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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Editors: We Are Not the Grammar Police!


We are a long way from what most people think we are. We are not the bossy know-it-alls who glory in telling authors how bad they suck. We're not J. Jonah Jameson, shouting at the writers who hand us their copy with trembling hands. We're not inflexible about THE RULES and how they should be followed.

We're not even the people who correct everyone's Facebook posts, believe it or not.

We're people who just enjoy polishing words and phrases. People who help to clarify meaning by adjusting structure. People who like to make sure the image a writer wishes to create is the image that comes across in the narrative.

One of the things that grows old fast for an editor is when someone calls us the grammar police. (Worse yet, a grammar Nazi, because only the Nazis were/are Nazis, and it's an abhorrent term that should not be tossed about lightly, comparing someone who corrects text with someone who committed genocide. But I digress.)

The term "grammar police" implies that editors lie in wait, hoping for someone to mess up so they can publicly shame them. Even the real police don't do that. Well . . . maybe the state troopers who ticket speeders on the highway do that.

But back to me.

I mean, other editors.

Okay, me. AND other editors.

We love a well-turned phrase, but honestly, the feeling of the fix and polish is more of a feeling of accomplishment for our own skills, not a feeling of superiority over the person whose work we're reading through.

I can't tell you how many times I've had acquaintances make a comment to me along the lines of "I'm so paranoid to write anything on your Facebook wall without rereading it a dozen times" or "Gosh, you're probably cringing as you read my post" or any number of variations on that theme. Let me set the record straight:

  • I don't correct someone's writing unless they're paying me for it, or have specifically asked me to do so. 
  • I don't always use proper English when I speak—just like everyone else when they talk. 
  • I don't use proper punctuation (other than for clarity) when I'm typing in a private chat window or text with a friend.
  • And I never EVER correct someone publicly on social media, especially strangers.
Those people who take joy in that type of overzealous behavior are jerks, plain and simple. Half the time, they don't even know the real rules (or the change in language that makes a certain style now obsolete) but simply want to show someone (strangers? and why?) that they're smarter than someone else. Quoting what we call "zombie rules," i.e. habits or styles that are/were popular but not actually rules that must be followed, is almost always done by those who have no basis for what they're insisting on. And yet the drive-by editors still do it with regularity.

Denise Cowle has a great blog post about why the grammar police aren't cool. When it was recently shared in an editing group, almost every editor in the group agreed that they don't like being viewed that way and don't behave that way. Again, it's always those who don't actually know what's what who shout the loudest. Where she reminds us that we need to be kind, she says, "If you're lucky enough to have benefited from a good education, and you don't have to wrestle with a learning difference such as dyslexia, be thankful and be gracious."

Graciousness and kindness never hurts. You never know when someone is writing in their second language, or with a disability, or whose speech-to-text program doesn't quite catch everything.

Another terrific post that addresses this is "4 Reasons Why Freelance Writers Shouldn't Be Grammar Police" by Linda Formichelli. It might be more aptly named "Why Grammar Police Make Boring Writers," because that's what inevitably happens when rules (or supposed rules) are adhered to without nuance or voice being considered: it's sterile and boring.

Grammar police? I think I'd rather be known as the Shiny Word Fairy or something like that. Since my goal is not to sterilize anything, but to make someone's work sparkle, I think it's fitting.

Thanks for listening, folks!


Lynda, the Shiny Word Fairy


  1. I love Shiny Word Fairy. I hate when people spend all their time correcting others and don't really add any substance to the conversation; you know keep the plot moving forward. Editors are god's gift to writers you make our writing, and us for that matter, shine.

    1. The correctors have some need to prove to people that they are smart. Why they think strangers need to know these things, I'm not sure, but if my self-esteem ever gets so low that I need to put down a stranger in a public forum, then I think I will have hit rock bottom.

  2. I don't correct others' mistakes on blogs. I make 'em myself, because I'm usually trying to type quickly. It's worse when someone corrects someone else's grammar in a face-to-face conversation. The "correctee" usually gets offended (and justifiably so) and compounds their earlier error by saying "It don't [sic] matter." When I write dialog, I often have the speakers break all sorts of grammar rules. I've been known to say things like "I don't feel good" instead of "I don't feel well," myself. (And you thought I was perfect, right?)

    1. My image of a perfect Silver Fox is forever shattered.

      I grew up in kind of a hick town, so I recognize that the way people speak is the way people speak, and they shouldn't be made to feel bad about themselves when engaging in conversation. If they're giving a public speech, I'd expect better, but there are lines I won't cross when talking to others.

  3. Someone should tell Autocorrect about this. She (I'm certain it's a she, since you and I named her Ann) thinks she's an editor, and ONLY because she wants to be a grammar police officer. She needs to know as an editor you don't like that. I mean, the other editors don't like that. Okay, you AND the other editors do NOT like that. And you know what? Name calling just isn't nice.

    I laughed a lot with this post because I do try to fix my mistakes as much as possible before publishing on social media, text, anywhere. I think you nailed it, too. It's the people who like to be pretentious and fancy themselves editors who go around correcting people publicly with their zombie rules. Then the nice editors of the world have to pay for it. So not nice!

    1. And we all know how nice I am, right? I am the least scary editor on the planet. THE PLANET.

      And Ann . . . oh, grr, she gets us every time. Though I must admit she has given us some good laughs and a whole new language! #A17

  4. I go back and edit comments on Facebook - if for some reason I'm rereading a post, or checking out a comment someone made. On my work. As quietly as possible.

    I blame the tiny mobile phone keyboards for the vanishing of the difference between Let's eat, Grandma and Lets eat Grandma, because they make it hard to get to any keyboard other than the alphabetic one. Too many people now think those chat forms are correct.

    I wish editors would enforce some guidelines for clarity, but, as you say, only when they're being paid for the work - life is too short. Except to laugh at some political figures whose tweets are filled with such errors.

    And I did manage to teach my kids while homeschooling them (captive audience) - they sometimes tease me on purpose with things they know will yank my chain. Fortunately, at twenty-five I officially released them from my nagging, so I'm not responsible for them any more - though I do notice they ask for advice when preparing a resume.

    Editing is for the purpose of not making the reader have to stop to figure out what the writer is saying. Not for keeping score.

    I admire people willing to step into a classroom to teach children not their own, and I really admire editors for being willing to track down glitches in someone else's writing, and suggest fixes. It is exhausting work!

    1. One of the editor groups I'm in on FB has a strict rule about not ridiculing or correcting anyone's posts or comments. They all realize we get the fat-finger syndrome on occasion, or the autocorrect is out to get us (S.K. Anthony and I have even given ours a name, she intrudes so often), or we're just in a hurry and don't notice an error until hours later when we're rereading.

      I think your definition is great: the goal of editing should be to allow the reader to just read without having to dissect what's trying to be said.

    2. And, if this had not been a comment on a post, I would have worked very hard to clean up that sentence! Aargh!

      Editing takes time - and you can only do so much AS you write, without the process stopping you to nitpick way too often.

      I write long, and then put the evil eye on my compound sentences.

      I rarely have to beef up the short ones.

      But put that work in, so the reader's life is easier.

  5. A very interesting perspective. I love the way you phrased this. As a writer, it is a worry that someone will catch an online error. I mean, I spent two months rent paying people to edit my first book, trying to be perfect, and there's my blog with a typo glaring for the world to see. But that's the thing, I don't aim for perfection on my blog or social media. I've managed to calm down a bit over the years. It's hard to know where the line is. Nice to know that everyone isn't out there with a "radar gun" monitoring me for typos.

    1. I get you, though. I used to obsess about having a typo in my blog posts, and yes, as an editor, I should strive for as clean a copy as possible—but gosh, every so often, being human just slips in there. The trick is not to beat yourself up, and not to beat anyone else up, either. With as many internet trolls as there are, I think authors are usually surprised at how kind and tactful most editors can be.

  6. People make mistakes, and other may come off as rude pointing out these mistakes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. It's true: everyone makes mistakes. Pointing them out publicly is never a good idea.

  7. Great post. I actually think being rigid with the "rules" is not what you want with a novel because it can harm the writer's voice. Fragments as stylistic devices, for example.

    1. I think that's the biggest shock to many authors who have never actually worked with a real editor: we don't enforce the rules to the point of sterilizing everything that makes the writing unique. I LOVE when someone's writing has that set-apart feel that makes me recognize it without even looking at the name on the cover.

  8. Hi Linda,

    Good to know you'd rather refer to your good self as the, "Shiny Word Fairy." The grammar police would like to arrest me for being a grammar anarchist.

    I should inform you that Penny used to go over my grammar. Oh, how she tried to help me.

    Thank you for a most informative post, Lynda.


    1. Gary! Thank you for the acknowledgement of my Shiny Word Fairy status. I shall do my best to live up to the title.

      Hopefully, you picked up enough pointers from Penny that your writing will be smooth sailing. How good to hear from you . . . I hope all is well across the ocean.


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