Tagliatelle taboo

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The Australian branch of Penguin Books is in a certain amount of trouble for publishing a cookbook containing a recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto that includes "salt and freshly ground black people".

BBC News reports on it here. The slip has cost Penguin more than just embarrassment: 7,000 copies are being pulped.

Could it possibly have been due to a cupertino, I wondered? The letters o and p are adjacent on a qwerty keyboard, and if you type peoper by mistake you do get people on the list of suggested spelling corrections. But my version of Word has people at the bottom of the list — you actually have to scroll down to it — so it's unlikely to have happened through a quick unintended acceptance of the default choice.

The head of publishing, Bob Sessions, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "We're mortified that this has become an issue of any kind, and why anyone would be offended, we don't know." It seems odd that offending people should have become the "issue"; I would have thought encouraging cannibalism was the more significant worry. So let me warn Australian readers of Language Log right now: it's black pepper. Don't violate a major moral taboo and at the same time ruin a plate of sardine/prosciutto tagliatelle. Ground black pepper is what you're after.


  1. Sili said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    But what does one serve along with long pig?

    Some of us do have rather annoying neighbours.

  2. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

    As Gordon Woolf wrote on this topic in Copyediting-l yesterday (18 April 2010 5:39:29 PM), haven't they heard of tipping-in? That's to say, what I learned in bibliography class to call "cancellation", the replacement of a condemned leaf by a corrected one.

  3. TonyK said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

    The recipe is actually for "spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto". I can only assume the spell-checker took umbrage ("Spelt tagliatelle? I know how to spell tagliatelle, thank you very much!"), and then revenge.

  4. Peter Taylor said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    @Sili, I believe fava beans and chianti have become traditional…

  5. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    Correction: Gordon Woolf's Copyediting-l post is dated Sun, 18 Apr 2010 15:39:29 +1000 (not 5:39:29 PM as I had it). The +1000 indicates he's writing from Australia, 10 hours ahead of GMT.
    Afterthought: It occurs to me that replacing one leaf in the book would involve — shock! horror! — manual labour. Presumably pulping the entire edition and printing a new one will be basically done by machine.

  6. Stan said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

    Cupertino effect is what occurred to me too, when I read the story this morning.

    Cookbooks are notoriously difficult to proofread, but the particular difficulty seems to lie in the need for precision (e.g. of ingredients' quantities) in an unstraightforward kind of English. But surely there are specialists for this task, peppers people who cook or read a lot of cookbooks, and who will spot or suspect a slip in a recipe. "Black people" for "black pepper" is a dreadful error to be allowed through.

  7. Amber said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

    I bet it was deliberate.

  8. Rubrick said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

    I suspect more likely than a Cupertino is simple habit-capture; the writer typed "pe" and the rest followed automatically.

  9. James C. said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

    The L key is awfully close to both P and O on a qwerty keyboard. So consider: pepler, pelper, pepolr, etc. The only thing that I can see against a typo including L is that because of its ascender it is less likely to be missed; readers are much more attentive to ascenders out of place (but not out of order!) than they are to the rest of letter bodies.

    Depending on the construction of the book, a tip-in may not have been possible. It’s not reasonable at the end of a signature for example, since the weakened binding there will make the page at the other end of the signature want to fall out. (A signature is a folded collection of pages, signatures are sewn together to make a book.) If it’s spiral bound, as is common for cookbooks, the manipulation involved for unbinding and rebinding is far too much a PITA to make it cost-effective.

  10. Dave said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

    It's a good thing it wasn't a recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prostitute. See also this.

  11. Vireya said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

    Thanks for the warning, Professor!

  12. Proofreader said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    Worse things happen in printing. Many years ago, my company printed thousands of pages for Time, with one page showing a picture of a man alighting from a street car. At some point in the run, a hole developed in the press blanket, which caused a blank spot to occur on the man's crotch and (as Murphy's Law guarantees) this made the most obscene image possible with an open fly.

  13. Susan said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 10:11 pm

    Seems like a Freudian slip to me.

  14. Dan Lufkin said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

    The cafeteria at the U of Colorado Boulder campus is the Alferd G. Packer Grill. Their motto: "Serving our fellow man since 1968."

    Be sure to spell the name wrong when you Google it.

  15. David Green said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 12:31 am

    Checkout "To Serve Man": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Serve_Man

  16. Alen Mathewson said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    Sorry, but this misses the point. Sardines? With tagliatelle?

  17. Peter said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 11:20 am

    P and L are also close on a qwerty keyboard. Pepler for example shows 'people' near the top of the spell check results.

  18. Theophylact said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Certainly sardines with tagliatelle. Mark Bittman had an excellent recipe for pasta with sardines, breadcrumbs and capers just three weeks ago. We made it; it's (in Garrison Keillor's words) "tasty and expeditious".

  19. Dan T. said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    Do they have a recipe for Soylent Green?

  20. Claudia said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

    I wonder if there would be such a hoopla if white pepper had been used in the recipe instead of black, and if the grounded people would then be Caucasian, not black.

  21. kip said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

    I would have thought encouraging cannibalism was the more significant worry

    Actually, I would guess that it's racism that's the more significant worry. If it had just said "salt and freshly ground people", I'm betting there wouldn't have been a recall.

  22. alyxandr said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

    Given that they're more visually than keyboardally similar, perhaps an OCR error?

  23. Ken Grabach said,

    April 20, 2010 @ 10:11 am

    The Mark Bittman recipe that Theophylact refers to suggests 'long pasta such as perciatelli'. This is a long tube pasta. We made this recently, too, and used fettucine, which are similar to tagliatelle (a bit wider). There was black pepper in it, also.

  24. Frederica said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 7:58 am

    Does anyone have the recipe? It sounds delish. But with pepper of course. PEPPER.

  25. Stan Carey said,

    April 30, 2010 @ 6:08 am

    The media coverage seems to have given the book a boost in sales.

  26. 4ndyman said,

    May 4, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    This could be the result of two separate typos. "peopre" pulls up "people" as the first suggestion. If you type with only the first two fingers of each hand, put them where you would if you were going to type PEPPER. I put two lefthand fingers on ER and two right-hand fingers on OP. If the right hand first types OP instead of PP, and then the left hand transposes the E and R (I do this all the time with POINT, typing OPINT instead), you get peopre.

    The world may never know.

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