The proofreader’s paradox

As a proofreader, I have an irrational fear that haunts me regularly. Here it is.

On page four of a literary work is a reference to something that appears on “page five”. But the thing being referenced appears at the very top of page six. So I change the reference from “page five” to “page six”. All is good.

But in so doing, because the word “six” is shorter than “five”, and word and line breaks being what they are, everything thereafter shunts up a little, and the thing that previously appeared at the top of page six now appears at the bottom of page five.

Without changing other aspects of the document, I am unable to correctly reference the thing being referenced.

I shut my laptop, find a seat on the floor in the corner of the room, focus on an indistinct point on the opposite wall while hugging my legs, and rock backwards and forwards as tears stream down my face.

Thus far in my career, the above scenario has never happened. But I imagine it’s only a matter of time.


3 Responses to “The proofreader’s paradox”

  1. Pete on October 20th, 2012 17:40

    Expand the character spacing? Use an Em dash instead of a hyphen somewhere? [runs for cover]

  2. Paul Clarke on October 21st, 2012 16:54

    As a former typesetter, I assure you, all will be well. That’s *our* job. You’ll never notice the tiny spacing adjustments that iron this sort of crap out all the time.

    Your example of internally-referential instability is highly reminiscent of part of Metamagical Themas, by Douglas Hofstadter. If you haven’t read it, do so without fail.

    The self-reference stuff is great, and he plays around with sentences like: “This sentence contains twenty-seven occurrences of the letter e, but only one b, three of c…” [you get the drift – loops and iterative joys ensue]

  3. The Proofreader’s Paradox - Chronicles of Mario : Chronicles of Mario on November 14th, 2012 14:41

    […] hugging my legs, and rock backwards and forwards as tears stream down my face. (Original source plus some grammatical changes of my own)Share this: 0 Comment Mario Stylianou it's a me a mario! […]

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