Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ontario Veterans’ Memorial Typo: 2nd Attempt

UPDATE: Hilarity ensues -- read the official response I received from Major-General Richard Rohmer, the Memorial Advisory Committee Co-Chair...

Original post:

A couple of years ago, I wrote to the Ontario Minister of Government Services about a typographical error on the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial at Queen’s Park. The mistake -- at the top of the dedicatory inscription by Jane Urquhart -- remains uncorrected, and I never received any response.

The Jane Urquhart inscription on the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial features a homophonic error -- ‘discrete’ should be ‘discreet’

We’ve changed Ministers in the interim, so perhaps a fresh attempt at fixing the typo will be fruitful. If the glitch was buried deep inside the text, it probably wouldn’t bother me too much. Unfortunately, it occurs on the 2nd line of the Memorial’s prominent central bronze plaque -- you can’t miss it.

The bronze inscription in the context of the Memorial -- front and centre

Urged by a friend to try again, I’m sprinkling a few extra cc’s into the mix this time around.

“Aren’t there more critical issues to focus on? Isn’t this just frivolous pedantry?”

A legitimate question. The answer is yes -- and no.

The Memorial is intended to serve as a powerful symbol for all of us. Every last aspect of it was meticulously planned and thought out, via a lengthy consultative process, to achieve the maximum impact and emotional resonance. It is a literal tribute to our veterans -- so if the execution of the Memorial is flawed, that reflects poorly on us and on our respect for their sacrifices.

If the symbology is important, then getting every picayune detail right is equally as important.

100 years from now, what will our great-grandchildren think? Our posterity is at stake. Let’s see if aught results...

Spelling gadflies unite!

It’s also reasonable to ask, “Is it actually an error? Perhaps Urquhart intended to use the word ‘discrete’.”

I’ve heard a plausible argument that ‘discrete’ is in fact consistent with ‘One by one’ in the first line. If that’s the case, then doesn’t that make the French translation a bit ambiguous? I’d wager most people would interpret ‘avec discrétion’ to mean discreetly, rather than separate or distinct -- or literally discrete. I think it’s problematic either way.

Letter sent as follows:
July 26, 2011

The Honourable Harinder Takhar, MPP
Ontario Minister of Government Services

The Honourable Dalton McGuinty, MPP, Premier of Ontario
Tim Hudak, MPP, Niagara West – Glanbrook, Ontario PC Leader
His Honour the Honourable David Onley, Lt. Gov. of Ontario
Major-General (ret’d) Richard Rohmer, O.C., C.M.M., Q.C.,
Veterans’ Memorial Advisory Committee Co-Chair
Error on Ontario Veterans’ Memorial

Minister Takhar,

I am writing to call your attention to a typographical error on the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial at Queen’s Park, which, although minor in nature, nevertheless ought to be fixed.

Specifically, the Jane Urquhart inscription on the central bronze plaque starts with the text:
One by one they left behind the bright fields of innocence and stepped into the darkness of experience. Their brave departures were discrete and humble.
Contextually, the word ‘discrete’ should be ‘discreet’. The intended meaning is confirmed by the French translation: Ils ont quitté avec courage, discrétion et humilité. Given the central plaque’s prominence on the Memorial, and the fact that the error is at the start of the inscription, almost every visitor will see this incorrect word choice.

I trust that you will share my desire to have this corrected forthwith. In May 2009 I contacted your ministerial predecessor, Ted McMeekin, regarding this issue -- but did not receive any reply.

During the unveiling ceremony in 2006, the then-Minister for Government Services, Gerry Phillips, declared that the Memorial represents a ‘lasting and dignified tribute to Canadian veterans’.

I agree wholeheartedly. As a symbol of our respect, the Memorial should reflect our deepest appreciation for their sacrifices -- down to the final details. If the execution of the Memorial is flawed, that reflects poorly on us.

What I mean is -- if you value the symbol, then you have to ensure that the symbol is done properly. Would you raise a Canadian flag upside down? No, that would be disrespectful -- and it’s the same dynamic at play here. Do we care about the symbolic details, or are we indifferent? That’s the issue.

Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to your response and corrective action.

Yours sincerely,

Nathan Ng