I worked as an editor for over 40 years. It’s a job that involves carefully reading things that have been written or spoken by other people, and looking for and correcting infractions of the rules. Those rules are usually written very clearly in a style book.
My career began when I started correcting my children as they learned to speak our language, from “Dada,” on through the years. They’ve done me proud except in one tiny but unbearably annoying instance. “Me and him are going out now.” My older son has degrees from Columbia University and NYU and teaches a small seminar at Oxford University, but he stills says, “Me and him” are doing one thing or another. It’s like sandpaper on my eardrums.
I know the president of the United States takes great personal satisfaction in making me crazy by saying “Nookyoolar” instead of “nuclear” and it’s a word he says all the time. Where’s Barbara Bush? She fell down on the job if she didn’t firmly correct him the first time he mispronounced it. That’s a mother’s job.
Another word that gets all kind of abuse is “Realtor.” First of all, many tend to throw in an extra syllable and say “realator.” Second, it should be capitalized only when it refers to the National Association of Realtors. The guy that shows you your dream house is a real estate agent, but not necessarily a Realtor.
I drive my husband nuts when I proofread road signs as we drive along. “Look at that! They mean buses, not busses.” Busses are kisses. Buses are transportation vehicles.
When I drive off into a blizzard and he calls out, “Drive safe!” I want to yell back, “Safely,” but I’ve learned that it is very annoying to him, so why aggravate him when I’m heading into a life-threatening storm and it may be the last time I ever see him.
My cousins came home from a dance very late one night and the older one checked in with his soundly sleeping mom as soon as they arrived home. He touched her shoulder and said, “We’re home, Mom. ” She groggily asked, “How about your sister?” and he replied “That’s her now.” To which the ever-vigilant grammar cop, barely awake, replied, “She.”
I know that I’m asking for it by carrying on about misspellings and punctuation typos. I’ve made my share of goofs. And it’s the farthest (make that furthest) thing from my mind to criticize.
When I was working for the Reformer, the editors were prime targets of those who cherish the English language and live to serve it. There was a time when we could not get our commas straight: didn’t use them when we should have, did when we shouldn’t have. There was a burst of furious letters calling attention to our punctuation sins and we were feeling overly criticized.
Then one day, in walked Sally Fegley of Tom and Sally’s Handmade Chocolates Inc. She was carrying a large box which she set down on the counter while we gathered around.
In it were row upon row of giant chocolate punctuation marks. We knew exactly where to put those commas.