Friday, August 11, 2006

My anal-retentive Kung Fu is powerful.

OK, I wasn't going to write about this, but my geekiness has overwhelmed me.

Some background: I was an English major in college, and went to grad school in English, and taught freshman writing for a gazillion years, but it wasn't until I took a tech editing job in 2000 that I started doing things like catching typos and usage errors in the New Yorker and the New York Times. I found this...strangely exhiliarating.

Anyway, I assumed that it would take me several years to come up to anal-retentive editing speed in law, but earlier this summer, I was shocked to find a pretty critical punctuation error in The Bluebook (18th Ed.). The error is this: the correct abbreviated citation for the Federal Supplement (where Federal District Court opinions are published) is "F. Supp." or "F. Supp. 2d". However, The Bluebook, on page 195, in T1, the easy reference table, gives "F. Supp 2d" as the correct citation. THERE'S SUPPOSED TO BE A PERIOD AFTER "Supp"!!

(For those of you who aren't law geeks, this is like finding a they're/their error in the Chicago Manual of Style. The only reason The Bluebook even exists is to tell you the correct fucking citation format, preferably in the easy-reference tables at the back of the book.)

Anyway, I had a similar moment this week when I found a substantive error in West's U.S.C.A. (United States Code, Annotated). One of the case summaries had an extra "not" in it, making the summary say the opposite of what the case law says. Thanks to my current obscene level of intimacy with the case law on OSHA whistleblowing provisions, I actually noticed this. And sent an email to the West editors. It's fascinating (but not surprising) that the vast editorial enterprises of West and Lexis Nexis make mistakes like this.

As a recovering perfectionist, I find this kind of thing comforting. It's not personal. There's a certain level of error that's inevitable in the system, and you're only as good as your process.

I'll probably have something more to say about this after I read that New Yorker article about Wikipedia.


At 10:00 AM, August 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who's edited and/or proofed knows that no matter how many times you review something, as soon as the piece is printed, you'll open it up to a random page and find an error right there. Zeno's Law of Editing, as posited by me, says that no matter how many times you edit, you will always find one more error. You can approach perfection, but you can never get there. Unless an infinite number of monkeys are given an infinite amount of time to proof or something.

I'd be curious to hear what usage mistakes you've found in the NYer. I don't always agree with the way they write things, but it's pretty clear to me that that's the result of policies that are simply, you know, archaic.

-- Mike


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