Johnson's World: Musings, Droppings, Streams, and Flashes Pt 8

Vague musings, name-dropping, streams of consciousness and occasional flashes of brilliance... from Johnson’s World.

June 1, 2016

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations. —George Orwell


In 1524 Antonio Pigafetta, having successfully completed Magellan’s voyage around the world (one of only eighteen men to do so) and having penned by far the most interesting account the explorations, petitioned the Doge of Venice and the city council, “that no one may print it for twenty years, except myself.”

He further proposed monetary penalties for violation, to be divided betwixt himself, the doge, and the enforcer. His request was granted.

This is one of the earliest examples of copyright of which I know, and likewise one of the first specifically delineating punishment for hapless printers found in violation of said copyright.


The first printing press in the New World was constructed in Mexico City in 1539.


For those who are convinced that digital (or “new”) media has forever supplanted more traditional forms of content delivery comes this shocking bit of news from the Recording Industry Association of America.

It seems that last year the music industry made more money from sales of vinyl phonograph records than it did from free music streaming sites (such as YouTube and Spotify). These “free” sites are supposed to generate their revenue from advertising. That’s the classic internet monetization model that has never quite worked. The problem with free content is, of course, that it isn’t worth very much.


It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. —Henry David Thoreau


Several months ago I told the story of Shakespeare’s First Folio and its journey into print. At the end I mentioned that no two copies of the First Folio are exactly alike, due to the ongoing proofreading process that took place during the printing process.

It is noteworthy that today’s digital print on demand process allows corrections and alterations to be easily made, but not much more easily than they were in the days of handset type and hand-operated presses. A pair of tweezers in the hand of a skilled setter could implement a correction as fast as you can swipe with a mouse today, but without annoying autocorrect or malware infections.


Ironically, what was perhaps the biggest typographical error in the First Folio was never corrected. The collection contains thirty-six plays, but the table of contents lists only thirty-five. Fans of Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare’s most problematic comedy, might not even realize that their favorite play is included.

It is highly doubtful that any software spellchecker would have found that error.


All of this talk of Shakespeare’s First Folio prompted a call to David Rice, executive director of the First Folio Shakespeare Company, to ask the burning question: do actors still use printed scripts, or have they switched to tablets, e-readers, or smartphones?

“Definitely paper scripts,” declares Rice, who sometimes takes the stage himself, most recently in the title role of his musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

“Actors may occasionally also put the script on a device for study, but during rehearsal everyone is carrying a printed script.”

You can’t beat paper for marking and noting all of the deletions, edits and blocking notes that are a natural part of the rehearsal process.


Ariel Blau of Servigraff writes us from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Hello Steve, I´m an avid reader of your column. About the January number. I´d like to let you know that your friend lives in Colombia, not Columbia.”

Ah, yes. The need for unflagging proofreading vigilance rears its head again. Ariel’s fastidious eyes caught what no spell-checker could catch, and what most North Americans would (and did) miss; namely, the spelling of a proper name that varies between Anglo and Latin countries.


My firm Copresco has released TechTopics #12, a technical bulletin filled with proofreading suggestions to help you find subtle those errors that automatic spellcheckers invariably miss.

Drop me a line if you would like a free copy. I’ll have to mail it to you; it is printed. On paper. With ink. Well, toner.