Let’s be careful of what we write. This rule for daily living is so crucial it almost needs the language of a commandment, something like “Leave not thy mark without first carefully editing what thou hast set down.”
Men: Be careful of what you say, because women have memories like elephants.
That’s my Valentine’s Day advice, though it works for all seasons.
Now here’s my advice to the rest of us, including the household pets who are probably chatting away on Facebook like everyone else. That advice is: Let’s be even more careful of what we write.
This rule for daily living is so crucial it almost needs the language of a commandment, something like “Leave not thy mark without first carefully editing what thou hast set down.”
And speaking of unusual commandments, I’m thinking today of An Embarrassment of Misprints, a collection of “whoopsies” collected up by longtime newspaperman and editor Max Hall based on his experience with the written word.
In it he cites the notorious error made in a 1631 edition of the Bible in which the word “not” was omitted from one of the Commandments so that it reads “Thou shalt commit adultery,” a tall order for the shy and the chaste both.
I own this book because I knew Max through our joint love of Shakespeare, and though I used a piece about him in the official magazine of his alma mater Emory University for some of what follows I also know a lot firsthand.
One thing I know is he believed in living life forward.
Once, when we took a break in our reading of “Henry IV Part 1,” he rose to stretch his legs and, returning to his seat 10 minutes later, lost his footing in that sunken living room and sat down hard; blinked once, got up and resumed his spirited reading of the part of Falstaff.
I complimented him afterward on his quick “recover.”
He grinned delightedly and said “I’m 97 years old!” as if being 97 was precisely what allowed him to bounce back so fast.
An extended version of that grin appears in this recounting of famous misprints, all made because a series of somebodys didn’t go back over the copy one last time.
Among his favorite goofs? This from a review of the play “Harvey,” which relates the experiences of a drunk and the imaginary hare only he can see:
“The misprint in this article said this man was followed around by a six-foot-tall white rabbi,” Max told Emory Magazine of the misprint. “That's the kind I really like,” he added with a chuckle.
His book also cites the edition of the Washington Post that hit the streets with the headline “FDR IN BED WITH CO-ED,” when the text made it clear he was in bed with a cold. The story goes that when Roosevelt heard of it he phoned the paper in the hope of ordering 100 copies to send to his friends. (Alas the circulation department had already dispatched teams of people to retrieve the papers from every newsstand.)
It also describes how in 1990, the United States Naval Academy took delivery from the printer of 900 diplomas to be handed out to the graduates at the next day’s commencement exercises - only to find that “naval” had been spelled with an “e” instead of an “a” - like the bellybutton, in other words.
This last anecdote from his interview with Emory says it all about Max, who died last month at the ripe old age of 100:
“When my friend Robert Fort was appointed Beauty Editor of the Emory University Yearbook in the early 1930s, a misprinted headline in the Emory Wheel made him the ‘Betuty’ Editor.’ For the rest of his life his friends called him ‘Betuty.’”
Google Max R. Hall for more on this man’s remarkable life. Send amusing misprints of your own to Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org (P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890) and read more this weekend on her blog “Exit Only.”