Alert reader AM groaned audibly this morning on seeing El País fall into a common trap:
So common is this mistake that even Googling might not cut it. You’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: highlight all the English words and dust off the old spellchecker. I know that sounds like drudgery, but really, how long did you spend writing the article? Even if you just checked the first couple paragraphs, we might not be having this conversation.
Here’s a photo of a column in La Vanguardia from a few weeks back:
To be clear…
First name: Martin
Middle name: Luther
So this is a case of the Spanish “one name / two surnames” model being inappropriately applied to a name from another culture.
I’ve been sitting on this item for awhile, and I almost didn’t post it after a trusted British colleague told me he didn’t find the error especially egregious. I can accept that people from other countries (even English-speaking ones) were not raised around constant references to “Dr. King”; some confusion about the status of “Luther” in MLK’s complex name is only natural.
But I couldn’t shake it, because to my American ear “Luther King” sounds like unforgivable cultural illiteracy. I did a little research, and I was shocked to discover just how common it is for the Spanish media to refer to MLK as “Luther King.” When a mistake is reproduced often enough, does it eventually become acceptable? Or even “correct”? To put it another way, would it actually be worse for a Spanish writer to take the rather unusual step of using MLK’s names correctly? I am sincerely not sure, and would welcome comments about this.
Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher is in critical condition following a skiing accident in France, and here’s how Esport3 reported the news:
“Schumacher” is not an English name, so this item may seem slightly off-topic for El Foreing Office. But it brings me to an important point: It is possible — dare I say imperative — for copyeditors to check words in languages they don’t know. I don’t speak German and I don’t give a hoot about Formula 1. But if I encountered a name like “Michael S(c)humacher” in my editing or translation work, I would be prompted to triple-check it precisely because of my ignorance. I would not dare to assume that my first stab at a German name was correct. The Spanish media seem to use the opposite strategy: the more unfamiliar a language, the less scrutiny it deserves.
Today’s lesson: A little humility goes a long way.
Hat tip to master sleuth Tim Barton for the screenshot.
UPDATE: Why hire copyeditors when you can crowdsource? The headline has been corrected.
ANOTHER UPDATE (8 January 2014): Making it painfully obvious that El Foreing Office is merely screaming into the void, Esport3 went and did it AGAIN:
Wishing Michael Schumacher a full recovery and, in the meantime, higher editorial standards in coverage of his terrible accident.
As scores of international dignitaries gathered in Johannesburg to bid a solemn farewell to global icon Nelson Mandela, the Spanish press marked the occasion by screwing up as many of their names as possible.
Here’s El Mundo, casually flubbing the name of the world’s most powerful man:
La Razón couldn’t be bothered with either the president of Brazil or the secretary-general of the United Nations:
Poor Ban Ki-moon also suffered orthographic abuse—twice—in different ways—in the same paragraph!—at the hands of La Voz de Galicia:
Meanwhile, over at RTVE, George Bush is apparently now French, whereas the president of France is not:
In case you thought it couldn’t get any worse, here’s El Mundo again, sullying the name of Oprah Winfrey:
To their credit (I guess), nobody got creative with M-A-N-D-E-L-A.
Here is a photo of the TVE1 news from late November, submitted by reader MJS:
This improbable clusterfuck of a typo is a gift that keeps on giving. Shall we break it down?
1) Nice try writing “cupcakes”! (Possibly related to Spaniards’ congenital inability to distinguish between cupcakes and muffins?)
2) “Cackes” puts a nice scatological spin on things. MJS notes that, in her native Australia, “cacking” is slang for laughing so hard that one nearly soils one’s pants, which is precisely what she did before reaching for the TiVo.
3) Whence the rogue ampersand? Aha! The real name of the baked-goods fair in question is BCN&CAKE. Therefore, even if TVE1 had succeeded at spelling “cupcake,” they still would have failed miserably at conveying any accurate information.
Diagnosis: A perfect storm of overconfidence, underknowledge, ampersand drift, forgetting how to Google, and generally not giving a shit.
From Diari més of 3 December 2013 (p. 5):
On a linguistic level, this is quite clearly a hypercorrection. The writer remembers getting his wrist slapped for spelling “international” as “internacional” and doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.
But the much bigger issue — do I really need to be saying this? — is the failure to fucking check it. You can’t just go to press with the first thing that pops into your mind. You have to check everything; it’s part of your job. And if it’s not part of your job, there should be someone on staff whose job it is.
I wonder if this is symptomatic of Spanish education. Their languages are so phonetic that I suspect spelling isn’t really taught as a skill the way it is taught to English speakers. What else could explain this lack of impulse to check, even among people who write for a living?
Screenshot from the TV3 midday newscast on 1 December 2013:
PRO TIP: Your spellchecker can also check common English names!
(Skip to 40:15 for the relevant segment)