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NYT Corrects 100-Year-Old Article on '12 Years a Slave'

NYT Corrects 161-Year-Old Article on '12 Years a Slave'

Solomon Northup's story "12 Years a Slave" just won "Best Picture" at the Oscars, and now some 161-year-old errors are being corrected by The New York Times.

You see, way back on January 20, 1853, the paper ran an article on Solomon Northup, and made a mistake. Now, thanks to a Twitter user - that's being corrected.

Here you see the blunder in the article. In the body of the text, Northup's name is spelled with an extra 'r' and 'o,' and also spelled incorrectly in the headline.

The correction on The New York Times webpage says:

"The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives. (The errors notwithstanding, The Times described the article as 'a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared.')"

It's unclear which user exactly, but Rebecca Skloot is an author - her book was even a New York Times best-seller, and she pointed out the error.

Later joking she is actually a terrible proofreader and speller.

And now, the story is making headlines - after all, a correction more than 150 years in the making - quite the oddity.

Join the discussion

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ssusan372 March 04 2014 at 1:17 PM

[sigh] If you have ever done any historical research, you would know that the names were often spelled in a variety of ways, even by the person themself. Many did not read/ write, and verbal ruled more than we give credit for. Even a person's accent could affect how spelling was done. Check the old census records, land and court records, wills, birth, marriage, and death records to see the wide variations possible for a single person.
Do not condemn the paper for this. I pity the historians 161 years in the future trying to figure out all the 'currently popular' name spellings that people think today are so 'unique'. Oh, and for the record, most of today's records are coded by sound, not letters. [check your census etc]
You may be surprised that even Solomon Northrup himself may have spelled his name several ways.
Good Luck to you all.

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dad March 04 2014 at 12:29 PM

I wonder if any of his descendants are still alive, if so they should be notified and compensated from the proceeds of his labor.

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1 reply
frog3602 dad March 04 2014 at 12:38 PM

Agreed, let the people he labored for compensate his descendants, BOL

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bentbouy1 frog3602 March 04 2014 at 12:53 PM


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jaime March 04 2014 at 4:55 PM

English is primarily a phonetic language, and for communication purposes, grammar and spelling are not that critical. Correcting the "misspelling of 161 years ago only makes the Rebeka Esqloot feel self-important, and NYTymes complicit in the self-congratulatory circle. We'll let them. Jaime Vergara, teacher in China.

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1 reply
M jaime March 05 2014 at 5:25 AM

"English is primarily a phonetic language, and for communication purposes, grammar and spelling are not that critical."

Tanks fur a info bout dat. Than wee batter wurk then reed this. Kleer?

My wife was a high school teacher, and thanks to the "no child left behind", she was actually reprimanded for **suggesting** corrections on her students essays. She was absolutely forbidden to deduct points from the scores on those essays due to spelling and grammar errors. Many papers would have produced a negative score out of 100 points if only deducting one point per error was used. One example was three pages long with only three periods in the entire work. You do NOT want to even think about the spelling, grammar, and misuse of words.

And I have two younger siblings who were taught English using phonics. Both my brother and sister can barely use a dictionary because they cannot spell the words they attempt to find. Phone books and even Mapscos offer the same challenge.

I dare you to try "communicating" with a computer to instruct it to do *something* without PERFECT spelling and grammar/syntax, i.e. program the computer. Does the phrase "Do what I meant, not what I said!" mean anything to you?

And just TRY changing a checking account from "or" to "and" and see what happens.
(Mr or Mrs to Mr and Mrs... hint: BOTH must then sign each check)

It is no wonder the cash registers at McDonalds use PICTURES of the food items for the checkout people to take the orders...

Now on the other hand, what was the average education level back then? Recognizing that fact goes a long way toward justifying your statement.

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ajafullmn March 04 2014 at 4:52 PM

good grif. I thought they were correcting something important. My last name gets misspelled and mispronounced every day. In fact, so does my first name.

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ajt1025 March 04 2014 at 4:32 PM

This is a joke right? who cares what happened a 100 years ago there is no one around that could appricate the correction? NYT is foolish for even putting the correction out , or are they just trying to make asses of themsleves.

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dali456 March 04 2014 at 3:57 PM

I could not care less!

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tom33jr40 March 04 2014 at 2:21 PM

I agree with "so what"

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kevinsweeneyme March 04 2014 at 1:27 PM

So what?

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njenel March 04 2014 at 1:16 PM

doesn't really matter does it. the indian girl SACAGAWEA'S NAME IS MISPRONOUNCED BY THE WHITES, IT's REALLY PRONOUNCED "SA-COG-A-WA." but that was in 1803, and i guess it doesn't really matter anymore.

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1 reply
PlatesPlus njenel March 04 2014 at 5:25 PM

I not i in the middle of a sentence.

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Joebudgie March 04 2014 at 9:17 PM

This seems like a typical space filler they keep in file to use when the writers can't think of anything of real interest to write about.

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