Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Evil that is Copy-Editors

Footling about on the internet and I ran across this article by Thomas Sowell on writing. It covers a lot of ground, and it's all pretty interesting and probably large swathes are useful for bloggers as well as writers of books. But what really struck me was the bit about copy-editors. Made me glad that I don't have to deal with one.
Then there are those copy-editors who are politically correct. They don't want you to use words like fireman or businessman or even to say that someone mastered a subject, because these are all words deriving from a male-dominated world instead of being "gender neutral." And of course you cannot refer to someone's having welshed on a deal or even say that he has a chink in his armor or that there is a nip in the air, because all of these terms are considered ethnically offensive, at least by politically correct copy-editors.

But these are just two kinds of absurdities from the rich spectrum of the absurdities of copy-editors. Where Shakespeare wrote, "To be or not to be, that is the question," a copy-editor would substitute: "The issue is one of existence versus non-existence." Where Lincoln said, "Fourscore and seven years ago," a copy-editor would change that to: "It has been 87 years since . . ." Where the Bible said, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," a copy-editor would run a blue pencil through the first three words as redundant.

Pedestrian uniformity and shriveled brevity are the holy grail of copy-editors, the bureaucrats of the publishing industry. Like other bureaucrats, copy-editors tend to have a dedication to rules and a tin ear for anything beyond the rules. Seldom is there even the pretense that their editorial tinkerings are going to make the writing easier for the reader to follow, more graceful, more enjoyable, or more memorable.

Self-justifying rules and job-justifying busy work are the only visible goals of copy-editors.