An embarrassing cook-up

There were undoubtedly some red faces at Penguin Group Australia yesterday when they announced they were reprinting 7,000 cookbooks over a recipe for pasta.  The “Pasta Bible” recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto was supposed to call for black pepper but due to a “silly mistake” by a proofreader, it specified a decidedly more macabre ingredient be used – “freshly ground black people”.

Penguin were quick to issue a statement and apologise to anyone offended.

“Misprints are always unfortunate and they are doubly unfortunate when they carry an unintended meaning. As the Pasta Bible is a cookbook, there was obviously no intent behind this mistake – it was simply a regrettable error. […] In this case it is clear that a spell-check error crept in, the recipe incorrectly suggesting the addition of salt and freshly ground black people instead of freshly ground black pepper. Normally such an error would be picked up by proof readers, but they would have been concentrating on checking quantities, a common source of error in cookbooks.”

7,000 copies of the Pasta Bible were immediately quarantined in Penguin’s warehouse and pulped, and revised edition of the Pasta Bible will be available from late May 2010. The recall will cost Penguin $20,000, according to the head of publishing, Bob Sessions,  in the Sydney Morning Herald . ”In one particular recipe [a] misprint occurs which obviously came from a spellchecker. When it comes to the proofreader, of course they should have picked it up, but proofreading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable.

As someone who tends to be a little slapdash with my keyboard and skim rather than re-read carefully, I’m sympathetic. I have sent out a few corkers in my time. Probably the most embarrassing was an e-mail I sent to several members of management in a company I had just started work with, cancelling a meeting and apologising for “any incontinence caused”.

I can tell you, when that meeting was rescheduled, no one wanted to sit next to me.

Still, Penguin aren’t the first publishers to have this problem. Printers’ errors are fairly common, and calling a book a Bible seems to be an invitation for trouble. In addition to occasional heavy-handed translation, the Good Book has an impressive history of errors and bloopers. Like the Pasta Bible, The Fools Bible of 1763 contained an expensive misprint; Psalm 14:1 reads “the fool hath said in his heart there is a God”, rather than “…there is no God”. The printers were fined three thousand pounds and all copies ordered destroyed.

Less expensive, but probably more embarrassing at family parties was the Lions Bible where Kings 8:19 reads “thy son that shall come forth out of thy lions”, rather than “loins”. Let’s not bring them to the zoo, shall we?

Some of the Bibles advocate unorthodox approaches to morality. The Unrighteous Bible or “Wicked Bible” published in 1653 by Cambridge Press omitted a “not” before the word “inherit”, making Corinthians 6:9 read “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?” and the Sin On Bible of 1716 exhorts readers to “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more”.

My favourite is the “Printers Bible”, of 1702 where Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without cause.” The first word was changed, possibly by a disgruntled typesetter, from “Princes”.

I suspect that poor proofreader at Penguin Books knows exactly what they mean.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

5 thoughts on “An embarrassing cook-up”

  1. I once worked on a project nicknamed “Project Shirt”. Really, it was only a matter of time before someone missed a letter.

  2. Yeh, although they should have been proud – it was an accidental truism.

    Keep on writin’. 🙂

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