Our topic today is errors - mostly my errors. However, I may have had some company. Read on.
A sentence in the District Line for July 6 said, Power corrupts, as Lord Actonsaid, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Prof. Murray Comarow of The American University immediately pointed out that what Lord Acton actually said was, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Comarow indicated that my "usually keen ear for shades of meaning" should have discerned the difference between "corrupts" and "tends to corrupt." Richard Porter Thomsen of Alexandria also called the error to my attention and added, "There appears to be a strong tendency to omit the "tends to.' I have never heard or seen it quoted correctly."
Before using the reference, I looked it up, of course. I found that my memory was right about Lord Acton being the author, but wrong about the precise wording. After a moment of reflection, I decided to use the more familiar wording rather than the full text, and to use no quotation marks so that erudite readers would know that I was paraphrasing, not misquoting.
Unfortunately for me, one moment of reflection was not quite enough to permit me to realize that there is a significant difference in meaning when "tends to" is included in the first half of the statement and omitted from the second half. Had my ear for shades of meaning been as keen as Comarow credits it with being, I would not have elected to paraphrase. That was one mistake.
Another was made a few days earlier. Elaine Fox Mariggio wrote about giving money to The Panhandler and then watching him collect $6 from six other victims in 10 minutes. And Anna A. Kennedy wrote that when The Panhandler made his pitch to her, she told him quite honestly that all she had in her purse was a souvenir 1,000 lire note. His response was, "Well, can I have that? I can change it at the bank." My not-so-witty comment was, "Perhaps you should have offered him a promissory note, Elaine."
Unfortunately, Elaine was the woman who gave him money and then watched him con six other people. The woman with the 1,000 lire note was Anna. And the only person who called the error to my attention was not, alas, a copy editor or proof reader who could have kept it out of print, but District Liner Kenneth Hawke of Occoquan, who spotted it after some 600,000 copies of the paper had been printed and distributed.
Misery loves company, so permit me to tell you that there may also have been an error in an article about gambling in The Washington Post Magazine. Several readers are positive it was an error, but I'm not so sure.
During the course of his gambling in Atlantic City, our writer said he was dealt a blackjack hand in which the first two cards totaled 8, so he drew another card and caught a jack that brought his count to 18. But the dealer then revealed that he had blackjack, so our writer lost anyhow.
It is highly unlikely that such a thing really happened, and my correspondents say it "couldn't" have happened. The best face I can put on it is that our novice gambler's typewriter misfired and wrote "blackjack" when it meant to say the dealer had 21. There is quite a difference.
If the dealer really had blackjack, our writer should not have gotten a chance to draw a card. Whenever a casino blackjack dealer's "up card" is an ace, 10 or picture card, he is supposed to look at his down card before he offers cards to the players at his table. If examination of the hidden card reveals that the dealer has blackjack, he is supposed to turn it up at once and sweep all bets (except those of players who may also have blackjack).
Any dealer who offers cards to players before he ascertains whether his own cards constitute a blackjack is guilty of gross carelessness or incompetence. A floor boss or "ladder man" who spots such a lapse usually moves to have the dealer fired.
Two people who have gambled in Atlantic City have told me that although most of the dealers there are well trained, a few are obviously inexperienced. So it is possible that our inexperienced gambler gave an accurate description of an inexperienced delear's mistake - and did it without realizing a mistake had been made.
We'll never know who erred, the reporter or the dealer. However, it comforts me to learn that I am not the only one who sometimes zigs when he ought to be zagging.