5 things people say that make editors cringe

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthew would approve of this post. Photo from www.hollywoodreporter.com.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthew would approve of this post. Photo from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com.

The editors of the world know that we’re a quirky bunch. Many of us are introverted, some legalistic, and more than a few disgruntled, inarticulate, sunlight-deprived, judgmental, or addicted to frozen microwave dinners. (Break? What break?)

However, most of the editors I know are genuinely nice people who try not to be a**holes at work or anywhere else. That said, sometimes it’s difficult to effectively navigate social and professional situations that involve non-editors making observations about us.

Therefore, in the spirit of this Ring Theory graphic that went viral recently, I present this list: 5 Things People Say That Make Editors Cringe.

  1. “I’d better watch my grammar – there’s an editor in the room.”

I don’t hold spoken communication to the same standard as written communication. Even though I yell at newscasters for sport, I don’t mentally correct friends’ grammar as we chat over beers, and my speech is often peppered with slang and sentence constructions that perhaps aren’t entirely correct. Even CEOs loosen their ties at the end of the day, right?

  1. “Can you proofread this? It doesn’t need a real edit.”

Yes, it probably does. Writers aren’t infallible, and editors are not human spell-check tools. If you ask us to read anything, we’re going to read it with a discerning eye – for accuracy, clarity and overall effectiveness, in addition to spelling, grammar and punctuation. As a result, we will most likely have questions and propose revisions. (If we are good editors, we will do this respectfully.)

  1. “It shouldn’t take long for you to edit this – it’s short.”

Let me be the judge of that. Producing short-form content – including headlines, captions, summaries and exhibit labels – is actually more difficult than working with something longer. Every word must be especially precise and engaging, and must fit in a limited amount of space. Successfully producing something so specific is an art, not a science, and it takes time.

  1. “So, what does an editor do? OR “Do you, like, proofread things?

Unfortunately, the first question came up during lunch with two newspaper reporters in 2002. Nothing makes editors more likely to harrumph off in curmudgeonly fashion than the willful ignorance of colleagues who should know better. Acceptable alternate questions: “Could you tell me more about what you do?” or “What types of things do you edit?

  1. “Just do what you want.”

The subtext here: “I don’t care,” or “I don’t see the difference.” It’s one thing to have earned the trust of someone whose work you’re editing, but it’s another entirely for them to eschew meaningful dialogue in favor of a blanket “just fix it” attitude. As a snarky introvert, I don’t always respond well to this. But I keep trying to do better.
Lest this list convinces you I’m angry and humorless, please know that I’ve already started drafting my next list: 5 Things Editors Say That Make People Cringe.



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