NPR logo Cetaceaculture(ph): Hyphenating the Fictitious?


Cetaceaculture(ph): Hyphenating the Fictitious?

The spelling of proper names is always a challenge for the brave typists and editors who transcribe NPR's audio. Their difficult task is further exacerbated when we at NPR have made up the names ourselves.

Witness this letter from a vigilant transcripts editor working on Wednesday night's All Things Considered.

We are a bit perplexed by this ATC letters segment tonight. They're talking about listener outrage regarding a segment that they aired yesterday regarding whale farming. Thing is, there is no such story in last night's transcripts, and it's nowhere to be found on the Web site. I tried searching it on Google, and no dice.

The main thing of it is, the reporter that they reference has a difficult name that we can't confirm. The full name, as Robert Siegel speaks it, sounds like Chasel Cheswick Weisberg(ph). I have not been able to confirm any NPR reporter with the last name of Weisberg, and I've experimented with the spelling. So, just wanted to let you know, if you get a crazy-looking name in the transcript, it wasn't for lack of trying.

The night is young. Maybe lightning will strike and the evening shift will turn up something.

Dan C.

[The parenthetical "(ph)" is how the transcribers indicate that a name or term is being spelled phonetically.]

Because of the tight deadlines our transcribers have to meet (a 6-hour turnaround time after the program ends), they worked late into the night while I was blissfully away from my email. It wasn't until Thursday morning that I read the transcript editor's email and reluctantly informed him that he had been April Fooled.

His reply:

OK, so here's the thing: I was about to clock out for the day (almost on time for a change) when a panicked typist sparked me on IM, asking me about this reporter's name. So I listened to the beginning of the story, just enough to get his name...spent an hour or so researching this...

You want to know the irony? I stayed late researching this because I didn't want to look stupid. Are you sensing the irony in that?

Used to be, I could trust the dulcet tones of Robert Siegel. Now that trust has been shattered. Let him know, he's gotta work to get that back.

We did let Robert Siegel know, and he sent the editor a very nice personal email in response:

I am terribly sorry. For the name of that reporter (Art Silverman made it up), for cetacea-culture (I made that one up) and for causing hours of pointless labor. I hope you get paid triple time.

My apologies,
Robert Siegel

(Since we don't believe Dan C. will in fact get paid triple time, we are thinking about sending him an autographed picture of Robert Siegel instead. Or maybe a CD of whale songs?)