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Confessions of a recovering pedant

Posted on 7th December 2015

When I started out as a proofreader and copy-editor, I often called myself a professional pedant, but over the years, and particularly in recent weeks having read some interesting articles and listened to this great BBC Word of Mouth radio programme, I've realised that it's not something I should be aspiring to.

As the radio show points out, some grammar rules shouldn't be broken, and they tend not to be, but so many others are less rigid. Some rules are broken specifically to make a point or to create a sense of style in the writing and it would be wrong to correct this.

When working on fiction in particular, I regularly encounter words that aren't in dictionaries but the meaning is clear and it portrays what the author wants to get across, which is surely the important element. If the reader is going to stumble and the flow be affected, I'd be the first to mention this to the client, but if the meaning is clear, who am I to say the author can't coin a new phrase or usage?

This article looks specifically at the use of the word then but for me the key point is this: 'Ultimately, exactly how you fix a misused then is an editorial decision based as much on the needs of the work itself as on any grammatical guidelines.' How one editor fixes it might vary from another, and the author may not like either. In this and so many other instances, there is no right or wrong.

This is also one of the reasons why I don't guarantee 'perfection', because no such thing exists in language. I do my best to spot and correct outright errors but, for example, where a client likes a serial comma (something I'm generally not keen on), I'm not going to change those. In fact, begrudgingly, I'll add some in if they've omitted any.

So, I hope you don't mind if I no longer call myself a pedant, but I do still have an eye for detail and aim to help all clients get as clear, concise and reader-friendly material as possible.

Written by Kate Haigh.