly accurate description of me.
Phil : As it happens, I have to hand a copy of The Willis Dictionary Of The English Language. I quote:
Pussy (n.) – One who proofreads. Yippee-ky-ay, motherfucker.
That seems fairly conclusive.