This joke is the best illustration I’ve ever seen of the negative effects of working from copied documents instead of originals. This should be on display in every library, archive and genealogy center as a reminder of the perils awaiting.
This is something I think about every time I do a transcription, and this type of consequence is why I use wildcard symbols in place of characters I can’t quite make out or understand in the original or copy I’m working from. It ensures the reader knows there is doubt and if it’s important to them and their research, they’ll look for and consult the original.
The Old Monk
A new monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand.
He notices, however, that they are copying copies, not the original books. So, the new monk goes to the head monk to ask him about this. He points out that if there were an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies.
The head monk says “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.” So, he goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original.
Hours later, nobody has seen him. So, one of the monks goes downstairs to look for him. He hears a sobbing coming from the back of the cellar, and finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks what’s wrong.
The old monk sobs, “The word is celebrate.”