Friday, January 07, 2011

Corrupted Literature

In the news lately was the fact that portions of our literary heritage how been cleansed of troubling words. Huckleberry Finn was already bowdlerized by removing the N word. I forgot what was new recently, but that is relatively less important than other forms that are less noticeable.

I once had a discussion (more than a decade ago) where an anti-theist challenged me about troubling passages in the Bible. He had made an assertion for which I researched the answer, and then refuted. He then disputed my results by presenting me with an on-line version of my source. In the online version of the source, two words had been reversed in order, changing the meaning completely. I showed him the old printed text that had the proper order. It was against his druthers for my old copy to be right, but the printed version made more sense in context with the remaining commentary. At best, that error would leave the honest reader confused. For the skeptic, it provided more fodder for attack -- as was the case here.

Recently, when searching for some phrases in C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, [alternate found at] I found another error that could leave the reader wholly lost due to the alteration of a single letter!
Instinct, by the only known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. [highlighted: error in the online text]

Instinct, by the inly known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. [highlighted: as printed in the original]
Now, this is likely due to spell checking by the publisher's aid. But the "correction" should have been caught and restored. Our contemporary world thinks of spelling errors as relatively unimportant. As the above passage demonstrates, that is not always true. Maybe it's all Lewis' fault for using such a non-standard adverb. He should have anticipated the future better than he did. (I hope my readers see the irony in that sarcasm aimed at his critics.)

Folks. You better preserve all your old hard-copy books. Because the memory hole is not only due to deliberate destruction, it comes about due to poor supervision of doltish contemporary scribes clerks. If you want the future to have to reinvent less "wheels," be more protective of our heritage in your possession if you can.


  1. This is all about limiting Free Speech. After all, censorship is everywhere. The gov’t (and their big business cronies) censor free speech, shut down dissent and ban the book “America Deceived II”. Free speech for all, especially Mark Twain.
    Last link (before Google Books bans it also]:

  2. Thanks Pascal,

    It really pays to check your sources and that they genuinely reflect the original. George Orwell got it right with his "newspeak" in "1984" - the whole concept of certain words being 'outlawed' and replaced by 'better' words. A process which usually also leads onto change of meaning of the author's original intent.

    Control the language - control peoples' thinking.

  3. Thanks for bringing that up Kris. It reminds me of how deeply brain-cleansing Orwell warned that the all-encompassing state intends to be.

    Here are Orwell's own words: "The purpose of Newspeak ... was intended that ... a heretical thought should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words."

    They intend to leave the resultant sub-human material incapable of thoughts outside that which the state finds useful.


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