July 29th, 2018

Copyediting vs. Being awful

Hello Frenz,

I would like to talk about the world of finding errors in text today. It is a subject dear to my heart and one in which I have considerable expertise. I feel that, perhaps because among my favourite kinds of jokes are the self-deprecating kind, my expertise is occasionally devalued a little bit when I offer it, so although it feels awkward, I would like to assert that I am smart enough for all normal purposes. A normal purpose is one like earning a living, and finding errors in text is one of the things I earn a living at, and have for many years. So that is my credential. Make of it what you will.

SO, as a person who has been proofreading and copyediting and supervising proofreaders and copyeditors for a decade and a half, I would like to say this: if you cannot win an argument without resorting to correcting someone’s spelling, grammar, or punctuation, you cannot win the argument. The only exception to this rule is arguments that are actually about spelling and grammar. If the argument is about racism or gun control or #metoo or whatever intense and freighted topic and someone’s rebuttal is a grammatical critique, they have nothing left to offer the conversation and should be ignored as surely as if they had resorted to a stream of obscenities–neither contributes to a useful dialogue. I would like to see this method of “debate” never ever again on Twitter or Facebook. I would like people to stop correcting ME on Facebook–can we assume I know how to spell and punctuate, and that I enjoy my time off with the occasional dangling modifier, much as a professional chef might like a little Kraft Dinner on a night off? Or assume I don’t know how to modify, and that I should have even more imposter syndrome than I do–you’re not going to re-eduate me in my replies. My main thing is that I would like folks to stop trying to shut down arguments this way, as if someone who has conjugation problems couldn’t possibly have anything to say worth reckoning with substantively.

Why? Because it’s classist–everyone has a different education and lexicon, and everyone comes to social media with a different idea of the formality of the diction. Just because someone has expressed their ideas in an ungrammatical way doesn’t mean they don’t understand the grammar AND even if they didn’t understand the grammar doesn’t mean the ideas themselves are not valuable. Obsessing about saying it “right” is another form of tone-policing, just like saying everyone has to meet a certain imaginary standard of politeness before they can be allowed to participate in the discussion.

It is not a coincidence that of the many friends I have met in the editorial community over the years, I have almost never seen a copyeditor or proofreader come aboard of anyone for this type of thing–we know our work is valuable up until a point and that point does not include disrupting social interaction. If a friend were consistently misspelling or misconstructing something in a noticeable way I might discreetly take them aside, if I felt it genuinely would be noticed by others–like by someone who wasn’t looking for gotcha errors. This is a spinach in your teeth situation–you say something to your friends so that a stranger won’t. But I would never do it in public.

Seriously. Stop it. Knock it off. The sentence would have to be really garbled before you can claim to not understand. Don’t give yourself a giggly self-diagnosis of “OCD about these things” (NOPE–now you’re being awful in two ways). Read what’s being discussed. Think about it. See if you’d like to respond to the content. No? That’s cool. We don’t always have to have something to say.


One Response to “Copyediting vs. Being awful”

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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