Editing is Dying, Grunting Soon to Follow

by James Scott Bell

In some places in our fair land, if all is still in the night, you might hear the plaintive cry of the whippoorwill. In other locales, if the moon is full, the howl of a lonely coyote may break the silence. In the city you are sure to pick up the distant toot of an automobile horn, or the exasperated utterance of the infuriated cab driver, or perhaps the variegated cursings of the long-distance trucker in search of a greasy spoon.

At my house, I have come to anticipate the sardonic tones of a wifely expostulation that sounds like this: “Oh, come on!”

You see, Mrs. B knows the language. She knows grammar. She has to. She’s a realtor here in Los Angeles, and one of her tasks is crafting engaging copy about the properties she’s representing. Often, when she’s in her home office, I’ll hear the “Oh, come on!” and it usually means she’s just read, with a mixture of amusement and horror, another agent’s prose on the Multiple Listing Service.

Once, she saw this description of a view property up on a hill: You’ll be high in the heaves!

I don’t know about you, but living in a house where I’m constantly calling Ralph on the big white telephone is not my idea of heaven.

Another time she saw: This is a lovely home, completely remolded.

I’d rather just keep the old mold, wouldn’t you?

Cindy began collecting these items. A few more from her list:

Master suit with walking closet.

Hardwood floors, and a wet bat.

Many widows make this home light and airy.

Okay, typos. We all make them. But what about obvious errors of grammar from outfits that ought to know better? Like, say, newspapers and television channels? At one time all newspapers employed steely-eyed copy editors who were fully grounded in the rules of grammar and the elements of style. Not so much anymore in this epoch of shrinking revenues and staff cutbacks.

That’s why you see more errors popping up in newspapers, print and digital, than ever before. Things like:

The glamorous 17-year-old wants to be a policewoman some day, like her dad.

Golfing Immortal Dies at Age 69.

His face was familiar to movie fans, with or without his ever-present cigar.  

Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.

Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.

The other evening I heard “Oh, come on!” and went to investigate. Cindy was scrolling through the blurbs on a certain movie channel. These are no doubt written by unpaid millennial interns or staffers who’d rather be playing Realm Grinder in their cubicles. Cindy showed me the blurb for a movie called Johnny Belinda starring Jane Wyman (who won the Oscar as Best Actress for her performance). Here’s the blurb:

Sensitive portrayal of a deaf woman who is raped, then tried for his subsequent murder in a Nova Scotia fishing Village.

Oh, come on!

Okay, I know I’m sounding more and more get-off-my-lawnish these days, but really. Let the basic rules of grammar fray and in a few generations we’ll all be milling around, grunting and gesticulating, trying to get someone to tell us where the bathroom is. Frustration will mount, with anger soon to follow, and soon enough we’ll be tearing into each other with our teeth. Which is sort of what Twitter is like right now.

Wuts 2b dun?

Remember when education used to begin at what we called grammar school? Please, teachers and parents, don’t let the children down. Make them memorize the following poem:

Every name is called a NOUN, as field and fountain, street and town.
In place of a noun the PRONOUN stands, as he and she clap their hands.
The adjective describes a thing, as magic wand or bridal ring.
The VERB means action, something done, to read and write and jump and run.
How things are done the ADVERBS tell, as quickly, slowly, badly or well.
A PREPOSITION shows relation, as in the room or at the station.
CONJUNCTIONS join—in many ways—sentences, words or phrase and phrase.
The INTERJECTION cries out “Hark! I need an exclamation mark!”

Maybe we can nudge the language pendulum back the other way. We’d better try.

Dont u agree?

35 thoughts on “Editing is Dying, Grunting Soon to Follow

  1. Got a good chuckle out of these. Reminds me of the thing I see posted every once in a while that says something about the difference between “Let’s eat grandma” and “Let’s eat, grandma.” LOL!

    There are a fair number of typos in newsfeeds on social media like Facebook. While it’s unfortunate the errors get through, quite a few people catch and make caustic comments when such things occur.

    There is the simply sloppy lack of editing and it seems that quite a few errors occur when transitioning works to other media forms like e-book. Everybody’s in a hurry. Perhaps we need to slow it down just a notch and give our work one more once over.

  2. My favorite teethgrinder is “for free,” as if “free” can’t act alone. Another is the nouveau weatherman’s continual use of “likely” (an adjective that’s synonymous with “probable”) in place of “probably,” as in “It likely will rain.” Ugh. Finally, the replacement of ’til, the appropriately truncated version of “until” with “till,” which used to mean either a cash drawer or what a farmer does to arable ground. Oh, and that time when international inspectors seached Iraq for “weapons cachets.” Seriously?

  3. I saw a statement by an English Language teacher. “We don’t bother the students with grammar, spelling, or punctuation as it impedes their creative flow.”

    This explains much of the resulting mess while diverting attention from (some) teachers’ inadequacies. Poor teaching as policy? Really? So it matters not how incomprehensible the kids’ writings are as long as the teacher thinks the mush is creative?

    To those teachers who value language as a treasure as well as a means of efficient communication – good for you! And please encourage your lesser colleagues to do a little more “impeding”. Thanks!

    • I’ll never forget the time my little brother came home from school and said, “Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was ass-inated in a theater?” (spelling error deliberate)

      “You mean he was assassinated,” I said in my “big sister” voice.

      “No. Look, it says it right here on the paper the teacher gave us. My friend says it means that he bent over and was shot in the a**. What a horrible way to die.”

      Teachers must be more vigilant, indeed.

  4. “Hardwood floors, and a wet bat.” Oh, I TRIED not to laugh because I am the typo queen and the bad grammar princess, but the listing mistakes your wife found were just too funny.

    My daughter had to learn that poem not too long ago, so I guess it’s still being taught in places.

    Now before I hit the post button, I’m going to proofread this comment three or four times!

  5. Yeah, Otto Phil and spill Czech don’t catch everything (and may “cause” many more)…
    My personal peeves lately are the misuse of
    • take & bring,
    • “The victim, she… /the perpetrator, he…/the police, they…” constructs
    …both especially egregious with local news anchors and reporters…

  6. My high school Latin teacher always pointed out his grammatical peeves. Free gift … you’re not supposed to pay for gifts.
    From earliest beginnings to final completion … It starts and ends. Period.
    He also said “up” was overused. One faces a situation, doesn’t face “up” to it.
    At which point, class clown said, “So what’s the bank robber supposed to say? ‘This is a stick’?”

    (I’m sure I screwed up the punctuation on that last one, which is why I hire an editor!)

  7. Aaah, cursive.

    I didn’t learn grammar specifically until high school, and then what was the point? No one wanted to learn.

    I have a character in my WIP who’s Spanish, and one comment he made–which I sadly had to cut–was “I’d be good at English if they taught how to conjugate verbs like they do in Spanish.”

  8. Three of my favorite student bungles come together nicely:

    Another words, it is taken for granite that today’s writers will have a lack-a-daisy attitude.

    Peace, from Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear

  9. Rules of grammar and spelling and “the correct meaning” of words are all conventions for communication. While the conventions are, ultimately, arbitrary, and while communication doesn’t suddenly fail when someone doesn’t get the convention right, using the conventions correctly is itself a social norm.

    Sometimes the convention is so poorly understood that we hear otherwise-respected people say “between you and I” rather than “between you and me.”

    Sometimes the convention is changing. For example, it’s becoming acceptable to say “When a person is angry, they often …,” as society searches for a grammatical convention that includes an acceptable gender-neutral, third-person pronoun.

  10. This post reminded me of a paper submitted in my graduate philosophy class.

    “Your argument is all smoking mirrors.”

    Strunk and White where are you when we really need you?

  11. As a former English teacher, I also groan when I see those kinds of errors. It’s frightening. When I was in school, I had excellent English teachers from 7th grade through 12th. Every single one of them taught me valuable lessons. I knew grammar when I graduated from high school. Which is a good thing, because grammar was not in the curriculum of my college English classes nor my graduate English classes. Sad, but true. I’m forever indebted to those junior high and high school teachers I was lucky enough to have.

  12. The worst printed blooper I ever saw in print was in a newsletter from — well, let’s say one of the two major political parties here in North Carolina. Here’s the offending line:

    “The candidates debate will be held this Tuesday evening at 7:30, conducted under the auspices of the Legal Women Voters.”

  13. Speaking of cursive, if they don’t teach it, how will future movie watchers understand the hand-written notes and letters that show up in old films? It’ll look like gibberish (which is probably what they’ll be speaking. Oh, the irony.)

  14. Years ago Johnny Cash and his wife were doing a show in Ft. Myers, and the local paper ran a picture of Johnny Cash with one of his horses. The caption was “Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter, one of country music’s favorite couples.”

  15. About 5 mins ago I read an article on one of the biggie news sites that told of an “exhausted search” for a pet. I said that exact phrase in junior high once — and only once. My rigid home room teacher corrected me aloud and said “I’m certain you meant ‘exhaustive’. Didn’t you?” So either she was wrong then or Biggie News site is now. I’m betting on Mrs. Beaver.

  16. Televised news garners a lot of “Are you kidding me?” shouts from me. Most of the offending statements come from the younger reporters. Evidently, “the robbery occurred at this here house behind me” is considered correct these days.

    I’m continually frustrated by the growing lack of understanding the true meaning of words. Some imprints I’ve read for years are now publishing books riddled with basic word and structure errors.

    Those teachers avoiding grammar, spelling, and punctuation will have to go a long way to convince me solid construction hinders the creative process. Writing without rules is easy. It takes more inventiveness and imagination to form your story within the prescripts.

  17. Grammar school was once followed by high school. (Now, there are so many schools for children, that it’s no wonder we’re one of the most unlearned societies in the world.)

    In high school, you were often exposed, often against your will to another language–and, often it was Latin. Latin exposed you to a language that helped underscore the rules, vocabulary, idioms, and idiosyncrasies of American English. (For example, I learned early in life, at Central High, the hilarity of Mr. Churchill’s “up with which I will not put”–the blowhard of not ending a sentence with a preposition. The so-called rule is based on Latin, not English, grammar.)

    But the educators of America determined that we should not be educated but merely tested. So Latin was, for the most part, ruled out in favor of new maths, new sociology, new psychology, less geography, and the sexist, meaningless skill of girls learning how to make their own skirts and guys learning how to make deviled eggs in home ec, and lunch that does not include meatloaf on Tuesday and mystery meat on Thursday. (Fish every Friday.)

    Also, it took a court of law, not an English department, to invoke the necessity of using the Oxford, or series, comma, because way too many unintended exclusions or inclusions occurred without it. (I have a friend, a former journalist with years of newspaper experience, who wanders the halls of the home wondering where THAT rule came from.)

    So until sanity returns to our school systems, at which time millennials will learn to spell millennial, I fear the only educated people will be schooled at home, by parents who know that it’s i before e except after c.

  18. When I’m in a language Nazi mood, I’ve found I have to check to see if a bad usage is now a good usage. Recently, I’ve discovered that “alright” and “unexplainable” are acceptble now. As someone who took linguistics and the history of language in college, I know that language changes, but some of it is changing so dang fast.

    • “Alright, let’s do it.” The phrase is not about something being all right. It’s more like, “OK, let’s do it.” This usage seems to be a well-established part of colloquial English. Wouldn’t it seem wrong to write “All right, let’s do it” or “Allright, let’s do it”? Alright, already.

        • Depends on where the character’s speaking. Mine often say things like “A’right a’ready! Enough!”

          Spelling “all right” wrong is just laziness. The pronunciation of “all right” and “alright” is the same. That’s why I didn’t misspell “Enough” in the snippet above as “enuff.”

          I also see no reason to shorten “okay” to “ok.” Why do so many people feel the need to abbreviate this? It’s only two more letters, and again, the pronunciation doesn’t change.


  19. Jim, my day job is writing copy for real estate. I can identify with your wife. We live on the Alabama gulf coast and one of my peeves is the many “creative” ways some people try to describe the water in unique ways. I spend most of my days correcting them.

    One that stands out in my memory is, “Beautiful condo overlooking the sparkling surreal sugar dipped emerald waves of paradise.”

    Huh? Can I have a Frappuccino with that?

  20. The school curriculum went off the rails a few years ago with the adoption of “federal unified” standards. Sadly, those new standards are pretty low.

    Probably a third of my kids’ education now happens at the kitchen table, trying to cover the gaping pits I see in what they’re learning, for all subjects.

  21. Hahaha. Love this post, Jim! The other day on Twitter someone tagged me and, like, 20 other people in a group tweet. The poster asked if we could recommend a good publishing house. Most of the group recommending self-publishing, which is fine. These days, it’s a viable option. But then, this one guy started bashing those who didn’t choose the self-publishing route, saying their books were all fluff and couldn’t compare to his amazing “story’s.” I thought about recommending a good editor, but he was so rude I simply corrected his spelling. Point made.

Comments are closed.