Friday, 20 September 2013

Absent No Longer

I had begun to think that pedantry and an insistence on accuracy were silly and that I was being absurdly demanding. I should just get over it, I told myself. Near enough is good enough would be my motto henceforth.

But then I listened to Richard de Crespigny, and I took heart. If you're going to do something, you must do it properly, I realised. Standards matter. If we set about a task without the intention of doing it to the absolute best of our ability, it's not worth doing.

Invigorated, I returned to my neglected blog of copy editing errors. Although I've collected too many mistakes from the newspapers over the last few months to put them all onto the blog immediately, I've added a few particularly splendid gems, just to be going on with. You can see them here.


  1. Very interesting that I just posted what follows, by Stephen Fry, on my writing class website. Have you seen it? Fry takes quite a harsh position against pedantry. I'm using this for discussion, of course; I find myself somewhere in the middle of things. Often, I shrug off the rules on purpose for various effects. I also suppose there are some rules I don't know, but heaven help me if I see a sign advertising "Gala Apple's" when I have a Sharpie in my possession... Anyway, here is the link to Fry. I fear it may anger you -- especially because it assumes that those who demand high standards of grammar and style don't revel in the joy of language and sound (which is simply not a consistent -- or even very supportable -- fact).

    1. I think I'm really responding to sloppiness - the eye can read really badly misspelt things and so forth. However, if you are given a job, you should do it really well - and that includes the job of copy editor. I also like a sentence that reads smoothly and unambiguously so that meaning is conveyed to a reader without their thoughts getting snagged on the conveyers of meaning rather than the meaning itself, if that makes sense. So there's two things going on for me: 1. Just a general sense that standards need to be striven for as a general rule, if we expect the world around us to work well; and 2. a feeling that words are just symbols and the better they are arranged and punctuated the easier it is to penetrate beyond them directly to meaning, rather than being stuck in a barbed wire tangle of the words themselves.

    2. I agree. In a lesson after I last posted, I told the kids that the middle line of all of this is important: if I am feeling a constant "tapping of the brakes" as I read, I am losing connection with the writer's ideas. Fry's contempt is over-done, for sure. And the fact remains that if a grocer advertises "Apple's: $1.99 per pound," I am still left with a tangle in my head -- wondering, sarcastically, what thing thatg belongs to apples could possibily be worth $1.99. It simply doesn't help.

    3. Horrid - but funny - Julie Burchill described Stephen Fry as a stupid person's idea of a clever person, which was, of course, very mean.