Saturday, February 01, 2014

The secret life of editors

Yesterday, someone mentioned on Facebook that she feels a tiny bit of grammar-related anxiety when she comments on my posts. I know there's probably something from our shared past that led to that; she and I went to school together from 7th grade through graduation. Surely I made some sort of semantic argument to or near her, or said something shitty and judgmental about someone else's speech. But no, she said, it's because I work with words for a living. This has come up with a few other friends, too; mostly the way it manifests is that they'll type something into the instant messaging box, edit or delete, and go again. I always tell people not to; I type strokey all the time in instant messaging. I am in no position to judge.

So I let this FB friend in on the secret that I often look words up before I post, just to be sure. But here's the bigger truth: Editors don't know all of the language.

I mean, I can't speak for all editors. But the editors I know? Don't know everything. Especially me. I'm a line editor. I think copy editors -- even those who really like me -- would tell you that there's a metric TON I don't know. Like, I'll never know lay and lie. That's just never going to stick. But I for sure know someone who does know it. If I find myself looking at a structure I don't know, I just follow these two rules. It always works.

1. Ask around.
2. Write around the problem.

And frankly, most times I just skip to No. 2. I recreate sentences like nobody's business.

I don't even live by the rules I do know. I know I'm on the wrong side of "hopefully." I use singular they. And I think it's funny to write conversationally and make up words.

So worry not, friends! I am never, ever judging what you write. I'm too busy looking up words and rewriting sentences of my own.

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