Why pay good money for an editor?

Won’t spellcheck do?

I’m afraid it won’t, and here’s why (let’s ignore for a moment the fact that an editor – or proofreader, for that matter – does much more than simply check for spelling mistakes).

You can spellcheck to your heart’s content, but the fact is, even when you’ve rid your text of all those irksome little red wiggly lines, your brain will still see what it expects to see. Not to mention the fact that sometimes, the lines are just plain wrong! Hello, UK/US spelling variations. Anyway, when you’ve spent days, weeks, months or even years working on whatever chunk of words it is you’re working on, you know what it should say, and so that’s exactly what it does say. Even when it doesn’t.

I was editing a few chapters from a book recently when I came across the term ‘newt route’. Now, newt route is a fine term. Its sounds are pleasing, as is the image it invokes; it would fit perfectly in a tome about, say, nature conservation (and as though to illustrate my point, I just wrote ‘nature conversation’ with ne’er a glimpse of a red wiggly line). Where the term newt route definitely does not fit, however, is in a book about machine-learning algorithms. Was there a red wiggle to alert me to the fact that something was amiss? Why would there be? Both newt and route are perfectly legitimate words.

Just as you don’t spot the tiny error in amongst words you wrote and rewrote, and then rewrote again before reading them over a thousand times, spellcheck doesn’t extrapolate the meaning of a text and decide which combinations of words within it are apt. Only a fresh pair of eyes can do that; eyes that know to check for consistency. Eyes that long ago learnt to run an automatic ‘Find & Replace’ check for the word pubic in any work discussing anything remotely public…

Lame proofreaders’ – and definitely not lame-proofreaders’ – humour aside, if you are putting words out there to be read, if your business or reputation depends on those words, you owe it to yourself to get them checked. Your buddy or mum probably won’t cut it. They may have heard so much about your project that they expect to see exactly what you expect to see. And besides, if they miss an error it doesn’t cost them your repeat business or prevent them from selling the second and third installments in your series of self-published interdimensional-romance novels. Would your buddy/mum realise that ‘interdimensional romance novels’, sans hyphen, would mean it is the novels that are interdimensional and not the romance? Would they give you an honest critique at the risk of hurting your feelings?

You only have to look at all the ranty there/their/they’re posts that daily do the rounds on social media to know that I’m right: people care about spelling and grammar. They may write ‘LOL, u no wot im sayin m8’ at the end of every sentence, but that doesn’t mean they’re not waiting to deride your every finger-slip, or wage Word War III in the comments thread on your Amazon page.

I’m sure I’m not the only one – occupation notwithstanding – who feels dismay every time I come across a howler on a business or school website. You’re darn tootin’ it makes me reconsider using their services/buying from them/sending my fledglings there—the overwhelming impression being that if you are too sloppy to present yourself professionally when you actually have something to lose by not doing so, how can I possibly trust you with my plumbing/money/child’s education? If, in fact, you have something to gain from putting your words in the pubic public domain, having a professional check those words pays for itself. But before it can do that, you need to pay me to do it. Or someone else equally up to the task. I’m not fussy.

If you still have your doubts about shelling out for my, or others’, professional services, just look at what one misplaced S can achieve…

Why Word Nerd?

Anyone that knows me well knows that I am a generally tongue-in-cheek kinda gal, quick with a riposte, and someone who likes to play with words to the point where I even make them up on occasion. Nerracelery is one. Adaptadibbly is another. I’m sure you can infer their meaning (or even put them in a sentence: I am not nerracelery adaptadibble, but I do try). Besides, being called a word nerd is infinitely better than being called that other thing.

In all seriousness though, language, and the things it can do, fascinates me. Language, in my opinion, is our most valuable socio-cultural tool. It can be limiting or expansive; it paints pictures and sculpts songs; our understanding of the world is inextricably shaped and framed by it. Language is king. Or queen. Or whatever the non-binary equivalent is. Monarch? Oh my gosh, Language, there you go again!

While semiotics was on my radar long before I knew what it was, my interest in philology was piqued during one of my undergrad modules, Medieval Life and Literature. I had a slight advantage when it came to reading texts in Middle English in that I speak French fluently, have a decent knowledge of German and studied Latin in school (that may have been a long time ago, but the French helps with Latin-based languages as well). Elements of these languages were clearly apparent in the English of Chaucer and Malory, and listening to my tutor reading aloud from these texts brought the language to life in a way that not only made it easier to understand but also highlighted some of the more recent roots of our mother tongue. It was like music.

I remember quite clearly, however, the one word that jumped off the Chaucerian page and into my head, making the light bulb drop and the penny go off simultaneously. Or perhaps in the wrong order… That word was housbonde (haus-bon-duh). Housbonde, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the forebear of the modern husband. But it’s not the clear visual and aural relationship between the words that grabbed my attention so much as the cultural history of what our modern-day husband once signified, at its root: house | bond. The bond between houses—when you take house to mean family name, fortune, reputation, status and so on. Of course! From the societal perspective, in those days marriage was largely a business arrangement – a merger, if you will – with estates of all sizes being run as the business in question. So if you bound your house to one of ‘lower’ standing, it was effectively bad business. Conversely, a ‘good marriage’ was one that increased your clout in society.

I had a friendly debate just the other day with a good friend. He was arguing that our written language ought to be spelled more phonetically. I can see his point, but whilst our spelling of words often seems an impediment to writing, to alter it would, in my mind, annul the rich history of how English got to where it is now, even with its nonsensical silent letters and the advent of text-speak. Why would you want that, when delving just a little into the history of one seemingly insignificant little word like husband can evoke visions of wimples and hauberks, castles and hovels? It would be like telling australopithecus to get back in her tree. And where would that leave us, hmm?

So I’ll keep my silent gees and seventeen different ways to pronounce the letter ‘U’, and I’ll take my text-speak, too: language is as alive as we are and it evolves just the same. To deny its history is to deny what makes us human.

If feeling that way makes me a nerd then I’ll wear the badge with pride. To be a nerd is to be excited by stuff, and I can’t think of anything cooler.

Lil: word nerd at large