Legal editing bloopers

For some years I worked as a editor at a legal publishing company. Along the way I jotted down some instances of typos, incongruities and bizarrities. I knew I had this document somewhere, but found it accidentally yesterday. I originally italicised the relevant words and made snarky comments about many, but decided to present them “straight” here. I have added a small amount of explanation though.

Some of the usual suspects are here: typos, prepositional phrase attachment, dangling modifiers, and meanings or usage changing over time or between legal and general use (eg intercourse), as well as witnesses, lawyers and judges speaking on-the-spot. Some I edited before publishing; others I had to leave because of the limits of our publishing agreement with the court, or because they were in existing published sources. I hope I haven’t included things which aren’t on public record somewhere. I have edited a few names. Continue reading


right speech

I have just been editing an article which refers to “The negative and discriminatory rhetoric of the current same-sex marriage debate [in Australia]”. For the target readership, I wanted to change “rhetoric” to something simpler. But what? lists as synonyms for “rhetoric”: hyperbole, oratory, address, balderdash, bombast, composition, discourse, elocution, eloquence, fustian, grandiloquence, magniloquence, oration, pomposity, verbosity, big talk, flowery language, hot air. Most of these have moderately or extremely negative connotations. Even rhetoric, which includes “the art of prose in general as opposed to verse”, “the ability to use language effectively”, “the art of making persuasive speeches” and “the art or science of all specialized literary uses of languages in prose or verse” has as its number one definition (according to “the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”.

Because the passage already has the adjectives “negative and discriminatory”, I don’t need a noun with negative connotations, so I simply changed it to “negative and discriminatory language”.

Continue reading

Grouching about editing

It is disappointing when an otherwise interesting book shows signs of being edited badly or possibly not at all. I am re-reading a book about Captain Arthur Phillip, the commander of the First Fleet and first governor of New South Wales. I don’t want to name and shame the author and publishing company, but without really trying, I spotted two main groups of errors.

Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark wrote two diaries which give a very personal account of his time in the colony. He was newly married with a young son in England, and spends most of his first diary pining for them. The book says “despite which he was quick to take an Aboriginal mistress in New South Wales, who bore him a child”. She wasn’t Aboriginal; she was a convict. Later, the book says he “later had a daughter with Mary Burnham, sent to Botany Bay for stealing clothes”. Later again, he refers to “Mary Branham”. The index has two different entries, one for each spelling. Some convicts used different names, or have their name spelled differently in different sources, but a modern author can and should choose and stick to one spelling. The Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Dictionary of Sydney both use “Branham”. He also writes about Clark’s vegetable garden on “a small island — still known as Clark’s Island”. Actually, Clark Island. (The bigger Garden Island got its name in the same way; it is now joined to the mainland and mostly covered by a naval base. Nearby is Farm Cove.)

Elsewhere, the author refers to “Count Jean-François de Galoup de Lapérouse”, a French explorer whose two ships arrived at Botany Bay just a few days after the First Fleet. Later, and on the same page, he refers to “La Pérousse” and “Lapérouse”. Likewise, there are two index entries, both of which have a spelling mistake and a language inconsistency: “Lapérouse, Count Jean-François de Glaoup and “Pérouse, Jen-François Galoup, Comte de la”. The Australian Dictionary of Biography calls him “Jean-François de Galaup La Pérouse” and the Dictionary of Sydney “La Perouse, Jean-Francois”. So what is the correct spelling? I don’t know, but if I was writing a book, I would check very carefully. (Note that the present-day suburb on the shore of Botany Bay is officially spelled La Perouse.)

I hesitate to criticise an author who has written at least 24 more books that I have, and an established publishing company, but these were glaring, and make me wonder what else the author(, editor) and publishing company have missed.

[edit, 8 Oct: reading onward, there’s another (unindexed) reference to ‘Pérousse’. Elsewhere, the king’s birthday was celebrated on 4 June 1788 and 2 June 1789. More  seriously ‘two rush-cutter women were speared and killed’ v ‘a 19-year old convict, William Okey, was killed while cutting rushes … The body of his companion Samuel Davis was found nearby’. If women were allowed out of the camp at all, it wasn’t in pairs. I won’t add any more that I find.]