When I was a copy editor in college, I learned a lot of lessons publically. My first day in the seat of head copy lady, the university president’s name was spelled three different ways. Three. It was my first experience running a team, and I assumed that writers, let alone copy editors, had done their jobs. By the end of my 2 am shift, I wasn’t checking much for spelling so much as I was writing headlines and making sure stories weren’t cut off mid-sentence. This ignorance on my part led to several emails, public jokes, and a level of embarrassment that, seven years later, I’m still not quite past. I should have known better.
That, of course, was the worst mistake, but there were plenty of others. Like the time we printed “remberance” in a headline. Or when I had a writer essentially copy and paste an ad as a unique story. When I learned to use hyphens are used for compound adjectives, and the time I misused “every day” when the pair should have been shoved together as “everyday.” Sure, that error isn’t very dramatic, but it’s one I still remember making.
With this job, mistakes, even the small ones, were pointed out by our faculty member and marked up in red pen for the entire staff to see. It was like a hot bout of staring eyes every single day. I dreaded it, yet thrived on the feedback; it’s how I learned so much so quickly.
It’s also why I take faux pas – or flat-out errors – so personally. I was outed, so why aren’t others’ errors, too? In fact, I still make errors, English is just that finicky. But when it’s something very basic, like capitalization or apostrophes, I’m appalled by what people think is correct, or that they didn’t take the time to ask for a second opinion. Sometimes these seemingly small mistakes lead to permanent and lasting consequences. It’s hard to wonder when the red pen is coming, and who else is looking at the markups.
A few months before I graduated, I was asked by a retired English teacher what my major was. She bowed her head and said, “It will ruin your whole life. Every time you see an error it will make you cringe.” And she is a little bit right – I wouldn’t say my life is “ruined” by bad grammar, but it does take a toll. Besides, the alternative of pointing out the error, which might make me feel better, turns you into a know-it-all-jerk.
At least when I had a professor doing the same it was a learning experience, and I didn’t feel bad about it; the same was being done to me.
Learning grammar is a tough gig, both in understanding, and identifying errors in everyday life (no I don’t mean every day). Proceed at your own risk and good luck out there.