Out of comptrol

An ironic typographical error thwarts Hugh Kenner’s exposition of the Ching Ming ideograph in The Poetry of Ezra Pound:

The Ching Ming ideograph has levels of signification beginning with orthography and ending with the most intimate moral discriminations. ‘Call things by their right names.’ Don’t, for example, call a man Comptroller of the Currency unless he really controls it. (Kenner 1951:38)

Alas, the Comptroller of Typesetting (now of course deprived of his title) was not at his post to save Kenner from recursivity breaking loose, and that on the very page where a Pound quote reminds us that ‘orthography is a discipline of morale and of morals.’ A lovely strange loop it is.

Update: Helpful readers point out that the function of ‘Comptroller’ actually exists in the American system. This gives away two things: first, that I am currently writing posts offline (as I am in the field); second, that I am unforgivably ignorant of English typographic history. In my defense, I may note that the strange recursivity in Kenner’s passage still does hold; and that the title of my post tried to joke that not the noun (Comptroller) but the verb (control) is misspelled. I do admit guilt on the charge of trying to construct English puns as a non-native speaker.


  • Kenner, Hugh. 1951. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions.

3 thoughts on “Out of comptrol

  1. There really is a Comptroller of the Currency here in the US, and the title of the office is really spelled that way. And I believe there may be similarly spelled offices in the UK. Of course, the OED confirms that the source of the title is in fact a typo: the entry for COMPTROLLER says “An erroneous spelling of CONTROLLER, introduced c 1500, and formerly frequent in all senses; still retained in certain official designations, while in others it has been changed to the ordinary spelling. Hence comptrollership.”

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