Daily Archives: December 3, 2009

Rule-bound tut-tutters?

I mentioned, in a discussion on editing, that editors don’t want to be seen as a bunch of arbitrarily rule-bound tut-tutters. One of my colleagues replied (tongue in cheek, she assures me), “at least when we’re NOT at work – after all, the essence of most editing is being a rule-bound tut-tutter!”

To which I replied:

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sorry for the emphasis, but I must respectfully disagree at the top of my lungs. We are, or we certainly should be, pragmatists, and friendly, helpful ones at that. That means that we understand that rules are made for the sake of communication, not the other way around, and everything we do is to help the author communicate well with the audience. We don’t enforce a rule if there’s no good reason for it – and we have to be able to explain the reason – and we should be helpful, encouraging, and empathetic, not prissy tut-tutters.

English is too good, fun, and useful to be some kind of gotcha game. One of our primary jobs as editors is to pry it loose from the morbid grips of those who would make it simply an arbitrary and devious status game (you know, those who say “Aaargh! I hate idiots who start a sentence with ‘hopefully’!” or who insist coolly “Split infinitives are a sign of poor breeding”). We are not bound by rules; we understand them and understand why each rule exists and we apply them intelligently, not dogmatically. And we ought not to tut-tut! Such is for those who are still in the middle school of the mind, pretending to be adults but maintaining their status by trying to bring others down.