Because I’m a professional editor (and a judgmental person, probably), people sometimes tell me that they’re afraid to text me in case their grammar is terrible. And while I can’t say that I’ve never commented on someone’s language, if I do, I’m probably not judging you. Here are four reasons professional editors probably aren’t judging your grammar.
- We Differentiate Between Grammar and Usage
In casual speech, every language item with a judgment attached to it is labeled “grammar.” However, from an academic standpoint, most things people argue or worry about aren’t actually matters of grammar—they’re matters of usage. While grammar is our understanding of the rules language naturally follows, such as where to place adjectives so that sentences make sense, usage involves people’s judgments about how the language should be used.
If you’re a native English speaker, you probably understand English grammar intuitively, so most of the time your grammar should be just fine. And if you’re not a native English speaker, only jerks will mock you for grammar mistakes. English is hard, and anyone who makes fun of the grammar of a non-native speaker probably doesn’t know much about the language.
- We Don’t Care About Arbitrary Standards
A lot of the rules your English teacher in high school taught you are just arbitrary standards someone made up. These arbitrary standards have no logical basis and don’t improve clarity, so professional editors generally don’t care about them. For example, take the rule against splitting infinitives. This rule was imposed on English by grammarians who wanted to make the language more powerful by increasing its similarity to Latin.
The issue with this decision is that English isn’t Latin. In Latin, you literally can’t split an infinitive. For example, in French (a Latin-based language), chanter means “to sing.” You can’t stick a work between the “to” part of chanter from the “sing” part because chanter is one word. But in English, an infinitive is two words, so you can stick a word in between, as in “to softly sing.”
In fact, in English, splitting the infinitive can be more effective than not doing so. “To boldly go where no man has gone before” sounds better than “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” In this case, splitting the infinitive puts the stress on “bold,” increasing the fluidity of the sentence and emphasizing the bravery of the Star Trek characters.
- We Care About Context
Editing takes work and time, and not everything merits professional scrutiny. So don’t worry about texting an editor. Text messages aren’t high priority. As long as we can understand what you said, all is well. Honestly, with casual messages, I usually just read for content and don’t spend any more time than necessary analyzing grammar and usage.
All this isn’t to say that writing says nothing about the education level or expertise of the writer. But we all have limited time, so my expectations differ depending on the context. I’d expect more of a novel than a blog post, and I’d expect more of a Facebook post than an instant message. At the end of the day, I don’t expect random individuals to be professional editors.
Rich publishers, however, don’t get the same pass. In my opinion, publishers — whether they produce newspapers, textbooks, magazines, or novels — shouldn’t sacrifice clarity or accuracy so they don’t have to pay editors.
- We Realize Correcting People Is Usually Petty
Words have meaning, so editors might get nit-picky with what people actually say. However, good editors also don’t correct people’s language for no reason. For example, I don’t really care how George W. Bush pronounces “nuclear” or whether Trump hyphenates every word in every tweet according to my personal standards. I don’t care if Obama says “madder” or “the reason is because.” I think news networks waste time when they focus on petty matters like that.
However, I do care very much about the rhetorical difference between “estate tax” and “death tax” and the meaning behind statements such as “you also had very fine people on both sides.” Those differences have consequences.
In short, everyone can relax. Unless you want to publish something. In that case, hire a professional editor.