or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Reader ana writes in response to Monday's posting:

The mistakes you rant about are exactly the types of things that bother me when I read books and articles. I don't care if people make mistakes in e-mails or other personal correspondence, but professional writers and editors should use and spell words correctly. Sometimes the mistakes are so obvious that running the spell-check on the computer would pick them up. Other times they aren't so obvious, but a good editor should be able to find and correct them.

But there are so very many bad editors out there. Or non-existent ones: I almost never read the Globe and Mail, "Canada's National Newspaper", because I can be assured of finding spelling and grammatical errors on almost every page. I don't believe they even copy-edit; I think they just instruct their writers to run everything through a spell-checker and then publish it. It's just too dispiriting, almost maddening. (Although it does give me something to carp about, and for that I suppose I ought to be grateful.)

You're so right that professionals should use words properly. I would go farther and say that that is a job requirement, in the same way that being able to shoot accurately is a job requirement for a police officer. In fact, I'll go even farther, as far as I can, and say that being able to use English precisely and correctly is the job description of writers and editors. Period. It is the entirely of their work; it's what they're paid to do, and if they can't do it, they should be fired and replaced with people who can.

Okay, I got a little intemperate there, so let me backtrack just a little. Writers ought to be thoroughly conversant with the English language, but they do make mistakes, and they're the creative ones, so we allow them a little leeway. (James Joyce.) It's the editors who have to be rigorous, demanding, finicky, precise, and thoroughly familiar with the oddities and byways of English. Every writer needs editing; every professional publication needs editors. Personal communication--which includes blogs--is more or less free from this constraint; everything else needs a second, knowledgeable pair of eyes. Everything.

Even blogs have editors in the form of other alert readers. I read James Wolcott regularly; he's an interesting, well-informed writer, and if the occasional typo slips in, well, so be it. But in this blog posting he wrote the following sentence:

Craig Nettles, former 3rd baseman for the NY Yankees, once wiseguyed there was an upside to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's peripatetic meddling.

Well, as everyone knows, the former 3rd baseman for the New York Yankees was actually named Graig Nettles, so of course I e-mailed him so he could fix it. Did he? He did not. Tsk. I'm sure he gets lots of e-mails, but if someone wrote me about a mistake I'd made, I would 1) argue the point if I thought I had one, and/or 2) make the correction immediately. But then, I am not a famous writer, so I probably have more time on my hands than Mr. Wolcott.


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