Sunday, October 25, 2009
Copy editors and political correctness
Bill Vallicella has some strong words for overzealous copy editors: “Keep your political correctness to yourself. Don't replace the gender neutral 'his' with the abomination 'his/her.' Keep your stinking leftist politics out of my manuscript. And don’t try to be what the Germans call a Besserwisser: don’t presume to know better what I want to say and how I want to say it.”
Amen. To be sure, I’ve had some very helpful copy editors, as I’m sure Bill has. But then, like him, I’ve also had some real fools. My “favorite” was the copy editor who ruined an entire weekend several years ago by filling the proofs of one of my books with something even worse than the abominable ”his/her”: the dreaded ungrammatical “they” and “their” sprinkled liberally and indiscriminately throughout the text wherever I had written “he” or “his.” Hence “Someone might claim that he can conceive…” became “Someone might claim that they can conceive…”; “Someone who puts his right hand…” became “Someone who puts their right hand…”; etc. Standard college student term paper stuff, of course, but something you’d think a professional copy editor would avoid like the plague.
Could such a brain-dead PC automaton get any worse? Yes “they” can. This one also put in “themselves” for “himself” – as in “A certain copy editor proved themselves unworthy of the paycheck they were about to receive” – and (the pièce de résistance) even invented a new word, “themself” (!) – as in “This particular copy editor made a complete ass of themself.” And it got even worse still, as the copy editor in question exhibited as feeble a grasp of English vocabulary as of English grammar : “glossed” (in the sense of “provided an explanation or interpretation of”) was changed to “glossed over”; “conception” was changed, throughout the text, to “concept”; and so forth.
As I say, I had to work day and night over a long weekend to fix up my poor book so that I could get it to the publisher by deadline – all the while trying to avoid a nervous breakdown and to resist as strong a temptation to commit homicide as I’ve ever felt.
At least the PC “non-sexist” stuff is not entirely the fault of copy editors, however. Many publishers of academic books and journals insist on this “inclusive language” nonsense, and it is an outrage. It is bad enough that one has to listen to PC-whipped academics at colloquia and the like gratuitously inserting “she” into their talks and comments wherever they can so as to prove their feminist bona fides. At least there one can just roll one’s eyes, say a quick prayer for the poor soul, and move on to the refreshments. But to have this ideological use of language foisted upon one by an editor is no more defensible than a requirement that all submissions reflect (say) a commitment to direct reference theory or four-dimensionalist metaphysics.
If “inclusive language” is your bag, knock yourself out. Be aware that the results are sometimes jarring. (Two recent and otherwise good books on Descartes’ Meditations consistently refer to “the Cartesian Meditator” of the work as “she.” I realize that Descartes’ meditative exercise is meant to be carried out by any reader, of either sex; but dammit, the guy who actually speaks to us in the book was named Rene, not Renee!)
But again, if a bad, blatantly politicized style is your thing… well, to each his own. As Bill says, just keep your stinking leftist politics out of my manuscript.