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Nothing new under the sun [*]

24/04/2012

If you Google “battle scared” and “bottle scarred” together, you will come up with countless iterations of an ancient compositor’s blunder. Supposedly a newspaper printed the obituary of a lavishly-decorated old soldier, describing him as a “battle scared veteran”. The next day a grovelling apology was printed, which merely compounded the error.

In an idle moment, I set out to trace the origins of the story. The splendid debunking site, snopes.com (invaluable when someone assures you that an urban myth is true or “it happened to a friend of a friend”), was no help. I did, however, have the good fortune to find preserved online the complete run of Macmillan’s, a monthly magazine which flourished between 1859 and 1907. I found the story there, presented as fact, in an article entitled Some Humours of the Composing Room, from 1897. This is a piece which I will undoubtedly be mining for nuggets for your delight. There is no authentication provided, of course, but here is the earliest version of the story I can find – still unverified but still delightful:

The editor was deeply grieved to find that through an unfortunate typographical error he was made to describe the late gallant Major H. as a ‘ battle-scared veteran.’ He tenders his sincerest apologies for the mistake to the friends and relatives of the deceased; but to every reader of this journal acquainted with the feats of the major, it must have been apparent that what the editor wrote was bottle-scarred veteran.

Given that 1897 was, like 2012, a Diamond Jubilee year, you might also enjoy this:

But perhaps the most amusing instance of the ludicrous effects of wrong punctuation is afforded in the following description of the Jubilee procession which appeared in an East Anglican weekly paper: “Next came Lord Roberts riding. On a grey Arab steed wearing a splendid scarlet uniform, covered with medals on his head, a Field Marshal’s hat with plumes in his hand, the baton of a field marshal on his rugged feature; a smile of pleasure as he acknowledged the thundering cheers of the crowd.”

[*] Nihil novi sub sole. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 in the Vulgate Bible. From the Hebrew אין כל חדש תחת השמש = en kol chadásh táchat hashámesh. So, ever-so very firmly up yours, Oliver!)

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One Comment
  1. Oliver B permalink

    GFY, Mr. B!

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