If you care about correct writing and presentation (which is not the same as avoiding slang), then of course you have to deal with people who tell you what you’re doing is unimportant. These people invariably could never have copy-edited themselves in the first place. Essentially, the ignorant attempt to upbraid the educated. Stick to your guns, because you, more often than not, are simply right.

Stick to your guns, moreover, because you don’t want to end up like Miss Gould of the New Yorker.

Six decades ago, not long after being hired by Harold Ross as a copy editor at The New Yorker, a shy young woman, an Oberlin graduate, set to work on a manuscript by James Thurber and soon came across the word “raunchy.” She had never heard of the word and thought it was a mistake. “Raunchy” became “paunchy.” Thurber’s displeasure was such that the young woman barely escaped firing. Later, according to his biographer Harrison Kinney, Thurber wrote that “facetiously” was the only word in English that had all six vowels in order. What about “abstemiously”? the copy editor replied. Thurber, who was not easily impressed, was finally compelled to ask, “Who is Eleanor Gould?” […]

Miss Gould used to tell her friends at the magazine that she wanted to work until she was a hundred. A stroke, which she suffered at her desk, in 1999, forced her to retire. The title of Grammarian was retired with her. In subsequent years, friends at the magazine would visit or send gifts: books, flowers, a basket of cheeses and fruit. But after a while she found such attentions hard to bear. She missed the work that she could no longer do. To one correspondent she sent a beautiful letter, frank and kind, needlessly grateful, which ended with the sentence “Please forget about me.” Of course, we never could and we never will.

How poignant and tragic that someone who spent decades improving the entire project of writing to remember would hope to be forgotten.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.03.07 16:35. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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