Monday, November 17, 2008

An Ode to Copy Editors

Here's the winner of our copy editing contest. This piece, written by Jeff Owens, turned our question--how does copy editing save the world--on its head.
The simple fact is that while good copy editing saves much writing from clumsiness, inelegance and error, it can’t save the world. True, many copy editors—a charmingly if not irascibly OCD bunch—behave often enough as if it can, but it can’t.

Don’t worry about the world, though. The world will take care of itself with or without us.

What copy editing can do is help save the language, and brother, never was that mission more urgent than it is right now. It’s a shameful embarrassment how many otherwise functioning (more or less) U.S. adults managed to finish high school but still can’t write a sentence—let alone a letter, an essay or even an e-mail—without sounding like one of the Clampetts. And then there’s marketing, corporate-speak and the digital age; all relentlessly tearing away at written English like piranhas (I’ll step outside with anyone who thinks impacted can be used by anyone besides dentists).

Copy editing takes the great literary wilderness of poor grammar, style, usage and spelling used by the Great Unwashed every day and attempts to impose its own sort of manifest destiny on it, and to impart sensible order and structural soundness (to say nothing of good spelling and factual correctness) on a sprawling language that is constantly evolving. It doesn't even have to make writing great—just making it not suck is often good enough.

Copy editing, then, is no less than a bastion of civilization. The world doesn’t need saving. But the word does, and copy editing is what fights the good fight.

No comments: