20161205 Editors need to do a better job.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, there grew up a culture that children should learn at their own pace and in their own way, that teaching was in some way a constraint on the capability of the child. Children were encouraged to exercise free expression in their words and behaviour and control was regarded as an unacceptable fetter on the child's development. The result, we are now into a decline of English where each generation is less literate than the previous one.

I'm a bit of a fetishist when it comes to English. I like to know that what I understand is what the writer intended. Obviously, then, it helps if our use of English is the same.

So, when a playwright was intereviewed on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour and used the word "weary" when she meant "wary," it irritated me that the interviewer did not ask her to clarify what she meant. We live in a world where children are not taught language correctly or, even, not at all. How does a generation of English educated children come out of school speaking TV style American?

It's worse: I'm reading a book by an Indian author that I won't name. The English in the book is poor. An example is to use the word "manifold" when he means "many-fold." I could adopt more flexibility if it was a self-published, self-edited book by someone who had story-telling talent but clearly needs help in language skills. But it isn't: it's published by a proper publisher and amongst the credits is the author's English teacher. Clearly he didn't go a great job. Worse, he is thanked for proof reading and editing the book. As epic fails go, that's one of them. Now you can see why I'm not naming the author or the book: while the author and even the publisher are fair game, I don't think the teacher deserves public admonition.

I become irritated when people fail to distinguish between metre and meter. A metre is a measurement of distance; a meter is a device for measuring quantities.

I was watching a (non F1) motor race on TV last week. During the race, there was a camera view of the management of one of the teams. The commentator said "there's the hoi polloi of the [ ...] team, all the big bosses." Let's fist point out that the correct expression is "hoi polloi" and that the insertion of "the" before it is wrong. Next, hoi polloi has a very specific meaning and it doesn't mean bosses. It means the masses. Why was that not picked up by editors?

The media, be it broadcast, print or on-line has an educational effect that we might consider an accidental public service obligation. It is, of course, right that dialogue in fiction can, indeed, should, represent the way real people speak, even if they speak poorly. It is also arguable that a narrative can (but not should) use colloquialisms and, perhaps, poor English if the narrator's character, in effect, is part of the story. But commentary should not use poor English, although it is often desirable that it uses informal English.

Now, of course, many will argue that the works of Shakespeare and Mark Twain did not use "proper" English and those arguments are right. But equally, they did not use the wrong word, they did not confuse by a failure of vocabulary.

True, they both mangled words, just as people today talk of "accommodations" which is such nonsense it might have been coined by Edward Lear (but it wasn't).

Publishers have abandoned the use of educated editors and sub editors in favour of rapid turnaround. But they should not do so. Editors are essential. We authors sometimes produce work of the most utter rubbish. Editors help preserve our reputation and make us look less stupid.

The same Indian author offers a rich seam of obvious errors: there is at least one per page, I think. A character receives an award for good performance at work. He is described as having "begged it." The context suggests "bagged" would be better.

Where material is published for those who may not have a sufficient grasp of language to identify the errors and correct them in their own head, such inaccuracy leads to a further deterioration - most sadly amongst those who are seeking to better themselves by reading. It is, therefore, actively destructive to the progress of a society for error-laden material to find its way to the wider population.

And it gets worse, still. There are those that do not question what they read. They think that, somewhere, there is a mysterious "they" who have checked it for accuracy. So they think that to question it is to mistrust those who are better educated and therefore they modify their own language, perpetuating and, in effect, promoting the error.

To publish is a great responsibility, even it it's only on a blog.

We should point out errors, in books, newspapers, tv, in blogs, social media postings etc. For if we don't, communication skills are lost and we risk falling further into a situation were those who issue communications are sloppy and leave it to the people reading it to interpret it. In this way, there can be multiple interpretations of the written word - and none of them may be what the writer intended.

We hear slogans about safe sex. It's time we practised safe writing.



© 2016 Jefferson Galt
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