Vo­cab

Friday - - MIND GAMES -

Fa­mous enough to know bet­ter This week we take a look at some more er­rors com­mit­ted by au­thors who (go­ing by their fame) should have known bet­ter.

F Scott Fitzger­ald’s de­but novel This Side of Par­adise re­ceived its share of ac­co­lades, but had so many er­rors, a leading critic de­scribed it as “one of the most il­lit­er­ate books of any merit ever pub­lished”.

When crit­i­cised for his mis­takes, Ernest Hem­ing­way snapped at his ed­i­tors, say­ing, “Well, that’s what you’ve been hired to cor­rect!”

The poet John Keats spelt the colour pur­ple as ‘pur­plue’, and then tried to save face by sug­gest­ing that he’d meant to coin a new port­man­teau word – a cross be­tween pur­ple and blue.

Jane Austen once mis­spelt one of her teenage works as Love and Freind­ship, and is in­fa­mously known to have spelt scis­sors as ‘scis­sars’.

Crit­ics have long chafed over her use of the sin­gu­lar their as a third per­son pro­noun. in old English, the mas­cu­line gen­der was used as the un­marked de­fault for some pur­poses (as in ‘ev­ery­body loves his own mother’), and not long af­ter­wards the sin­gu­lar their con­struc­tion (‘ev­ery­body loves their own mother’) also came into ex­is­tence.

To give Austen her due, she was in good com­pany here: Shake­speare, Chaucer, Lewis Car­roll, Bernard Shaw and Rud­yard Ki­pling have all em­ployed it. From the 19th century on­wards, it fell into dis­ap­proval by gram­mar­i­ans, and this may be the rea­son some of Austen’s sen­tences – like “i can­not pre­tend to be sorry... that he [Darcy] or that any man should not be es­ti­mated be­yond their deserts”; and “The veni­son was roasted to a turn – and ev­ery­body said they never saw so fat a haunch” – stick out.

if you want to nit­pick, there are er­rors to be had in fa­mous quo­ta­tions too. in Robert Frost’s of­ten-quoted lines – “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But i have prom­ises to keep, And miles to go be­fore i sleep, And miles to go be­fore i sleep” – a line starts with a con­junc­tion (‘but’).

The Star Trek in­tro “To boldly go where no man has gone be­fore” has one of the best-known split in­fini­tives; and the now clichéd “Back to the old draw­ing board” has no verb.

is that in­com­plete sen­tence a prob­lem? Noted di­arist Sa­muel pepys didn’t think so, when he wrote “And so to bed...”

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