Friday, March 20, 2009

Sub-editing Skills Are Tools For Life - PART II

Following my diary entry on the article on sub-editing skills published by The THE, it looks like their supposed argument on how to form possessive of singular nouns ('it's a stylistic opinion') isn't shared by many outside of their offices. I found it peculiar in fact that out of all of the emails I received following my posting, not one suggested that this grammatical rule is in fact a stylistic opinion. Here is a (tame) selection of comments I received:

you're quite right and they are plain wrong


Yeah, they are notoriously bad, although you may like to know that they are improving.

I came across your blog while searching for comments on the editing article on the Times and I had a really good laugh! I teach at [institution] and I correct my students all the time. I still cannot quite believe that the Times persist on getting it wrong. Grammar is not a fucking opinion.

I stick to David Crystal, Harry Blamires and that guy who wrote Quite Literally. It's 'S for singular nouns!

What can you do, you shrug and move on but not so fast. I seem to have irked The THE so much as to be worthy of an email from the editor herself, Ann Mroz, who wrote:

You are entitled to your opinion on grammar, for it is just that. However, you are not entitled to write patronizing and discourteous emails to my staff.

My chief sub responded to your rather ill-tempered and impolite email with good grace and good manners. It is unfortunate that you could not find your way to do the same.

I am proud of my subbing team and the way they deal with corresponding with the external world; I hope your vice-chancellor can say the same about you.

Kind regards

Oh ruffled, ruffled, ruffled, ruffled feathers I see. My original email to them was neither ill-tempered nor impolite. It was curt and to the point, dictated by surprise, not rage, as I already wrote the other day (bafflement I think I called it, if I remember correctly). I wish I could be as quick-witted as some of my friends, always invariably spot-on and always able to say the wrong thing at the right time, a great recipe for wit. I cannot manage it, but I still replied to Ann aided by a secondary email that a friend of mine sent me.

Dear Ann,

As I was discussing this with several academic colleagues only two days ago, I received an email from someone I do not even work with, a director of some centre somewhere. He was talking about my exchange with your chief sub-ed to a friend of mine and wrote:

'only a matter of style'..FFS. I despair.

The dress' colour was blue. yeah, right, that's a matter of style.

My piss' stream was cloudy.

The virus' impact was substantial.

The class' feeling was obnoxious.

The process' mechanics were not clear.

The boss' position was good.

Utter, utter bollocks.

She should send a whole rack of examples

It is not an isolated example either, but I thought I would send you this out of the lot I received, for it best captures what you would perhaps call ill-tempered and impolite responses to supposed opinions. I did not think I would need to share this with you but why on earth should I keep all the fun to myself?

All the best,


Good grief, if only they knew how some academics refer to them, they would not sound so self-righteous. No doubt they will think of me as an idiot, but that's ok too; you're less than a speck of dust in somebody's attic until you piss them off, which brings me to the next, related point.

Many people I know are sending off CVs and letters, applying for jobs or putting article pitches out there for the taking. I have looked at many of these and they are all consistently well-written as decency dictates, with plentiful kindlys, pleases, thank yous, looking forwards thrown in for good-mannered measure. I mean, that's the way it goes, that's the way it is done. Yes, I agree, but they do not hear anything from the people they are writing to, they don't even get acknowledgements slips, you know? It seems to me like being normal and decent does not pay. Forget about the paying part, it doesn't even yield a fake, automated response.

By contrast, isn't it amazing that the day one decides to go down the blunt route, one doesn't get one response but two? I am not suggesting that this is the way job-seekers should follow because, of course, it is ludicrous to think that anyone pissed off with you would offer you a job, but I find it utterly fascinating that sending off an email less hopeful and more down to business, less standard-sugary-sweet and more you-really-ought-to-listen yields responses as relevant as the ones I got on what is, in the grand scheme of things, a minor issue. People are ignored daily, many times over by recruitment consultants, potential employers, council workers and then some; cut to the hypocritical good grace and good manners out and, suddenly, you're not talking to yourself any more, you get replies straight away! Wow.
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