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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #20 - Donna Leon

I just finished reading yet another Brunetti novel by Donna Leon: Fatal Remedies.

This is the 8th Story with Commissario Brunetti and it was, as usual, entertaining. But, you guessed it, I detected in it some mistakes that could have been easily avoided.

The first mistake is on page 45, where Leon states that the 1st November is in Italy the “day of the dead”, while the day of the dead is in fact the second day of November. This mistake is surprising for several reasons. First of all, Donna Leon has lived in Italy for many years. Secondly, “All Saints’ Day” is well known in the English world, where it precedes “All Souls’ day”.

On page 133, Leon mentions “Ponte dei Greci” (Bridge of the Greeks), but spells it “Ponte dei Grechi”, which is wrong. This is a funny mistake, because the word “grechi” exists in Italian, but is used as an adjective. For example, “gli antichi greci” (the ancient Greeks) but “i vasi grechi” (the Greek vases). In fact, many (most) Italians erroneously use the noun when they should use the adjective, and even think that you are an ignorant if you use the adjective correctly. It is therefore common to hear and read expressions like “attori greci” (Greek actors) and “ruderi greci” (Greek ruins), which are incorrect. Donna Leon is the only one who swap noun and adjective the other way around!
On page 144 and some additional times on later pages, Leon uses the word “embarcadero” and italicises it to indicate that it is Italian. But the problem is that the word is Spanish. To indicate a pier, she should have used the word “molo”.

Finally, on page 235, Leon refers to the wife of a murder victim as “Signorina”. This is clearly wrong, as in Italian a married woman is a “signora”, not a “signorina”. In fact, the term “signorina” is nowadays used very seldom because the term, like “Fräulein” in German, “Miss” in English, and, I believe, “mademoiselle” in French, is considered to be less respectful.

As it often happens, these are not mistakes that detract from the readability of the story. Nevertheless, I’m always surprised that so many well-known authors (and their editors and copy editors) very often make easily avoidable mistakes.

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:

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