Editors carry the weight of the world. No big deal
Let me begin by saying that being an editor is, for the most part, terrible.
It’s akin to being a bass player, or an offensive lineman – albeit with infinitely fewer groupies and significantly less compensation.
Editing for a living is a thankless life measured by such thrilling success metrics as spelling someone’s name correctly, or replacing a semicolon with an emdash. While the writers of the world bask in glory like so many coddled quarterbacks or lead guitarists, editors toil in obscurity, attempting to parse the fact from the fiction in whatever it is a writer has recklessly scribbled.
No one knows who you are unless you miss an obvious typo or mess something up. Everybody hates you because you’re constantly tinkering with their work. You have to sit and look at a screen most of the day like a schlump. The days are full of gray-area judgment calls, covertly Googling grammar questions that for some reason still give you fits (can we just invent a new word to make ‘lay versus lie’ less confusing?), conflict and anxiety…constantly anguishing over minute details that are utterly inconsequential to an overwhelming majority of mankind.
Another issue editors face is explaining the breadth of what we do and the weight we carry on a daily basis to family, friends and peers. Most people know that editors exist to prevent this from happening, and to make sure all the sentences are copacetic, but what else do editors do? Are they pulling their weight? What are they doing in there all day?
Here is just a small sampling of how editors prevent disaster every day and keep the world from spinning off its axis.
Catching things that could in any way be perceived as pervy or offensive. This is a tough one to stay on top of (see!), as lingo changes over time. It also doesn’t help that the world is full of miserable people who have nothing better to do than to tweet out your publication’s latest snafu or unfortunately worded sentence.
As a rule, I automatically delete words like ‘touching’ upon sight just to be safe. Editors need to bone up keep abreast constantly be on the lookout for anything unintentionally untoward.
Preventing wars and societal chaos. Every day, editors preserve the peace by preventing the spread of misinformation, and by removing unnecessarily inflammatory content.
Making sure no embarrassing words, phrases or terrorist group acronyms can be formed via anagram or through word jumble-esque combinations of adjacent letters. You’ve thoroughly edited a brochure. You reworked several sentences, cut out needless words and triple-checked all the information. The layout looks good, the graphics are fine. You sign your approval.
Uh oh, did you check to make sure that the first letters of those bold-faced bullet points don’t spell out anything terrible?
Deleting words that might be innocuous in English, but mean something really awful in Portuguese. Elite editors should know bad words in every major language, just in case.
Verifying all the world’s information. Whether you work at an ad agency, a newspaper, magazine, website, publisher, or a corporation, editors are gatekeepers who have to know all the things – or at least be able to verify all the things – to make sure no errors or falsehoods get out into the world. A heavy burden indeed!
With all that said, I was only mostly kidding earlier. Being an editor isn’t so bad. Like postal workers, we control...INFORMATION. We are in the business of trying to make stuff better (or at least shorter), which is a fun challenge – and dare I say, a noble calling.
In a world careening toward grammatical lawlessness and linguistic chaos, we editors are there to preserve the last vestiges of a civilized society (etymologically speaking, at least). In that sense, we really do carry the weight of the world.
Sigh… I should have been a cowboy.
Robby Brumberg is an editor based in the great, unfairly maligned state of Florida.
Photo: Vintage typewriter via Shutterstock