I am reading this morning and find myself delighted with this dear book. Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer. Yes, I called it dear. A language usage book? I thought I’d read and mark and set it aside, but it’s not that kind of grammar, usage, style book. Its a book of stories from a copy editor, a job that I would never, could never, do, but today appreciate with new eyes and ears. Listen to this, “As one of my colleagues once described it: You’re attempting to borrow into the brains of your writers and do for, to, and with their prose what they themselves might have done to, for and with it had they not already looked at each damn sentence 657 times.” So true. We need those fresh eyes, and a smart mind, like his, attached.
We do need to expose what we write, whether it be a blog, a letter, oh my, or email, report or story to others’ eyes and minds. A proofreader locates errors in punctuation, spelling, word usage, grammar and format. My mother has always been mine, whether invited or not, she can’t help herself. Yet, a copy editor seems to do it all. The copy editor has to know the piece, listen to the tone, voice and select better ways to say something, different words, (or no word) and phrases, using the writers style and tone. The copy editor can be a change maker, a deal breaker and a heart breaker too. Mr Dreyer tells stories of writers and copy editors arguments on the page, one writers response to a suggestion, “write your own fking book” in the margin. I would never do that, or would I?
The thing I want to tell you, before I get back to my Dreyer, is in Chapter 1. He presents us a challenge. Go one week without using, he clarifies, not while talking, but writing these 12:
pretty, as in, “pretty tedious”
He calls them Wan intensifiers and Throat clearers. I’m going to try it for a week. See any in that list that you overuse or hold precious or maybe want to dump? I am guilty of a few, especially troublesome is “ just.” I heard an interview with Benjamin Dryer on npr radio and he suggested that we surely must figure out a better way to make a point. Shall I try? Instead of “just” I will use, only, solely, merely, be more clever, clearer. My week starts now.
Benjamin, I became a first- name friend after merely two chapters! He is fine with a reader closing his book after his challenge, once accepted, to be finished reading. I am not done. I continued reading. I am enjoying his conversational tone, shared delight with language and the assurance I get from him. He’s on my side, our side to assist us in being the best we can be by sharing his insights, magic and not so magic tricks. I have so much more to tell you, but let Benjamin do it. I can hardly wait for Chapter 12, The Trimmables. He wrote that for me.
Thank you, Benjamin Dreyer, I’ll get back to reading and to mine more delights and discoveries from this fabulous book. Random House found a gem in you, sir. Thank you for caring enough to have this conversation with us.
gma, Nancy Brown NancyKayBrown.com