Not writing, but subediting

Interesting article about subediting on the Guardian website this morning:

Nice article. As a university lecturer in Linguistics, I suffered a variation of the party scene. Started with the same question:

 "What do you do?"
 "I'm a university lecturer."
 "What do you lecture in?"

From there, the truly awful would say, “What are Linguistics?”
The less awful would skip that, but as soon as Linguistics was clarified, both types would tell me all about language … largely based on misunderstandings, erroneous “facts” and urban myths.
The rest of my evening would be spent giving a lecture on Linguistics to the group that had gathered.

I’m now gearing up to face the situation where I meet someone who, on hearing that I’ve spent the last 13 years in China, will instruct me about what’s happening in China, because s/he follows the news here on TV and in the papers, and, of course, no one in China knows what’s going on outside their own circle, because all information is censored.

Mr X

Nice article Siren, thank you :slight_smile:

:laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

Yes, nice article - thanks. It reminded me of a great deal that I’d half-forgotten. But only half-forgotten - one of the penalties of having been a sub on a daily paper is that, deep within one’s psyche, one always remains a sub. One’s first reaction to any piece of print is to nit-pick.

You were are a lecturer in Linguistics? What’s linguistics?
Tee hee. Only kidding.

In the interest of being at the very least in the “less awful” category, I have a mental failing in that everytime I hear (or think about) the name Noam Chomsky I cannot help but play a song I wrote in my head over and over again. It’s not complicated (the lyrics are simply “Noam Chomsky, oooh Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky oooh” over and over) but it stays with me all. day. long.

Anyway, that’s the only thing approaching a linguistics based anecdote that I have.

Anyway, back to the topic:



Serves you bloody-well right! :smiling_imp:

Me, me, me!

For a few weeks, I wrote a series of articles for 21st Century, the weekly published by China Daily for students and teachers of English. The first article I wrote was done on spec and was too long, so they warned me it would be cut. It wasn’t cut, it was hacked about by one of their English (in my experience American) English speaking “polishers”, who cut out the whole point of the article and filled my British English with glaring Americanisms, which, for me, stuck out like sore thumbs.

I got to know the column editor, who told me the number of words they wanted, 750, and their style considerations: no more than 2 subordinate clauses; no sentence over 15 words; no rare or very long words. So I made myself a template in the blessed Word 5.1a which replicated exactly their line lengths, hyphenation, column breaks, and wrote absolutely within their guidelines.

I also got the editor and her successor to send me the “polished” copy before it was typset. So every week, I’d get back my 750 carefully crafted words, which had been changed totally erroneously, altering the meaning, destroying the cohesion and coherence, in one line American spellings in the next British spellings … a real dog’s dinner of a text. So each week I sent it back the same day with full explanations as to why their polisher was totally wrong … 750 words turned into 4.5 to 5 pages with all the comments! And every week, my version was published as I wrote it … next to articles by their Chinese journalists which were full of grammatical howlers and mis-spellings, and the sort of rubbish the original article talks of, which the “polishers” hadn’t been allowed near.

The only one I didn’t win was over full-stops etc. inside or outside scare quotes. I got the editor to ask around in China daily. Of course, any Brits agreed with me, the Americans disagreed. So from then on, I made sure there were no scare quotes anywhere near other punctuation.

But my editor got exactly what they wanted.

Mr X

I suppose it’s only fitting that someone brings up the ‘famous’ Giles Coren rant at sub-editors here. I remember reading it as it unfolded in the Times, but – perhaps unsurprisingly – references to the debacle are more readily found in rival newspapers these days.

NOTE: The following links both contain offensive language. Including some of the naughtier swear words.

Here is a Guardian journalist listing some of Giles’ rants at sub-editors, including the “a nosh” one that went viral: … g.thetimes

Here is a Sunday Times sub-editor’s response (reproduced in the Guardian): … publishing

Having been on Giles Coren’s side in my last post … though I have to say that those polishers would have been out on their ear by the end of the first day if they were working anywhere in the West in terms of their level of literacy … I’m on the side of the sub-editors in these articles. Having been doing that job in relation to translations into English for the last few years, many of them done by people I knew well and even friends, whose English I knew to be better than what they were sending me, I often felt they had done their translations on the basis of, “I’ll just knock out a rough translation; Mark’s going to be editing it anyway and he’ll sort it out.”

Mr X

An example of an important principle of professional writing: ‘Make friends with (or be already friends with) the sub.’

Which is itself an instance of an even wider Rule for Life: ‘Get the intermediaries on your side.’

Y’ need t’ work on the friggin’ in laws first, pal ! :open_mouth:

Aren’t they often intermediaries too? :blush: :confused:


  1. In-law
    Someone who will be a prime suspect after your murder. Usually mother-In-laws are the worst, not because of their hatred of you, but because the will question you to death.
    Stereotypical veteran father-in-law: “Let me show you my M14.”

Mother-in-law: “You should take better care of the kids, they’re only 21 you know.”
murderers /fun nazis /widow makers haters squares
2. In-Laws
People who don’t like you and are constantly talking about you, spreading slander on Urban Dictionary!
Oh, you haven’t met (insert word) until you’ve met my in-laws!
inlaws inlawful family crazy manipulative no life
3. in-law
da peeps who look at ya like ya da devil; or, a human who doesn’t break no law

intermediary |ˌɪntəˈmiːdɪəri| noun
a person who acts as a link between people in order to try and bring about an agreement; a mediator:
IN-laws are the cause, mate… needing the services of an intermediary, is the effect

Vic [size=50](I was that soldier)[/size]