KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


Editors are detail people; we pay attention to the smallest parts of every manuscript. Thus, when my people get together in groups, sometimes they'll talk about their pet peeves regarding grammar, clich├ęs, and spelling.

The longer I've been an editor, the less inclined I have become to engage in this airing of gripes. First, life's just too short to focus on irritants. Second, to me it smacks of intolerance for individual differences. The form of this peeving that bothers me the most is what I call "spellism." What is spellism? It's looking down on people who have difficulty spelling correctly.

Being a poor speller does not necessarily indicate low intelligence or a poor education. For example, my husband has always had difficulty spelling. So do our two sons, and so does my daughter from my first marriage. All of them are quite intelligent and have had (or are getting) good educations. Edward O'Moore-Klopf​, my husband, is a gifted cabinetmaker whose custom creations are lovely works of art. Neil​, our oldest son, is a talented apprentice cabinetmaker. Jared, our 13-year-old son, is a highly skilled gamer with an interest in history. He is an avid reader, is a budding leader, and has a wicked sense of humor. Rebecca Sanchez, my daughter, is an empathetic social worker who puts her heart into getting her clients the help that they need within confusing health-care, housing, and financial-aid systems. Should any of them think less of me because I am spatially dyslexic (my self-diagnosis), dislike gaming, or am not cut out to be a social worker?

Spellism doesn't do the reputation of editors any favors. Some people already see editors as hidebound rule followers, comma and hyphen freaks who are out to surgically remove authors' voices and make authors' works into our own because we're failed writers whose work can't find an audience on its own merits. So why engage in spellism? I think it's a tool for setting oneself apart from those "undesirable" others.

But my friend Martha Schueneman, an editor and writer, said today via a Facebook group and a private discussion, quoted here by permission:

This is one of my least favorite topics that comes up among editors. My ex is such a horrible speller that he frequently gets his name wrong. Give me someone who makes me laugh and is good at all the stuff I'm not good at—I'll discuss great books and parse grammar with colleagues, you know? Give me someone who's nice to a hotel maid and a waiter and who makes me laugh, and I'll put up with "between you and I." Even if it takes me a while to figure out what "ornches" [oranges] is on a grocery list.

So yes, if you're an editor, correct the spelling in documents you're paid to edit. But if you want to be seen as a scold and want to lose out on some potentially wonderful relationships, go ahead and make fun of those whose spelling is poor and reject them as unfit to be your friend or mate.


aa said...

I'm an experienced editor and translator, here in Italy, where I know many people practicing spellism. They are just boring and often miss the real point. Let proofreaders make the job and let's focus on the core, I say. The more I go on with my profession—the more I edit and translate—the more I fall in love with words and texts and people and have no time for minutiae. And I have an adorable hairdresser who cannot speak a word of Italian but knows what I want better than anyone else! So thank you very muck, Katharine. Anna Albano, Milan, Italy

Carolyn Haley said...

Thank you for this! I too am weary of spellism and its equivalents. Editors exist because not everyone can spell, write, punctuate, etc., easily and correctly. While I'll admit to enjoying a laugh over some blooper and sharing it with peers and pals, that's different from being exasperated with and looking down on less-literate people as a standard thing.

LyzzyBee said...

Yes, yes, yes! I get quite upset when I read snarky comments about errors in books on writing or editing (I've reviewed two such books quite recently and mentioned this in both reviews) as it just seems mean. Just as mean as snarking because I can't ride a bicycle or do algebra!

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