Muphry's Law and graciousness in copy editing

type facesI came across Muphry's Law today, which states, in part:

(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
(b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
(c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault.

As a sometime copy editor, I've often fallen prey to, or been anxious about, some version of Muphry's Law. The more I argue a point about grammar or usage or spelling, the more likely it is that I'll have to eat my words. I chuckle along at TV shows or books, generally murder mysteries in which usage of the English language forms a clue, where nitpicky characters go out of their way to point out someone's errors, while making dozens of their own. I cringe at overly zealous real-life correctors, who point out every comma and apostrophe gone wrong. I know that even I, with my English degree and professional history, make plenty of stupid mistakes along the way. Unless the errors are persistent and egregious, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. And if the errors are truly pervasive, I assume that the writer or speaker in question really doesn't know the English language all that well, and refrain from judging further. The people who irk me most are the pretentious types who would say "pretentious types whom would say" and then make other people feel bad for an isolated misspelling.

I wonder if, back when I would introduce myself as an editor, people guarded their language around me, the same way people get nervous in conversation with officers of the law or tax auditors, or eating around dietitians, or dressing up for a lunch meeting with a fashion consultant. I used to be kind of a jerk about correcting people, when I would actually correct conversational speech to people's faces — but this was back in junior high, when there was some liberty to be juvenile. I've reformed now, and I apologize if anyone reading this has been criticized by me, unasked for. That said, if you want some writing proofread or looked at with a new set of eyes, feel free to send it my way, gratis (within reason).

Here are some facts that copy editors may not want anyone to know:

(1) Just because a particular style guide says to do something a particular way doesn't mean it's "right," or the only way to do it.
(2) No one can memorize a style guide completely and follow it correctly every time (barring some Rain Man-like copy editor).
(3) Just because Mrs. Englishteacher back in third grade told you could never, never write something like that, or that you must always, always do so, doesn't make it so.
(4) There are different standards of correctness for different types of writing and speaking.
(5) Copy editors and grammar gurus don't all agree with one another.
(6) The content is more important than the wrapper.
(7) Everyone makes mistakes.

All right, bonus points for anyone who can find all the mistakes in this blog post.

(Just kidding. Don't be a douche.)

(Just kidding again.)

Photo copyright Rodolfo Clix via stock.xchng


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