September 14, 2006

Another Portent of the End

I just read a thriller called Map of Bones. It probably won't go down in the history of literature, but it was entertaining enough. From a linguistic perspective, though, it was a bit of a disaster. The Magi, the wise men of legend who visited the baby Jesus, figure largely in the book. Unfortunately, the author thinks that magi is the singular as well as the plural (p. 233). The mention of secret arcana (p. 302) is a bit annoying too. And the Greek word for electricity was not elecktrikus (p. 340). The phrase bellissimo bambini "very beautiful children" occurs several times, e.g. p. 176, invariably incorrect. It should, of course, be bellissimi bambini - in Italian the adjective agrees in number and gender with the noun that it modifies. bambini is masculine plural so the adjective must also be masculine plural.

I guess we shouldn't expect the quotation in Greek on p. 342 to be spelled correctly. The one that really got me is near the beginning (p. 44-45). An archaeologist takes a military police officer into an excavation. As they enter, the latter quotes the inscription above the gates of Hell from Dante's Inferno: "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate" ("Abandon all hope, ye who enter"). The archaeologist then expresses surprise that a military police officer should have "such fluency in Latin"! Latin!?!? Have we reached the point where neither the author of a thriller nor the editor know the difference between Latin and Italian, or know that one of Dante's claims to fame is that he wrote in Italian rather than Latin, thereby initiating the move from Latin to the European vernaculars?

Addendum: Mark Liberman points out that the book

was published by William Morrow (hard cover) and Avon (paperback), which are imprints of HarperCollins, itself owned by Rupert Murdoch. This is not a fly-by-night outfit.

which means that there is not much excuse for not catching such errors. Surely HarperCollins can afford editors. My question is, have the publishers relaxed their standards and replaced people with humanistic knowledge with marketers, or is it that literary types of comparable standard no longer know any Latin or Italian or history of European literature?

Posted by Bill Poser at September 14, 2006 03:42 AM