I subscribe to Shelf Awareness, an online book review site (best way I know to describe it) that sends out emails twice a week informing you of select new books. I always look at this email, and I’ve discovered several new and interesting books this way. Generally, I’ll jump from the email to my local library’s site to see if they have a copy of a book that looks interesting. If they do, I’ll request it.
This week, they reviewed a book called A World Without
Whom by Emmy J. Favilla, who is the Buzzfeed Copy Chief (my strikethrough is an attempt to mirror the book, which has a graphic of the editor’s strikeout mark there). Not only does Shelf Awareness review the book, they also interview Emmy about why she wrote the book.
At first reading, I was somewhat supportive of what she says. After all, we don’t want to get stuck in the past. Language is an evolving, living thing, even more so in this age of Internet slang such as LOL and so forth. And let’s not forget the way we used to have to text.
Yes, there’s a but. Of course there is.
I posted a link to that interview to my publishing company’s, er, company chat on Messenger, thinking it would get a few comments.
Instead, I practically stirred up a hornets’ nest, and it wasn’t favorable to Emmy’s opinions.
Which is good.
To be fair, I only gave the interview—and book review—a cursory read at first. As an editor, I’m always looking to see if I can learn anything from other editors. But this one, on the surface, didn’t seem to have much to offer. After a bit deeper read of the interview, I reserved a copy at the library—I doubt the book is worth buying no matter what, especially on my budget—just to see what it was all about. And I still intend to at least skim it. To quote my wife, you need to know your enemy.
Basically, Ms. Favilla says that, as editors in this modern age, we should feel free to pretty much ignore what we were taught—or, in her words, “…feel a sense of relief and freedom from the sort of rules that have been ingrained in us since grammar school”—and just go with what your heart tells you.
More telling is this quote: “It’s really more important to ruminate on stuff like ‘Is this an exclusive way to talk about all genders?’ than ‘Does this comma go here?’”
In other words, politically correct editing.
Again, to be fair, she does say: “But there are certain ways in which I’m still a bit of a stickler: I don’t think we should totally ignore conventions about grammar, punctuation, spelling and other things that make it easier for readers to understand a piece of writing.”
So what exactly are you saying, Ms. Favilla? Because what I’m reading sounds contradictory at the very least. Or, as one of the comments on our chats stated: Anyone can claim to be the new standard. Anyone with brains will look around and see truth.
What he said ^.
Look, keeping up with the times is all well and good. For instance, when it first surfaced, the word email was hyphenated: e-mail. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was also capitalized: E-mail. Now, the more commonly accepted spelling is email, though there are still those who hyphenate it. Which is fine and dandy. Just pay attention to the publication’s style guide.
But folks, as onerous as they can be at times, the standards are there for a reason. In a language that pronounces words like rough and though in markedly different ways, those standards are essential. If you can’t be understood, you’re not communicating. You’re practicing mental masturbation.
If you don’t put the comma in the right place, I might not be able to understand what you’re saying about genders in the first place.