IVP - Addenda & Errata - The Editor As Detective

August 9, 2011

The Editor As Detective

Doesn’t the publisher have a fact checker? That was the nub of a critical review of an article in one of our Black Dictionaries years ago. And since the fact checker in that case would have had to have been me, it made me pause and think. Before it really annoyed me.

Because in fact the issue was over the accuracy or inaccuracy of a patristic citation from Migne’s Patrologia Graeca. The reviewer had a big investment in the point at issue and had spent a great deal of time tracking down the reference. And he was grumbling about it. He seemed to think we or the author of the article were purposefully obfuscating. Since at the time Migne was not online, and is usually found only in research library holdings, I wondered just what sort of capacious resources and abilities this in-house fact checker would need to bring to the task. Encyclopedia Britannica is big and specialized enough to employ fact checkers, but most publishers don’t have that capacity.

At IVP Academic we fundamentally rely on the author, our outside readers and the editor. But that leaves a lot of territory to be covered, and no one has encyclopedic knowledge. I keep a fairly well-stocked library on hand, and I use it in my work. But sometimes a source that is cited is very specialized.

Nevertheless we editors do test facts, and when something feels not quite right, we sometimes have to don our Sherlock Holmes hat and grab the magnifying glass. And back in olden times, in the late twentieth century, when there was no Google and the web was without form and void, we had to use our wits to locate a reference.

I recall back in the 1990s I was trying to find a quote from Barth’s Church Dogmatics that had been cited in an article for one of our Black Dictionaries. I used to save up these little nuggets for a trip to a theological library. In this case, I could have asked the author, but that would have been a bit more complicated than it is today and might cost some time. And besides, it was just one item on a list of things needing investigation. In this case I had no more than a sentence or two to work with, and I thought my chances of locating this quote were something like finding a needle in a haystack. But it was worth a try.

And what do you know? With some intelligent selection of volume, part and pages, I was delighted to be able to locate the quote within ten minutes. It was a memorable success that today, with Barth’s CD in digital format, hardly makes an impression.

As editorial detective Hercule Le Peau tells it, “Back in the stone age, if a quotation in a manuscript looked wrong (a word missing or misspelled, or no page reference, etc.), I’d put a query to the author in the margin pleading with him or her to please check it. That was a dicey proposition since they might not have the book, or even if they did, not be able to find the quote in the book. Now, editor as digital detective, I get an answer in .078954462 seconds. I copy a whole sentence or two into Google, hit return, and the thing pops up. Bingo.”

So now we have a veritable fact-checking department at our fingertips.

Detective T. J. (aka “Jim”) Hoover relates a more recent incident. An author was quoting Clement from Eusebius that “Mark accompanied Peter on all his journeys.” The author was making a lot of the “all,” which seemed a bit strange. So Detective Hoover started checking online translations of Eusebius. And there are several. Nearly all say something like “Mark accompanied Peter for a long time.” “On all his journeys” and “for a long time” are not really the same thing, or so it seemed to Detective Hoover. So he checked the Greek through Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG).

TLG has ὡς ἂν ἀκολουθήσαντα αὐτῷ πόρρωθεν καὶ μεμνημένον τῶν λεχθέντων.

There was no “all” at all. But this wasn’t really inimical to the author’s point, though it did suggest that he ought not stress the “all.” But then Detective Hoover got wondering where the author got his translation. So he Googled the translation itself and soon uncovered several online instances. But, lo and behold, they ALL miscited Eusebius as Church History 4.14 rather than CH 6.14, suggesting a common source. And that turned out to be The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911, which regrettably had other mistranslations within the same paragraph. Eusebius CH 4.14 has nothing whatever to do with Mark and Peter.

So informed intelligence is still required.

Sometimes I’ll get queries from proofreaders or copyeditors who have checked a Scripture reference in a manuscript and found it obviously wrong. They are sometimes amazed at how quickly I’m able to correct it. But what they don’t realize (and I don’t tell them) is that I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. With some modest training in textual criticism, I know all about dittography, haplography, metathesis, homoioteleuton and homoioarkton. And this training comes in handy for detecting and correcting contemporary scribal errors!

“Poirot, he sees things, Madame. It is a habit he cannot change.”

Posted by Dan Reid at August 9, 2011 8:29 AM Bookmark and Share

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