Re: Stereotypes (WAS: what to look for in a Tech Editor)

Subject: Re: Stereotypes (WAS: what to look for in a Tech Editor)
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 06 May 2003 18:33:33 -0400

Anita Legsdin wrote:


desperately wanted to believe in, and insisted there was, an absolute
right and wrong in language. (But isn't that what the battle-axe in
junior high school teaches? If that were true, then there would be no
need for the MLA style sheet, or the Chicago Manual of Style, ad


Most of what is taught in elementary school, junior high, and high school is oversimplified in one way or another (think of American History texts, for example). And the caricature of the battle-axe--itself an oversimplification--evokes the image of someone teaching an oversimplified and overly rigid set of rules of composition. It would never occur to me that this should be the _last_thing an editor learns about grammar. I was just trying to distinguish that sort of foundation from the quicksand of Whole Language instruction.

Getting away from wishlists and stereotypes for a moment, I think a good editor should have a rich appreciation of what modern linguistics has taught us about the nature of grammar, along with a good ear for the full range of dictions and usages available in English (or other target language). To address Mark Baker's point, he is certainly correct that no system of prescriptive, descriptive, or generative grammar is perfect for all circumstances; but being able to discuss such systems, or even one of them, with some facility, using appropriate vocabulary, is something an editor--as opposed to a writer--ought to be capable of, I think.

At some point, text needs to go through the hands of someone who can punctuate it in a way that helps the reader divine its meaning. That requires adhering to some sort of consistent convention--even if the consistency is only internal. And that, it seems to me, requires some sort of mental model that involves rules--a grammar, in other words.


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Stereotypes (WAS: what to look for in a Tech Editor): From: Anita Legsdin

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