Part of my day job as a newspaper editor is to, well, edit. To review copy for spelling, style and content. And sometimes make long stories short. The same holds true for my other job as a mystery novelist.
It’s a mostly rewarding task. More so when I need only a polishing cloth to make language shine. Less so when a wrecking ball is required to demolish huge chunks of text and rebuild them word by word like brick walls.
The process has turned me into something of a fussbudget, though. Actually, make that curmudgeon aggravated by the least transgression. WHAT? You used further instead of farther? Are you out of your mind? Criminy. What a dolt.
At the beginning of my journalistic career, I expressed my frustrations using the pencil with which I edited typewritten copy. My weapon of choice was a Mirado Black Warrior loaded with No. 2 lead. Not to brag, but I was a young gun who wielded it with deadly proficiency. These days, I pound away at my keyboard to correct mistakes. And grumble loudly enough the nice woman who works next door to the newspaper office probably wonders about my emotional stability. I don’t blame her.
Let me be honest. I appreciate technology and the efficiency it’s brought to newspaper journalism and book publishing. I don’t want to go back to writing with a typewriter and editing with a pencil any more than I’d want to dip a quill into an inkwell. The good old days were anything but.
I remain exasperated, however, by what I contend is another consequence of technology. Despite the very software intended to prevent them, mistakes appear more frequently in the written word. The need for speed has supplanted respect for the language of Shakespeare. Does somebody, anybody, know the differences among their, there and they’re? How about its and it’s? Capitalization has become a popularity contest. If a word looks or sounds important, by all means go ahead and capitalize it.
The problem is nearly ubiquitous in informal communications, especially text messages, but has spread like a virus to infect more formal channels.
Although I’m confident enough to lament the mistakes I detect in spelling and style, I’m less assured about punctuation marks. That’s because even experts must agree to disagree about punctuation marks.
Take the Oxford comma, for example. No. Really. Take it. Please. There are those who love the Oxford comma. I loathe it.
I feel the same way about semicolons. Abraham Lincoln considered the semicolon a “useful little chap.” I side with Kurt Vonnegut and his lesson on writing: “Do not use semicolons. … All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
Don’t even get me started on exclamation points. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald put it best: “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
The risk, of course, of writing about editing is a mistake will appear in the very blog I’ve edited. That’s not to mention the sentences I tend to leave incomplete. Entirely on purpose. For all those eagle-eyed readers out there, I welcome you to swoop right in and let me know what you spotted.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep on editing. That’s part of my jobs.