January 09, 2004


Divination by misprints.

I just made that up, but someone has to. There are three hundred years of etymological wrong to rewrite.

Charles Mackay in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds lists many forms of divination. I was particularly fond of "tyromancy", divination by cheese, because it reminded me of the strange history of The Cheese and the Worms and also because I like cheese, Gromit. Therefore I plopped it in, with some other amusing divinations, when writing my summary-review. I didn't want to retype all of this, so I was cutting extended quotes from the Project Gutenberg copy, but PG had a different spelling, "typomancy", not a headword in the OED ("tyromancy" is). So I sent a note remarking that there was a tiny error to be fixed.

Project Gutenberg is not just tidy enough to fix single-letter typos, but very careful doing so: here's the letter I got back:

From: Jim Tinsley
This is an interesting case.
It is true that the OED gives "tyromancy", but not "typomancy", and the derivation is clear. However, googling shows many sites using the word "typomancy" as a variant spelling of "tyromancy"
(cf. http://www.occultopedia.com/t/tyromancy.htm and http://beta.communities.msn.co.uk/pacificodragosden/divinationglossary.msnw among many others)
so I was not willing to say that the existing text is definitely a transcription error. Was it possible that a transcription error in this PG text has, as it were, poisoned these web pages? Yes. (Which, by the way, I find a very chilling thought. Very.) But I didn't know that for sure. I looked up the original transcriber from our clearance records, but didn't recognize the name as a regular, and there was no e-mail address. I was about to dismiss this as inconclusive, when I noticed in the clearance that this was made from a 1980 reprint, so I thought of Amazon's new system. And, looking it up, right there on the page image of page 305 in Amazon, was "Tyromancy". But that is a 1995 reprint of all volumes together, and, when you have worked in this field for a while, you learn that editors of paper editions take liberties we wouldn't even dream of. At this point, anything is possible -- that typomancy was in the original and the 1980 reprint but changed in the 1995 -- that tyromancy was in all paper editions, but wrongly transcribed for PG -- that typomancy was an actual typo in the 1980 edition.
On balance, though, I found the Amazon page image convincing, and the change cannot be wrong in the sense of damaging the content, since even in the most lenient definition, typomancy is a variant spelling of tyromancy, so I'm making the change.

But then where did "typomancy" come from? It's odd because "tyromancy" is a really obvious derivation from the Greek for cheese. It would be sad if a OCR scanning error had propagated it, but the online uses don't all seem to be conscious of the PG edition, although they might possibly all descend from Mackay. Lacking old printings of Mackay to check, I went back to the OED to see where he got it, and finally read the smallest print in the etymology and the first attribution:

Tyromancy Obs. Also tiro-. [ad. F. tyromantie (Rabelais), f. Gr. τιρος cheese; see -Mancy.] Divination by means of cheese.
1652 Gaule Magastrom. xix. 166 Tyromancy [mispr. Typomancy], [divining] by the coagulation of cheese. ...

It wasn't a computer's OCR at fault. Someone transliterating from Greek saw the ρ ('rho', sounds like 'r') and wrote the 'p' that it looks like.

How do I know that's what happened? By typomancy, of course; divination by misprints.

So wrote clew in Word. | TrackBack
And thus wrote others:
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