The SUV in front of me was festooned with graphics and text, advertisements for a business. I cannot remember the nature of the business because I cannot forget this phrase, scrawled across the back window: “No job to big or small.” And, not for the first time, I mourned the absence of an editor of our public writings.
An associate of mine is a creative individual who qualified for an appearance on HGTV. She calls herself the “creative art director,” and when she posted her services on a social media site, I thought I would do her the favor of quietly alerting her to a typo and grammar error. “Ha ha,” she replied, in a text. “You know I cant (sic) spell.” Such is the way of Millennials, I guess. My son, a Gen X-er, told me that Millennials have turned off autocorrect on their phones because they don’t want to be — corrected. “They just want to say what they want to say,” he said. Without “ragrets,” I suppose.
There is a sign in Southern Indiana that makes me want to swerve off the road. The large wooden sign advertises “Gun’s,” and has been there for years. I’ve often wondered if anyone in the business owner’s circle has ever pointed out the error. The shop is on a road that leads to and from an elementary school and a high school; surely, some smart kid has called from the window of the school bus, “You don’t make a plural with an apostrophe!” Which is what I want to shout when I drive past the sign for a store selling “CD’s.” There was no proper editor in either of those instances, and with the “flash-fire” publishing possibilities available to us through the Internet via smartphone, tablet and desktop, everyone is a writer and producer. But no one is an editor.
Another associate approached me about writing and editing some information about his business for its website. I met with his wife — a co-owner of the business — and reviewed what her husband had written. I took his proposed statement, organized the flow, and corrected the monstrous stack of grammar and punctuation errors. When I gave the couple the edited proofs, the wife told me that the husband threw out my corrections. “He’s doesn’t like to have his words changed.” He eventually agreed to most of my suggestions, but I’ve never visited the website to see what they finally posted. I do see posts for the business on a social media site, and he writes them in all caps, using poor grammar and no punctuation.
The fact that everyone can write and publish anything does not mean that no one need adhere to basic grammar and punctuation. We learned about it in grade school for a good reason, and being able to understand twisted grammar should not be a vindication of its use. Mary Norris, a writer, copy editor and query proofreader for The New Yorker, wrote in an article published in 2015, “Grammar … has some intimidating terms, and grammarians throw them around constantly, but you don’t need to know them in order to use the language.” In speech, there is no phonetic difference between “to” and “too,” or “your” and “you’re,” but when we sit down to write, we should know those differences. I believe the agitation for a return to the teaching of cursive handwriting is misplaced; we should focus on the proper use of “there” for “their.” And most of all, we need someone else to look at what we have written for publication: We all need an editor.
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