Thursday, September 20, 2012

My teachers taut me well.

You guys know I like to read. I love it, in fact. I read a lot, and sometimes I come across a misspelled word or badly patched sentence where you can tell the editor just dozed off or had a personal emergency mid-reading. Usually I can sail right on past it without much confusion because generally a reader can guess what ought to be there, and editors can be forgiven for one little mistake in a three-hundred page book. Of course if it happens more than once I start to question the editor's competency. Most people can't edit their own work. We have blind spots. If I didn't have spell-check enabled I'd make more typing mistakes than I care to admit, and I'd probably only notice and correct half of them during a proofreading. That's why we have editors and proofreaders, and we hold them in high esteem because they're smart and they help us present our best writing to the world. Right?

Maybe not. I think I've lost faith in editors. I seem to have found one working at the subsidiary of a huge publishing company who doesn't know the difference between taught and taut. The wrong word was used three times in two books of a trilogy, and context couldn't have been clearer - the author meant 'tight'. If it happens in the third book I'm going to mail the editor a dictionary.

I realize most US writers are writing for US readers whose average reading level falls between eighth and ninth grade (source - PDF). I get that editors have to tweak writing for this audience and that they are probably overworked and underpaid just like the rest of us. Still, I thought an eighth grade student (and therefore most literate adults which should include the author, the editor, and the proposed audience) would know the meaning of the word 'taught', which would mean that if they read the sentence 'I pulled the string taught' they'd know it was nonsensical, even if they didn't know that there was a homophone spelled 'taut' that meant 'tight'. I guess I'm giving eighth graders (and editors) too much credit.

I'd like to take a moment to thank my dad (who read to me when I was tiny), my teachers (who encouraged me to read and write, and were always right when they marked up my papers), and the classic authors from whose books I learned all kinds of uncommon words. You've all enabled me to read well, write well, and become righteously miffed when someone else fumbles my beloved language. Thanks!

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