Monday, 3 September 2007

Losing friends and Draconian measures behind the scenes

In addition to being asked, quite frequently, what copy editors and proofreaders DO, I am also asked what we are FOR. Who needs us? And why? Well, here are two examples which I noticed in quick succession.

First, I was on a frequently visited website which has Google ads running across the top and down the sides. Suddenly, up popped a giant ad, all on its own and taking up the space usually reserved for three smaller ads. Here’s what it said:

I shall not at this point humiliate the major ‘integrated web solutions’ consultancy (‘an official Google [sic] Analytics authorised consultant’, no less) who paid premium-rate charges for the privilege of allowing Google to publish this embarrassing gaffe worldwide, where it will have been seen and sniggered at by a zillion web users for several days. One of the services they offer is website design and optimisation, including answers to the question: ‘My conversions are poor - can you please audit my site to tell me what's going wrong?'

I rather suspect that their own ‘conversion’ on this ad will have been pretty dire. I dropped them a quick line over the weekend but have not yet received a reply. Quelle surprise.

Next, blogs. Now, OK, I’m new to all this and my posts undoubtedly leave much to be desired in every respect. But . . . I was reading a short 249-word one today, written by someone who has in the past taken me to task in a big way for being excessively picky and pedantic. Absolutely right: I am. Here’s why:

‘a string quartet who proceeded to play . . .’

Had I been asked to edit this (which I have not, so my being so bold will doubtless cause a burst of spluttering outrage), I would have changed this to:

‘a string quartet which played . . .’

Who refers to people, while which refers to groups, teams and things. So: 'Two members of the string quartet, who wept while playing . . . ' would be correct, because it is the individuals to whom one refers in this instance, not the entire group.

In the context, also, they didn’t ‘proceed to play’, they simply played. All the way through the event. ‘Proceeded to play’ implies that they started, or resumed after some interruption, yet in fact they were playing for ages. So here, ‘proceeded’ is an entirely redundant word. I could go on, but I don’t wish to be unduly tiresome. However, I would add that, if you are going to use the word ‘however’ twice in the space of two short, successive sentences (which is, however, not advisable), then I would suggest that, as in this sentence, the insertion of commas before and aft would look . . . 'nicer'. Not to put too fine a point on it.

(You will by now have concluded that the remark about proofreaders being not only pedantic but friendless, which I reported on yesterday’s blog, was not quite so unfounded as might have been supposed . . . )

So you see – we have our little uses in this life. We cannot claim, like surgeons, midwives or members of the armed forces, to deal in matters of life or death. But . . . we can save embarrassment, enhance the readability and meaning of the written word, and in some instances help to make texts do more justice to the intelligence of their creators. We’re specialists. Just as it’s often best to call in a gas engineer to sort out your central heating boiler (rather than to twiddle around inside it yourself with spanners, screwdrivers and lighted matches, etc), so is it sometimes prudent to call in a professional to tinker with your words, point out any possible infelicities and perhaps re-arrange what you say so that it more clearly reflects what you mean.

Here endeth today's lesson.

On a topic of far greater global import, namely the run-up to My Sister's Wedding (5 days and counting down): three more things ticked off the List.

Haircut and highlights - tick.

Dress altered - tick.

Radical solution to consequences of chocoholism - tick. Yeah!!!!

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