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Language is what separates us from animals, and thus it might not be too much to say that sloppy editing is an act of treason against the entire human race.

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A Plea For Editors

by Charles Morris, May 1998

I know I'm not the first person to say this, and everyone knows it's not the first time I've said it, but the English language, to judge by the attempts at it that appear on the Web, is in serious decline. Forget about esoteric points of grammar like split infinitives and comma splices. Basic proofreading has gone to the dogs. And guess what? It isn't just the Web!

Note: This page is a mock-up or replica of an article that I wrote for the (now defunct) Web Developer's Journal, and it is here solely for you to admire my writing. The links no longer work, and some of the information may be out of date (while some may not be).

In the rough-and-tumble of the Internet, I suppose the odd typo is inevitable, and you can always fix it later, right? But we folks here at the WDJ get through quite a lot of books, and are sad to report that skills in such affectations as grammar, spelling, proper word usage and basic typography are at an all-time low. Computer books are the worst offenders, so much so that your editors have stopped even mentioning the editing quality of a book, unless it is actually good. Information Systems Project Management, published by American Management Associates, is one of the few books we've seen lately that is devoid of errors.

So who cares, right? Nobody likes teachers who take off points for spelling! As long as the reader understands what I'm tryin' to say, man, who cares about a silly spelling system that's outdated and ridiculous anyway?

We all must care. The English language is a precious thing that we must care for. A language is an incredibly complex, beautiful thing, although most of us don't think about it much more than we do about the miracle of breathing. A people's language is a major part of their culture and their identity, and many a war has been fought to preserve the honor of this or that language, as were they so many maidens. The language of Dickens, of Tolkien, of Kerouac, deserves respect.

To tolerate such pervasive slovenliness and error as we see in so many books and articles these days, is to invite the collapse of our entire culture, and with it civilization itself. How can we sing, how dare we philosophize, if we cannot even write correctly?

If you can't spell, fine. If you like to scribble on a yellow pad, or dash away in Word and let the spell checker sort it out, that's writers. But my friends, there is another field of endeavor that comes into play before a work can be presented to the public (or to the customer). This is the field of the Editor.

An editor's job is to make sure that no book, no article, no Web page or multimedia presentation is released to the public with typos, spelling and grammatical errors, lame typography, etc. etc. Should the unthinkable happen, well, the Japanese used to have a good way of dealing with situations like that…

But guess what, folks! Nobody wants to pay for proper editing anymore. Nope. Folks today want it ASAP! Out the door with a book about the latest craze (when I was a boy, it was Java…Now it's this e-commerce stuff…) quick as you can, and scoop the competition! No time for even basic proofreading anymore, 'twould seem.

An uncharitable mind might suspect that a publishing company that would tolerate such sloppy editing might also be tempted to cut corners in the areas of writers' salaries and research budgets. A plea then, to the publishing houses: Don't do it! Don't be led astray by your idle brethren on the Web! Stop printing books with so many mistakes!

And Readers! Books are your friends!

Sorry. I'll wind this up with a Plea for Editors. We need Editors, more than ever before. If information is the coin of the new society, then who but Editors hold the key to the new economy? Language is an art form, and Editors are the ones who tame the wild impulses of the artists, allowing good writing to be presented to the public. The Editor's responsibility is heavy. Yes, Fortune 500 companies release error-abounding material to the public every day, but it's still wrong.

No, proofreading your work will not make you any more money, and releasing articles and books replete with errors will probably not lose you any readers. But, make no mistake about it: Allowing errors in published material is vulgar. It's as vulgar as spitting on the floor, or belching loudly in a fancy restaurant. In fact, it's worse, as loud belching can have a certain artistry to it, while murdering your language, by definition, has no artistry or beauty. In fact, it's a denial of artistry, a denial of the value of our language, an insult to our most precious traditions. Language is what separates us from animals, and thus it might not be too much to say that sloppy editing is an act of treason against the entire human race. It's all over! We're through! Ack! Ack! Aaaaaaarrrggghhhh....





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