Subeditors and writers/Schreiben und Editieren

I’ve often told students that we do not use expletives in everyday English quite as often as some non-British people think. Reading Giles Coren’s letters, for instance to his subeditors at the Times (which I have inexplicably missed till now), you might believe different.

And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed “a” so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.

Here’s the reply to that.

If you could only see the state of some of the raw copy we have to knock into shape. It’s badly structured, poorly spelt, appallingly punctuated, lazily researched. We’re not saying your writing falls into that category – on the contrary, your journalism is highly accomplished. Never having worked on your copy, we can only take your word for it that it is beyond improvement in its pre-published state. Strange as it may seem, many writers do not possess your grasp of language; indeed it is sometimes difficult to believe that English is their mother tongue, and they don’t give a damn about what they produce because they know that a good, often highly educated sub-editor will correct it, check it and turn it into readable prose.

I do understand the way he feels. If I had known the second meaning of nosh I would have understood it better. I don’t think I felt quite so bad when practically every sentence of my article for a well-known translators’ magazine in the USA was heavily revised, sometimes changing the meaning, but it was time-consuming dealing with it. I do remember writing a poem for the school magazine and my word ‘people’ being changed to ‘folk’, which in British English at the time was rather twee, and being very annoyed. But of course, that’s not the main point.

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