Tripping Over Words
There’s a bit of a curse that comes with being an editor: You’re bothered (to varying degrees) by the poor use of grammar and punctuation and other abuses of language, whether you see them in print or hear them on the radio. I want to scream (and sometimes do, especially if I’m by myself in the car) every time I hear “first ever.” Either it was the first or it wasn’t; how does “ever” alter the meaning?
While reading an article in another magazine this week, I was appalled that the writer twice misused the phrase “just happens to be.” In the most egregious instance, he states, “Manuel Leon Hoyos, who just happens to be the top chess player in all of Mexico ….” Don’t you think Mr. Hoyos would be interested in knowing that his achievement has nothing to do with what I suppose amounts to considerable time he’s spent studying, practicing and honing his skills, but rather is the result of pure circumstance? And is there a difference between being the top chess player in Mexico and in all of Mexico?
My biggest bugaboo is redundancy. It’s good in safety riggings for rock climbing, security systems for large caches of valuables and explaining to young children why they shouldn’t play in the middle of the street. But it has no useful place in vocabulary. This week, I spoke to journalism students at San Diego State University and shared with them my favorite examples of redundancy, clipped from newspapers: (1) “[So and so] is a distinctively unique artist unlike any other.” (2) “She was conscious on the scene and told (officers) that it was a self-attempted suicide.”
The last one still makes me laugh. Wait a second.
OK, thanks, I’m good now. Let’s move on. I can see you rolling your eyes (of course, I can’t really see you; that’s a figure of speech, which I do find useful).
Yes, there’s more to being an editor than railing against lexicological blunders. While preparing to speak to the journalism class, I reflected on my beginnings in the publishing industry, when I was clerking for a newspaper. One day, an editor came to me at about 4 p.m. on the eve of the Oscars and asked me to write a short piece on an award party at a local restaurant. The only direction he provided was “and make it pithy.”
I was nervous, but did my best with my first assignment. The next morning, there was my piece on the front page (albeit below the fold) — with my byline! I was hooked. I knew that my future rested in publishing.
These days when I meet people and tell them that I am the editor of San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles, they often remark that it must be fun getting to go into fabulous houses. I could never deny that and sound believable. Last week, I attended an SDHG/L “preview party” at one of the homes featured in our March issue. Standing on the back patio after a storm had passed, I looked in awe at a full rainbow over the ocean and considered how Mother Nature had complemented the beauty of the home. A couple of days later, I was standing on the terrace of a gorgeous home in Coronado Cays. Passengers in tour gondolas exhibited a degree of envy (trust me, that was not just my imagination) as they looked up at the gathering of people sipping wine.
So if there’s a curse that comes with being an editor, there are many blessings as well. I’ve seen my words and name in print, met hundreds of fascinating people and enjoyed experiences that I never would have known if I had embarked on another career. So I’ll live with the irritations of worn clichés (I moved on from “Got ______?” eons before the rest of you), commas used where semicolons should be used, lazy transitions (“fast forward to”) and dangling participles. I have to, because I’d hate to become a victim of a self-attempted suicide.