Humor Non-Fiction posted April 10, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
Never Defend Your Work: HA!

CUT? or STET! as the case may be

by Elizabeth Emerald

I just read Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, chief copyeditor at Random House. After I finished the book, during the course of reading which I’d resigned myself to the need for magnifiers, I took one last splash in denial. I perused reader reviews hoping to find others who found the tiny footnote symbols sprinkled throughout the text hard to discern.

To my relief, the frustration of eyestrain abounded. Indeed, lack of legibility was in a three-way tie for the Gold in the complaint division. One reader remarked on the irony that a man preaching clarity in writing used near-invisible * and ^ and +. (Afterwards, in CVS, I skipped past the specs section right to the candy aisle.)

Next in the ménage a trois of complaint-contenders: The political bias of the book; Dreyer indulges in both blatant and blatant Trump-dumping, even beyond mocking Trump’s errors in usage.

Third winner of the Triple Crown goes to: Poor editing in a book about editing. 

Dreyer, chief copyeditor at Random House, begins the book with his job description: "After a piece of writing has been, likely through numerous drafts, developed and revised by the writer and by the person I tend to call the editor editor and deemed essentially finished and complete, my job is to lay my hands on that piece of writing and make it . . . better. Not to rewrite it, not to bully and flatten it into some notion of Correct Prose, whatever that might be, but to burnish and polish it and make it the best possible version of itself that it can be—to make it read even more like itself than it did when I got to work on it."

An AMAZON reader review tore into the above thus:
It's clunky, confusing, and in need of a good copyeditor: Burnish MEANS polish (and any copyeditor worth her salt would have cut one). Unfortunately, it appears the author is incapable of doing either to his own prose. This "sentence" would be much stronger with half the words: "My job is not to rewrite the book but to trim and polish the prose until it shines." The first page of the book is unreadable. I stopped there. Your mileage may vary.

Well said. And on the subject of redundancies a la burnish and polish: I cannot help but notice… essentially finished and complete. (Bonus filler: essentially.)

Isn’t this fun! I’m on a roll now; every evening for the past week I’ve gone through a chapter line-by-line, underlining each superfluous word. (I’m itching to use fluorescent highlighter; alas, the book is property of Melrose Public Library so I settle for pencil.) Dreyer’s English is rife with redundancies. What a fine exercise in editing, to point out what the copyeditor and his copyeditor failed to note and delete.

How delightful this pastime indeed! Moreover, it’s making me more cognizant when editing my own work. Oops. Strike own. And indeed? Do I, indeed, really need indeed? For that matter, do I really need to say really need? For that matter, do I indeed really need to say for that matter?

Curse this recursive torture! That’s three strikes; I’m out.

I went fishing for compliments on my meticulous edit job; alas, what I caught was a boatload of trouble.

“You typed it word-for-word, exactly as I wrote it—right?”

The author’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as I equivocated.

“Well…basically, of course,” I stammered, “…other than having to fix a few typos and things.”

“And what sort of ‘things’ might those be?” she asked, with a pseudo-smile. 

I tried to be tactful, as I squirmed uncomfortably, trying, unsuccessfully, to wriggle off the hook. “Well, for instance, you refer to ‘fishes’—which is the plural form as regards multiple fish species—but otherwise, it’s like Dr. Seuss says: ‘One Fish, Two Fish’.”

“That should be ‘as’—not ‘like’—Dr. Seuss says,” she corrected smugly.

I nodded sheepishly in acknowledgment.

“What else did you ‘fix’, pray tell,” she inquired, her tone suggesting that it was I who should be on bended knees.

“You refer to a book title in quotes. I've often done this myself [true]; I checked and it’s supposed to be in italics, no quotes…” I steeled myself for the big punch coming her way, “and also—”

“ ‘Quotation marks,’” she admonished.  “‘Quotes’ are the material enclosed within.”

I conceded her point, then picked up where she’d cut me off, “…also, the book title itself; I corrected that,” hurriedly tossing her the chaser, “Everyone gets that one wrong; I had to look it up. It’s On the Origin of Species, not Origin of the Species.”

“Anything else?”  she asked testily.

“Again, common error, myself included: Not GhandiGh’; it’s Gandhi ‘dh’”—I  interjected an amusing aside—“ironically, just the other day

She was not amused. “Whatever coincidence or misfortune you were about to describe, I assure you that there is nothing ‘ironic’ involved. ‘Irony’ refers to events contrary to expectation, period.”

Indeed. Example: It is ironic that my painstaking work was utterly unappreciated.



Thanks to simonka for artwork: Our New Encyclopedias

The leader of my writers' workshop hired me to retype her manuscript; I unwisely took it upon myself to correct errors within. A stickler for grammar and usage, she generously repaid me for my editing efforts by way of meticulous corrective interjections as I spoke.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by simonka at

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2024. Elizabeth Emerald All rights reserved.
Elizabeth Emerald has granted, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.