Mother Teresa, pray for the copy desk

Hey working journalists! What we have here is a laugh-to-keep-from-crying correction classic.

First, a bit of context. Back when I was one of the senior reporters at the Rocky Mountain News (RIP), all of the beat reporters had to take turns doing general assignment work on the weekends. One of the Saturday stories that happened year after year, of course, was the regional finals for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

One year, I drew that assignment (which was actually a lot of fun, including a nice religion angle). Before I went out to cover the event, a veteran editor pulled me aside and gave me a great and timely warning. DO NOT DARE, she said, misspell a word in a story about the spelling bee. If you do, your telephone will melt down. You will hear about that mistake for the rest of your life. I avoided that trap.

So, does anyone remember that post the other day (it’s still getting comments) about the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, from the folks at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life?

It goes without saying that the New York Times joined legions of other newspapers in covering the story, including the following paragraph:

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

Well, over at The Atlantic, Erik Hayden noticed that the online version of this story has been revised to include this addition at the end:

Correction: September 29, 2010

An article on Tuesday about a poll in which Americans fared poorly in answering questions about religion misspelled the name of a beatified Roman Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was Mother Teresa, not Theresa.

As Hayden noted, in a very low-key way:

Unfortunately for the Times editors, the article misspelled the renowned Catholic nun Mother Teresa’s name as Mother “Theresa.” That the error ironically occurred on an article touting religious literacy will no doubt leave some of the Time‘s detractors gleefully passing along the correction. …

Consider it done, even though your GetReligionistas do not enjoy knocking the Times, in part because the newspaper has such an excellent history of printing corrections (attention Washington Post editors).

However, let me take this opportunity to issue a challenge. I am still reading reports on this latest wave of Pew data and I hope others out in GetReligion-reader-land are doing the same. If you find other interesting corrections in stories about the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, by all means share them.

Now, let’s see. Are their any of the usual horrible tmatt typos in this post?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Kate

    “Now, let’s see. Are their any of the usual horrible tmatt typos in this post?”

    I think you meant to type “there”. Not “their”. Unless that was a deliberate attempt at humor. :-)


  • Peggy

    I empathize. I get the two spellings of Teresa and Theresa mixed up all the time. I’d have to look up which one is Mother Teresa. Today is the feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus–the French saint; later this month is St. Teresa of Avila–the Spanish saint.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    God help us who have to spell the T. name. Peggy–The saint who we remember today is spelled St. TheresE of the Child Jesus. At least they spell it that way at a nearby Carmelite monastery. She was French and that is apparently how the French spell that name.

  • Peggy

    Deacon John: I am a French speaker. It is true, in French one would write “Therese.” [phonetic-->Tay-rez] Unfortunately, I cannot type accents properly. The first ‘e’ upward slopes; the second ‘e’ down slopes.

  • Martha

    Deacon John is correct; the Little Flower is St. Thérèse of Lisieux (her name in religion being Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face) while the Spanish saint is St. Teresa of Ávila (her name in religion being St. Teresa of Jesus) and, to make it even better, Mother Teresa took her name after Thérèse of Lisieux, so ample room for confusion!

  • joye

    Time was, saints used to be known by whatever the local version was of their name.

    St. Thomas Aquinas to English speakers, but Tomás de Aquino to Spanish speakers, Tommaso D’Aquino to Italians, Thomas D’Aquin to French speakers, Thomas von Aquin to Germans, etc etc. I could go on for pages. Ditto other saints, like Teresa of Avila, Francis Xavier…

    At some point, it seems like English speakers all got seized with the notion that they must call new saints by their “real” names. We say St. Therese of the Child Jesus, instead of Theresa or Teresa; Blessed Miguel Pro, instead of Michael; the soon to be St. Andre Bessette, instead of Andrew. I wonder why that is.

  • Maria Monroe

    Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity orphanages operate in over 100 countries caring for the disabled and sick orphans.

  • Passing By

    I knew Mother Teresa was Catholic, AND Albanian, but would not have gotten the spelling right. In fact, I would not have thought about the spelling.

    Which is another reason that Doctor of the Church from France is best thought of as “The Little Flower”.

  • Julia

    I got you all beat.

    I’m a member of a parish named “St Teresa” and it purports to be named for the French saint!!! There was even a special Mass yesterday with an outdoor procession.

    It bugs me because I attended a high school properly named “St. Teresa Acedemy” for the great Spanish saint and reformer of the Carmelites.

    Every year the Bishop come to say Mass on her feast day reminds the “St. Teresa” parishioners of how the name is supposed to be spelled and pronounced.

    No sign of any changes to the name being contemplated.