By Beth Bruno
Who says editors aren’t biased? Certainly no honest editor worth their salt (See, there goes this editor’s prejudice already, choosing the plural “their” over the traditional “he”) would claim to edit with linguistic purity with regard to English grammar, usage, and syntax. For one thing, history alone has accounted for significant change in what has been considered correct or proper English. Beyond, or perhaps because of that, considerable disagreement exists among those who are and have prescribed the rights, wrongs, and good taste in speech and the written word. To be sure, among the many who are regarded as experts, some have had greater impact than others. My own preferences over the years have been John Warriner, William Strunk, Jr., E.B. White, George Lyman Kittredge, and Frank Farley.
These are the gurus I routinely consult when I write or edit; they are the sources I recommend most frequently when some clients wish to continue in a coaching relationship following an editing contract. While a few of these relationships are frustrating when authors continue to make the same mistakes over and over, by and large I enjoy the sharing of my language biases with them immensely.
The bigger frustration is what I experience whenever I read a newspaper, magazine, any number of books already published, or listen to the radio or TV. Excluding the mistakes one finds on written materials from poor editing, I have to wince every time I listen to a news broadcast, sports announcer, especially sports discussion by a group, talk show, or interviewer. As mentioned, there is much disagreement, indeed a long list of words with disputed usage from one dictionary to another. That said, there are many utterances repeated on pubic media by speakers who violate what any educated human being will agree is Standard English.
What, for example, is a “realitor”? Or, “David Ortiz hits that baseball so much further than his teammates.” Or, “There were less candidates running for office this year.” Or, “That pedestrian is still laying on the road after being hit by a car.” Or, “The court ruling will impact the education of minority students.” Or, The President may have changed his mind about going to South Korea next month.” Or, “Wow, that band makes a very unique sound.” Or, “Please give the prize to whomever is first in line.” Or, “The first responders are already on the ground helping victims.” Or, “Going forward, the mayor decided it was time to replace the police chief.” Or, “Between you and I that joke wasn’t funny.”
The foregoing is but a tiny example of what this editor listens to that by anyone’s view of Standard English is bad grammar or word choice. It is embarrassing to listen to and should be embarrassing to those people often paid well to communicate to the public. I continue to hope that it will occur to those responsible for communicating so poorly to ask for and use an editor to clean up their act.
Beth Bruno has edited more than 350 fiction and nonfiction book manuscripts, many of them now award winners.