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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Annoy ahoy!

by Brenda Looper | April 6, 2022 at 4:18 a.m.
Brenda Looper


I was born on a Monday. It's been mostly downhill from there.

I thought about that Monday afternoon as I realized I'd locked myself out of the house I'm checking on for a friend, while her cat paced in the window, wondering why his crazy sitter was just sitting in her car (sorry, Charlie; I know that's not what it means to cat-sit). Another friend managed to find a spare key and get me back in, and it just ended up being an annoyance overall.

Which brings me to ways to annoy editors, other than reading over their shoulders, touching their monitors to point out something, or having to be reminded of deadlines.

You might think that editors are, on the whole, a bunch of grammar grouches. There are some among our number, but I'm fairly confident that you won't find a ton of them in the news business. The percentage might be a bit higher on the opinion side, but we tend to be bigger nerds anyway.

Here are a few ways to get on an editor's nerves. I'd say it's just me, but experience tells me I'm not alone.

• This is a big one: Use every adjective and adverb. Every. Single. One. And make sure to use a few that have nothing to do with the subject at hand; editors love trying to interpret what you're trying to say.

William Zinsser, author of "On Writing Well," has a few words to say about modifiers: "Most adverbs are unnecessary. You will clutter your sentence and annoy the reader if you choose a verb that has a specific meaning and then add an adverb that carries the same meaning. Don't tell us that the radio blared loudly; 'blare' connotes loudness. Don't write that someone clenched his teeth tightly; there's no other way to clench teeth. ...

"Most adjectives are also unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun. This kind of prose is littered with precipitous cliffs and lacy spiderwebs, or with adjectives denoting the color of an object whose color is well-known: yellow daffodils and brownish dirt. If you want to make a value judgment about daffodils, choose an adjective like "garish." If you're in a part of the country where the dirt is red, feel free to mention the red dirt. Those adjectives would do a job that the noun alone wouldn't be doing."

Zinsser isn't saying don't use them at all, but just to be more thoughtful when choosing your words. He has become, though, a favorite target of those who feel he's put out a bounty on adjectives and adverbs. He never says that, says Michael Leddy of the Orange Crate Art blog, but rather cautions moderation and offers "sound advice about lifeless sentences and dopey overwriting." If Ben Yagoda received similar opprobrium for his "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It" (the title is based on advice attributed to Mark Twain), I have yet to find it.

Yagoda writes, "[A]djectives aren't really used that much--they account for only about 6 percent of all words in the British National Corpus, a 100-million-word collection of samples of written and spoken language. The root of the problem is lazy writers' inordinate fondness for this part of speech. They start hurling the epithets when they haven't provided enough data--specific nouns and active verbs--to get their idea across."

So if your writing sounds concise and to the point, by all means, lard in as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. Lord knows we love a sentence that makes us forget what it was about by the time we get to the end of it.

• Don't spellcheck (this obviously refers to anything done on a computer). I've yet to find a word-processing program that doesn't have spellcheck in some manner, but sure, go ahead and leave that for the editor to do. It will really endear you to her.

• Don't re-read before submitting, whether you're a reporter, a columnist, or simply a letter-writer. I often advise letter-writers and others to sit on something before submitting it, preferably overnight or longer, then re-read in the cold light of day. Having created some distance, you're more likely to find errors, awkward and/or repetitive passages and bits that don't accurately convey what you mean. Reporters on daily stories can't take that long, obviously, but it's always best to re-read, no matter how quick the turnaround, to avoid embarrassing corrections later.

There are many other things that will annoy an editor, but misquoting people, not double-checking references made, incorrect attributions and ensuring that all statements of fact are indeed fact will make most of them see red (if they don't, there's something wrong). The time it takes for the editor to track down correct information will be more than that of the writer, who ostensibly had access to that information in the first place. Editors on deadline won't thank you for the extra work or the short shrift given to everything else they have to edit that day.

I mean, they're already trying to put their brains back together after wading through thick, florid prose and losing the point of the whole thing. But yeah, g'head.

Does anyone have an aspirin?


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.


Print Headline: Annoy ahoy!

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