Whenever I tell people I was born in Belgium, the first thing that pops out of their mouths is, “Does that mean you speak Belgian?” Well, no, partially because Belgian isn’t a language (but Dutch, French and German are, and all three are spoken there), but mostly because I moved here to California before I was even eight months old. It always makes me wonder, though: What do I speak?
I mean, obviously I speak English, but it isn’t quite the same as everyone else’s. At least, that’s my subtle way of saying that I say a lot of words and phrases weirdly. When I say “stove” and “cove,” they rhyme with “love” instead of with “grove.” On Saturdays, I usually “run a load of washing” instead of “doing laundry” or “doing the wash” or whatever the correct phrase is — I still haven’t quite figured that one out. But, the truth is that each time I “postphone” something instead of postponing it, it’s making a statement — even if I’m not completely right, I’m still understandable. Language is constantly evolving, and if anything can be right, then is anything really wrong?
So, what does that mean for copy editors? Well, some things are always going to be wrong, especially when written. It’s one thing to mispronounce a word, whether based on a regional accent or just a plain lack of familiarity with it, but it’s a completely different issue to misspell it in print. The rules stand for a reason, and that reason is accuracy and comprehensibility; as long as people from all over the world, speaking all different kinds of English, keep reading and writing newspapers, copy editors are going to be necessary in order to make everything as understandable as possible.
But, as far as speaking goes, I’m going to keep “postphoning” things until I stop procrastinating — so, forever.
Contact Ketki Samel at [email protected].