The little things: skimming the surface

It is at times like these, at the end of the season’s production and the end of the semester, that I start to ponder the copy blog’s readership. (And, by extension, mine.) Readers of a blog about grammar, quite understandably, are at least as meticulous as its writers. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Our readers will. They do not simply skim articles but rather scan them for mistakes.

Let us examine that difference for a moment. I’m sure you have heard someone say before something along the lines of, “Oh, I didn’t have time to do the reading. I just scanned it for the big picture.” This means the person intends to look over every part of the reading very carefully.

Just think of what a scanner does: Unless your printer sucks as much as mine does, its scanner feature is not merely going to copy a page for the big picture. It’s going to get every detail. So the next time you say you’re going to scan the front page of a newspaper to get an idea of the day’s top headlines, make sure you have the time to do so.

People who slip up and say “scan” are really thinking of the word “skim.” To skim something is to read something quickly or superficially. I remember this by referring to the original definition of the word, which is to remove floating matter from a liquid, or that which is most readily attainable. Likewise, when you skim a document, you are taking away information most readily attainable to you.

But back to the readership. Whether you, reader, have scanned, skimmed or even skipped some of the articles in this series, I thank you for your time. This will be the last article I write for “The Little Things” but definitely not the last I write for the copy blog. In that matter, I have barely skimmed the surface.