In a job such as copy editing, where your main task is to spot errors in other people’s writing, it is a sad reality that when I can’t find anything wrong with a piece of writing, I feel like I’m neglecting my duties.
I frequently revel in the occasions when an article I’m editing is filled with typos, oddly constructed sentences or poor word choice. As a linguistics major, I am very open-minded in regard to the grammar people use in everyday speech. But when I’m copy editing, a part of me understands the satisfaction that so-called “grammar Nazis” feel in correcting every minor error they come across with what they consider to be proper English usage.
The main difference, I feel, is that as copy editors, we are altering articles so that they match a certain style that we have set for our newspaper. The thing is, English itself doesn’t have a set style – there are a multitude of dialects in the English language, and the language is still alive and evolving every moment that we use it.
The point of AP Style or in-house style (or even academic writing) is so that there is consistency in stylistic conventions of a particular publication. But when we’re speaking? We just need to be understood.
Rather than bringing my evil editor spirit into my everyday interactions, I get a lot of satisfaction from those moments when “grammar Nazis” incorrectly correct others or incorrectly use what they think is proper grammar. Those moments of uttering such nonsense as “Whom threw the hot Cheetos?” — you wouldn’t say “Him threw the Cheetos.” Those moments when one of them corrects a sentence such as “They threw hot Cheetos at me and Audrey” to “Audrey and I” — it would be ridiculous to say “They threw hot Cheetos at I.”
Even some so-called “correct” grammatical conventions are questionable at best, since many of them were only deemed correct when English-speaking people decided to make English more similar to Latin, which they saw as the ideal — “It’s impossible to split infinitives in Latin, so let’s stop doing it in English!” But why would we say “to go boldly” when “to boldly go” sounds so much better? Another weird Latin-influenced convention is bizarre phrase used by old people when answering the phone, “This is she,” when “This is her” makes way more sense grammatically. And seriously, how weird would it sound to to say something equivalent, such as, “This is I”?
Upholding grammatical conventions such as these doesn’t really matter when it comes to our everyday speech. Personally, I get more satisfaction from people mistakenly attempting to look superior by misusing them or incorrectly correcting others.
But the copy editor in me is a cold-hearted bitch, and I can’t help but find it supremely gratifying to edit an article filled with run-on sentences, too many commas, and even potential libel. I swear I’m a sweet person outside of the office.
Contact Audrey Chapman at [email protected].