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...”