Updated: Jun 11, 2022
Avid readers often lament the rapid decline in the quality of book, magazine and newspaper editing over the last couple of decades (and let’s not even THINKE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA DONRT EVEN GO THERE! lol!!!!).
Words are misspelled, misused or mysteriously missing far more commonly than before 2000, when it was at least mildly surprising to find such mistakes.
Declaiming, haranguing and bloviating on why this is so is a favourite pastime of literary curmudgeons and retired editorial types, who grumpily cite cutbacks at publishing houses, blind reliance on spell-check software and the inevitable erosion of formal writing skills that has stemmed from habitual emailing and texting.
A favourite bugbear for generations, of course, has been the failure of our schools to teach the basics of spelling and syntax.
One need look no further than the Book of Books, however, to realize that yea, we have been walking through the shadow of editorial screw-ups since the Dead Sea Scrolls were wrapped in parchment nappies.
Consider the irreverent monikers given to some serpent-bitten editions:
Breeches Bible: This is the nickname attached to an edition of the Geneva Bible, reprinted every year from 1560 to 1616, in which Genesis 3:7 comes off as: “The eyes of them bothe were opened … and they sowed figge-tree leaves together and made themselves breeches.” Though it’s a heartwarming homage to the industry of Adam and Eve, modern editions eschew the temptation to go once more into the breeches. The King James version goes with simple aprons. Still better than a kick in the pants.
Placemakers’ Bible: The 1562 version of the Geneva Bible features this printer’s error in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the placemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” No peacemakers for the weary.
Murderers’ Bible: With the substitution of “murderers” for “murmurers” in an 1801 version, Jude 16 is punched up, à la Mickey Spillane, to read: “There are murderers, complainers, walking after their own lusts … .” The first thing we do, let’s kill all the copy editors (I think Paul Godfrey said that).
Printers’ Bible: In Psalms 119:161 of this 1702 edition, David — a former shepherd and harpist of some renown — aptly complains that “printers have persecuted me without a cause.” Thus history’s first ironic, self-referential misprince.
Rebecca’s Camels Bible: According to Genesis 24:61 in this 1823 edition, “Rebecca rose, and her camels.” It was supposed to be “damsels,” but this is way more Lawrence of Arabia. The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
Unrighteous Bible: OK, you Wordle enthusiasts. Can you figure out where to add the missing “not” in this 1653 Cambridge edition: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9 and also the explicit message of Tucker Carlson Tonight).
Vinegar Bible: This 1717 Clarendon Press edition is so-called because the heading to Luke 20, the Parable of the Vineyard, is rendered as “Parable of the Vinegar.” If this gives you joy, think of it as bliss and vinegar.
Wife-Hater Bible: When “wife” was mistakenly substituted for “life” in an 1810 edition, Luke 14:26 appeared as: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father … yea, and his own wife also … .” Trouble could be brewing over brunch at the local IHOP after church. Best to avoid the burritos & bowls section of the buffet table.
Wicked Bible: London printers Baker and Lucas were fined 300 pounds, a considerable sum in 1632, for twisting the seventh commandment into: “Thou shalt commit adultery.” (See also all non-denominational Donald Trump speeches and “side ventures,” 1977-present).
Our takeaway? Whenever a misprint makes your skin crawl, take comfort in this soothing nugget of wisdom from Coverdale’s biblical edition of 1535 (aka the Bug Bible), Psalms 91:5: “Thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night.”
My King James goes with the much more prosaic “terror by night,” but the point stands: The devil is always in the details.
The Bug Bible, as a Catholic-born friend has observed, was “just one r short of being the Catholic Church’s motto.” A second friend, bless his heart, added: “No doubt this is the authorized text used in the seminaries.”
Verily, verily, I say unto you: There is nothing new under the skin.