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THE AL GILKES COLUMN: Printer’s devil at large


Al Gilkes

THE AL GILKES COLUMN: Printer’s devil at large

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Let me start today with an apology for the ubiquitous printer’s devil whose sole purpose is to insert errors into the flawless works of writers when they are past the point of no return to be corrected.

So, in keeping with his most detested reputation, the devil found his way into my column last Sunday and made Wednesday appear as the day of the anniversary of 9/11 instead of the true day, Thursday.

I also apologise to any of you who might have taken that information without checking its correctness and changed any flights you intended to take from the Wednesday to the Thursday only to find yourself way above the clouds on September 11.

Fortunately, any superstition about flying on that date and day proved to be worthless fear of a possibility that never materialised.

So unless you have been associated with journalism and/or printing, you might be wondering who is this printer’s devil anyway. Well, back in the day he was an apprentice in a printer who was responsible for mixing tubs of ink, among menial tasks. However, no knowledge seems to exist about where the term originated.

Wikipedia reports one origin being linked to the fanciful belief among printers that a special devil haunted every print shop, performing mischief such as inverting type, misspelling words or removing entire lines of completed type for which the apprentice became a substitute source of blame and came to be called a printer’s devil by association.

Another source involved one Johann Fust, a business partner of the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, who sold several of the latter’s bibles to King Louis XI of France and his court, representing them as hand-copied manuscripts. However, when it was discovered that individual letters were identical in appearance, Fust was accused of witchcraft because the red ink text was said to have been written in blood.

English tradition links the origin to the assistant of the first English printer and book publisher, William Caxton, who was named “Deville”, which evolved to “devil” over time.

That being what it was, my flight from Barbados last Sunday was uneventful but at the end of the day I found I had exchanged the steaming heat of Barbados for the end of summer cool of Boston which, as I write, feels more like the onset of winter than of autumn.

The skies are cloudless and the sun is shining in all of its glory but on the outside I have to use a sweater to keep my body warm in the chilling 65 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the scorching 88 you all were enjoying at the time.

Nevertheless, I prefer to be this cool because you can put on layers of clothing to achieve any desired level of warmth. On the other side, I cannot strip down past my underwear to achieve some comfortable level of cool. And imaging what would be my fate if I went beyond the underwear. I would either be arrested for indecent exposure or be crushed in the rush of admiring females or both.

I am cool.

• Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm.

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