Who's afraid of the copy editor?
My esteemed Sun colleague David Hobby posted a comment here yesterday that included this remark: “But certainly, you must realize how intimidating it would be to leave a comment here ...”
He was joking, but many people seem to approach a site like this as tentatively as Oliver Twist advancing toward Mr. Bumble the beadle with that empty porridge bowl. First-time posters at the American Copy Editors Society’s discussion board sometimes write in a please-don’t-hit-me-if-I-misspell-something tone. Some people even write apologetically to me in private e-mails.
Over at Elizabeth Large’s excellent blog on dining, Owl Meat, Piano Rob, Robert (the Single One), Mr. Old Fart and the rest of the jolly gang are chatting away all the time. None of them seem to worry that somebody will tell them they don’t know how to eat.
But our educational system appears to have produced a class of people who are timorous about their ability to write in their own language. Writing, for them, is like math: They have been trained to understand that it is difficult and that they are not up to it.
The schools and colleges balance that attitude by producing another class of people who, having been encouraged in expressiveness without any guidance in usage or rhetoric or technique, write the most appalling prose in serene confidence.
Pounding on the pedagogues is one of the oldest national sports, but clearly somebody has to be held accountable. The hard-case, scolding prescriptivists have a lot to answer for, too. Either they reinforce the anxiety over making mistakes, or they encourage rebelliousness among those who are not about to be dictated to by fuddy-duddies.
There’s very little that I can do about that, except to say that, gentle reader, you are safe here. You will not be chided for naivete or sneered at for any roughness of expression. You can even use emoticons. There, what more can I offer?
And since I determine what comments get posted, no braying jackass who tries to attack you will get through.
There. Easier in your mind? Don’t forget to write.