Another Sign of the Apocalypse: A Grammatical Error in the New Yorker

An alert reader discovers a grammatical error in “Banned Books and Blockbusters,” by Louis Menand, in the December 12 New Yorker:

Completion took three years, and, since Heller was incapable of editing himself—he was a compulsive adder and fixer—Gottlieb was heavily involved in shaping the text. Finally, just as the book was about to go to press, it was learned that Leon Uris was scheduled to published a new novel called “Mila 18.” Uris was, in those days, a reliable best-seller, and Heller was an unknown. Many brain cells were burned through pondering alternative titles, until, late one night, Gottlieb came up with “Catch-22.” He excitedly called Heller. “It’s funnier than ‘18’!” he exclaimed. Somehow, it is.


  1. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
    First Trump, now this. The end is indeed near!

  2. An editor at the Washingtonian emailed me to say she couldn’t find the error. When I told her it was “scheduled to published a new novel”—it should be publish, not published—she thanked me and then pointed out that the New Yorker writer’s name is Menand, not Menard, as I had it.

  3. When I was in the Air Force the base paper was my responsibility. Even though I did not edit it I did read it before it went to press and one day caught a beauty of a typo that would have meant a reprint.

    This was quite a few years ago, when it was permissible to call a woman a “lady” and not get flack over it. The base had sponsored a sports car rally, and this was the story about the results. After listing the male winners in the “small sports car” division, the story turned to female contestants, the most successful of which happened to be the base commander’s wife. The line read:

    “Continuing in the small sports car division, the afternoon’s top lay was Betsy R. Johnson in her Triumph Spitfire.”

    I was delighted I caught it, but I often wondered how many calls I’d have gotten inquiring how anyone managed to have sex in a car that tiny.

  4. Christine McGovern says

    Like the reader above, I too could not find the error as the writer’s use of passive voice overwhelms the prose. The phrases, “it was learned that” and “my brain cells were burned through,” are so appalling that I missed it. The New Yorker, eh?

  5. Ross Guberman says

    The commas setting off “in those days” seem unnecessary, but the comma after “until” seems incorrect. Though I’ve noticed that the New Yorker puts a comma after “that” in a phrase like “He said that, until yesterday, he was undecided.” I also believe that after a passive construction with only an implied subject like “many brain cells were burned,” you can’t have through + a gerund. So not “many brain cells were burned through pondering.”

  6. Donald Smith says

    Jack, wouldn’t that error be more properly called a typo?

  7. Yes, it almost certainly was a typo, part of the typesetting process and not the work of the writer. But for the reader it probably was seen as a grammatical error, and that made for a better headline. The shock, of course, was the failure of the New Yorker’s famed editing process to catch it.

  8. I also missed the typo. 😠. Copy editing is hard.

  9. Bob Kelleter says

    In the comment about the typo in the Air Force base paper, shouldn’t it be “flak,” not “flack.”

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