so, whatever happened to the English language, anyway?

or at least the American variant thereof.

i read a lot. and by “a lot,” i mean upwards of 150 or so novels a year. counting non-fiction i probably go over 200 books a year. and then there’s newspapers, magazines, comic books, poetry, etc.

and i’ve come to the conclusion that editing prose, as an art form, is dead.

magazines and books now, and i say “now” because i read things published from well before i was born as well as new works, are full of clunky sentence structures, inelegant phrasing, spelling errors, and are rife with misuse of homophones.

for example, a novel i read recently contained the sentence “The glorious reign of King Solomon ended with his death.” no, you don’t say? i see stuff like this, and worse, all the time.

so what happened to editing?

i blame computers. really.

computers have become a crutch for writers and editors alike. no longer do you need to have a grasp of basic spelling rules or word meanings, the computer will fix it for you!

but Microsoft Word is an idiot savant. indeed, calling it a “savant” might be a stretch. it may recoginse the word (or think it recognises the grammar rule), but the word it sees may be (and often is, it seems) incorrect. but, since the writer doesn’t know they don’t know what they just wrote, and the editors don’t seem to either, those of us who do know our own language get to translate later.

in a novel, this can be very jarring, particularly when the homophone that the writer has used, MS Word has ignored, and the editor has failed to recognise has a meaning that has nothing to do with the word the author intended to use.

certain magazines are also particularly bad. as a car guy, i tend to read a lot of car rags. those written and published in the USA (with the exception of Car and Driver) tend to be uniformly bad, with occasional lapses into the painfully bad. i realize it’s a lot to ask for, but it would be nice if some of the journalists and editors of these publications would thumb through some issues of CAR, which is probably the best-written English-language car magazine in the world. i’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best written English-language magazines of any bent, actually. or alternatively, perusing some of L.J.K. Setright’s (1931 – 2005) writings. no-one wishing to write prose in English would do wrong by attempting to emulate Mr. Setright’s style.

so, to paraphrase Henry Higgins, why can’t the Americans teach their writers how to spell and editors to edit?

quote of the day:

“Mandare quemquam litteris cogitationes suas, qui eas nec disponere nec illustrare possit nec delectatione aliqua adlicere lectorem, hominis est intemperanter abutentis et otio et litteris.” – Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes

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