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Friday, February 10, 2006

The Other Night I Found a Typo in The New Yorker (This Hasn’t Happened in Years)

Posted by on February 10 at 14:01 PM

There are typos in the New York Times just about every day, and typos in The Stranger every week, but I can’t remember the last time I found a typo in the most meticulously edited magazine in the world. Until two nights ago, when I was catching up on the October 17, 2005 issue of The New Yorker. It was in an article by William Finnegan, who is awesome, and it was about an East Coast dealer of rare maps named E. Forbes Smiley who is an expert in colonial American cartography — he knows more about it than many librarians and scholars and has turned his expertise into a lucrative business selling these maps to the super rich. (Some go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.) It was a mystery to some how he was able to acquire such rare stuff until one day when he was found to have dropped the blade of an Exacto knife on the floor of the special collections library at Yale University. Turns out he may have stolen maps from map collections and rare atlases in libraries around the world. He was also found to be carrying pretty good facsimiles of old maps, which he may have been using to replace the genuine articles in who knows how many libraries. (Most libraries do not know every single item in their collection, or what is on every page of an old atlas, and don’t count pages when visitors are done using them.) The case is currently in criminal litigation, and updates on the trial, and links to coverage of the case, are available here.

The article itself, though, is not online. But if you have your October 17 issue handy, the typo is in the last full paragraph on the second page of the article. It is a closed quotation mark that has no preceding open quotation mark. I stared at it for about ten minutes before I believed what I was seeing. I’ve thought things were typos in The New Yorker before that weren’t. This one is definitely a typo. This is the kind of discovery — we are all fallible, it says — that makes my week.

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Damn, I've already recycled that issue. It's a great article, by the way. The rare-book, rare-art, rare-map communities don't like to talk about the issues of theft and forgery in their businesses, but there's a LOT of it about.

ah yes -- that's funny. A typo in a post about a typo. So meta! I changed it. Thanks.

On usenet, every post correcting the spelling of another post must by law contain at least one missplet word of its own. Ditto grammar posts.

Being I'm too cheap and/or lazy to look up the article, did they actually write "exacto" knife like that, lower case? If so, is it a typo if you don't capitalize a brand name?

There is an "Exacto" knife made by somebody or other, and that's a brand name. Also there's the classis "X-acto" knife which is a well-known trademark.

So possibly there were even more mistakes in the original article? Or are you quoting the knife name by memory? :-)

Ah, the swiftly unraveling thread... I'm writing about the article from memory. I don't have it here. I'm sure Exacto is correct in the magazine. Maybe it's just a razor blade. I'll check when I get home.

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