Uncontrollable Editing

I have a terrible condition. It’s chronic, but it also flares up at inconvenient moments, often in public. It’s embarrassing for me  and the people around me, especially when I can’t control the urge to shout.

It’s called Uncontrollable Editing Syndrome, UES for short. UES cause me to yelp out corrections to people on television, in the newspapers and in books. Signs are a particular problem, what with all the extraneous apostrophes. I have to bite my tongue to avoid correcting people who say “between you and I.” I have heated discussions with other sufferers about word choice– “Is crash appropriate in an accident involving one car and one pedestrian?” I correct tweets and Facebook posts. I have refused to vote for politicians because they thought that there is always singular.

I never really had a chance, though. My mother was an English teacher. I was raised in a poisonous environment of proper English and reading. I had a library card before most kids can even read, which twisted my poor brain beyond any hope.

It was made worse in college. More reading, yes, but also classes in linguistics, taught by recognized experts. Even a required grammar class in grad school. It was awful. By that time, of course, I was desperately hooked. Any lingering hope of recovery was dashed.

By grad school it was clear that I was going to have to find some way of dealing with UES, so I began teaching freshman composition. I know now that making that decision was unwise–it only added to my misery. Seeing new mistakes only energized my disease. Each semester made it worse. By the first year with my MA I was teaching five comp courses. Five.

I know now what my limits are, two classes a semester. Admittedly, since I dabble in developmental classes, it’s more like the hard stuff, but at least it’s manageable.

But there’s something that you can do to help! Get yourself a handbook–if you don’t have to worry about citation styles, purchase a second-hand one (they’ll be cheap, I promise). Read and practice a section at a time until you truly understand the basic rules of our language. Fill your mind with excellent, well-edited prose. Follow people on social media who can conjugate. Refuse to watch programs that have poor speaking habits. Demand that newspapers and nightly news programs hire copy editors. Take a grammar or linguistics class. Refuse to put apostrophes when you need a simple plural (“Pizza’s for $5” ?!?). Embrace proper punctuation and usage, mechanics and style. Only then can sufferers of UES like me put our poor minds at rest.

Please. We’re counting on you.


2 thoughts on “Uncontrollable Editing

  1. I debated with myself over leaving a comment, but I decided to just throw out the bathwater with the baby urinating in the wind. (Sorry if I mixed an idiomatic expression or two, but you can’t break a few eggs without scratching the surface!) At any hoo. Perhaps it is telling that it takes a masters degree and training by experts in linguistics to even have a hope of working out the complex muddle of which the English language, uh, is. Ugh. But I’ll bet even those linguistic experts argue and disagree over what is proper, eh? Oh yes! Because the English language is a living language – adaptable and ever changing. If not, thou would’st be forever in peril of ye olde hickory shoppe. I had been taught that a sentence can’t start with a conjunction. But you can. And I did. If you don’t mind, I’ll go on. At any rate, I also was taught fractions in math classes at school. Helpful things fractions, especially when cooking, but they should be called fictions because they are entirely imaginary. Think naught? (Ha!) Show me half of a hole. Why do I bring up math? Because fractions illuminate the point I’m trying to make (I guess). That point being that the foundations of English are as wibbly wobbly as anything that else imagined by mankind. English does evolve (as I’m sure you know). I would think that when questioning proper usage that the question should be: Does the usage further the author’s meaning or detract from understanding. I do understand the uncontrollable editing (perhaps it is in the genes). Proper grammar should be taught, used, explained, examined, and joyfully thrown around like confetti at New Year’s celebrations and I, for one, am glad for people like you who teach my favorite authors the how and why of their craft. but for me i sometimes go with e.e. cummings and just let the words fall on the page and let god sort out the mess G.O.D. being: Grammatically Obsessed Dictators

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find your idioms charming!
      Almost all of what I find irritating in the misuse of English is pretty simple, unambiguous stuff: Don’t use an apostrophe when you mean a simple s. A pronoun being used with a preposition will be objective (“Give it to Sherry and me” not ever “Give it to Sherry and I.” That sort of thing. There is at least one person where I teach who is still doing the “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition” without seeming to understand the history of that rule, or the fact that it’s been passe for, what, fifty years? The Brits don’t seem to have a problem with a comma separating two independent clauses, so I do my best to ignore it in British English (while tormenting my students with CS (for comma splice) on their papers.
      I’m more on the side of English changes than some–I know that the apostrophe is on its way out, even though I think it provides clarity. But until my style guide gives up the guns, I’m sticking to my ghost. (Gosh, that is fun!)
      Most of the usage problems I encounter make English harder to understand and uglier (yes, that’s a consideration for me!). Some of the problems are unambiguously WRONG and no one but GODs care.
      I agree COMPLETELY with your description of grammar. Abso-bloody-lutely it should!
      I like being a GOD (I go with the British system of leaving out punctuation when writing informally, a code-switching that people are sometimes unable to achieve unless they know the rules (and why not start a sentence with and?). I have students who have been told not to start a sentence with because–Why not? Doesn’t Dickenson? “Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.” It’s beautiful and absolutely follows the rules of English.
      I also, by the way, admit when something is a personal issue with my students–I loathe “stated” for instance, because students are lazy and use it for EVERYTHING. But there’s nothing wrong with it. It just annoys me. Perhaps if more GODs were honest, we wouldn’t have the mess we sometimes have in English!


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