May 2, 2014
“She put her anus around his neck”: When book scanners go wrong
by Zeljka Marosevic
How do old books or documents that don’t have a corresponding digital file become e-books? Often, they’re scanned by an OCR scanner, an Optical Recognition Scanner that copies the text into a format that can then be edited and read digitally. Lots of people use these machines: publishers, libraries and government agencies all rely on them to convert paper to ebook in a quick and pain-free way.
But, as Sarah Wendell, editor of the Romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books noticed recently, something has gone awry. Because, in many old texts the scanner is reading the word ‘arms’ as ‘anus’ and replacing it as such in the digital edition. As you can imagine, you don’t want to be getting those two things mixed up.
The resulting sentences are hilarious, turning tender scenes of passionate embrace into something much darker, and in some cases, nearly physically impossible. The Guardian’s Alison Flood quotes some of the best:
From the title Matisse on the Loose: “When she spotted me, she flung her anus high in the air and kept them up until she reached me. ‘Matisse. Oh boy!’ she said. She grabbed my anus and positioned my body in the direction of the east gallery and we started walking.”
And ‘”Bertie, dear Bertie, will you not say good night to me” pleaded the sweet, voice of Minnie Hamilton, as she wound her anus affectionately around her brother’s neck. “No,” he replied angrily, pushing her away from him.”‘ Well, wouldn’t you?
As Flood notes, a quick search in Google Books reveals that the problem is widespread. Parents should keep their children away from the ebook edition of the 1882 children’s book Sunday Reading From the Young. It all seems perfectly innocent until… “Little Milly wound her anus lovingly around Mrs Green’s neck and begged her to make her home with them. At first Mrs Green hesitated.” And who can really blame her?
That’s technology for you, always making an ass out of someone.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.