Nothing and no-one annoys me like a spelling snob can – you know, those smug, superior types who feign umbrage at others’ apostrophe slips and clumsy word stumbles. It always says more about the snob than it does the stumbler, I think.
Because I’m an editor by trade, some presume I cringe at every error others make, but it’s quite the opposite. I notice others’ errors, sure, but they don’t surprise me, and they certainly don’t offend me. If people didn’t routinely bugger up their spelling or grammar, I wouldn’t have had a job for the last almost twenty years.
And I’ve pretty much seen it all across those years, from the author who apologised for her limited grasp of grammar during one edit, explaining that she was ‘a Whitlam kid’ – referring to the standard of school education she’d received in the 70s – to the author who had her ‘there’ and ‘their’ so completely muddled that by the time I finished her manuscript, I wasn’t sure which was correct myself.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some brilliant, inventive, original minds across those years, too, and some of them can’t spell to save themselves. Some of my best friends can’t spell.
Spelling glitches know no class, either. I have applied emergency language surgery to the work of top private-school educated professionals and people who didn’t finish high school alike. But while we might excuse the well-educated their errors with explanations of dyslexia and brains too busy to bother with minutiae, we too often look down on those of humble means and backgrounds who have difficulty wielding words. I wish I could take a red pen to these silly prejudices.
After all, Shakespeare couldn’t spell, and clearly he didn’t give a rat’s about it. He couldn’t spell his own name the same way twice. He quite often liked to make up words altogether – words such as ‘amazement’, ‘countless’, ‘dwindle’, ‘generous’, ‘laughable’ and ‘sanctimonious’. Indeedy, he invented the word ‘apostrophe’. Imagine what our language would be like if people like him didn’t flout the rules?
The editor’s job, or one of them, is to make sure that spelling inconsistencies and grammatical inexactness don’t interfere with the clarity of text. So that you can read without distraction or confusion over the dots and squiggles that dance upon the page. Someone to consult before you get that ‘no regerts’ tattoo.
Language is a mad soup into which each new generation adds its own bits and pieces; each of us brings our own salt and pepper to the table, too. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.