My name is Liz, and I’m a recreational copy editor. Well, it’s not entirely recreational. I am actually paid to use my knowledge of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but after hours, the proofreader in me is never off duty as I navigate a sea of improper usage, mentally (and sometimes physically) correcting assaults on grammar, spelling, and punctuation from all sides.
On a typical day, as I wrap up my morning walk, I might pass the corner store that proudly offers “food and liquor” for my convenience. I have never patronized this establishment, as I am leery of merchandise that necessitates the use of quotation marks around food and liquor. Likely, the quotes are part of a misguided attempt at emphasizing the store’s offerings (never mind that stocking both food and liquor hardly make this shop unique in the realm of convenience stores), rather than a diabolical ploy to circumvent USDA regulations, but you never can be too careful. Anyhow, since I routinely carry neither a ladder nor an array of paint colors for correcting signs, I continue on my way.
Later, as I settle in at my desk and check my e-mail, I sigh, not only because of the absurd amount of spam in my inbox, but also because at least seven messages proclaim that I can loose weight now! with the revolutionary, miracle celebrity cookie diet. I could simply delete the e-mails and instruct my spam filter to recognize such correspondence as junk. After all, to expect perfect spelling from spammers would be to set myself up for profound disappointment. Still, I fight the urge to reply with the suggestion that the company probably would be taken more seriously if its advertisements were not riddled with errors. My fight proves successful for a number of reasons: 1) I know the aforementioned reply would never be read; 2) if, by some strange turn of events, the reply is actually read, the reader would probably forward it to 100 or so friends with the subject line Does this chick need to get a life or what?; 3) although I think everyone should know better than to refer to spam for dietary guidance, I don’t actually want to help a company that clutters up my inbox and preys on people’s insecurities to make a buck; and 4) even I have better things to do than copyedit junk e-mail.
Meanwhile, a radio commercial advises me of the newest drug that I should discuss with my doctor if I happen to be one of millions plagued by seasonal-affective-attention-toenail-fungus-hyperactivity-personality-reflux disorder (or whatever) and declares that side effects are low. Um…what? Does this mean side effects will only affect the lower parts of one’s body? I would think any recipient of this medication already has enough problems down there, what with the toenail fungus. Perhaps this a clever way of stating that the drug’s side effects are really bad (as in, “Aw, man, that was low!”). Of course, I know that the intended meaning is that the risk of side effects is low, and I grit my teeth when I think that someone was actually paid to write the copy for that ad.
In one of my non-junk e-mails, a friend says lets definately get together next weekend, and, although it pains me, I don’t correct her for fear of becoming that friend. Besides, I realize everyone slips up now and then. I will never claim to have perfect grammar and spelling. I went most of my life before finally learning how to keep continuous and continual straight, and have a serious mental block about remembering whether I want to lay down or lie down on the couch for a nap. As I type this, Microsoft Word, with its squiggly green underline, implies that lay down is incorrect, but word processing programs cannot always be trusted, as anyone who has ever typed the sentence, “All ways remember too reed you’re work two Czech four miss takes,” can tell you. Oh, that’s just me? Okay then.
I turn my attention to work and use my considerable command of English to earn money that I can spend on overpriced coffee drinks. After a few laborious hours, I decide it is time for a latte run. As I stand in line at the coffee shop, I see the sign: Muffin’s: buy one get one free! Muffin’s? Muffin’s what? Actually, I know that there is nothing missing and a superfluous apostrophe is the culprit here, but I amuse myself with wondering what a muffin might have in its possession that is available for purchase today at half price. I’d never thought of muffins as having possessions. I suppose certain qualities that are associated with muffins (for example, deliciousness, sweetness, caloric density, blueberryosity [this falls under “artistic license”]) could be implied by the use of the possessive muffin’s, but I sincerely doubt that was the intent of the sign. I sidle up to the white board, quickly look over my shoulder to check that no one is looking, and, with a flick of my hand, remove the offending apostrophe. I wipe the marker dust on my jeans and casually step away from the sign, smiling because there is one fewer (please note, not one less!) error in the world. I may not be able to leap skyscrapers in a single bound or rescue children from burning buildings, but I like to think that, in some small way, I am making the world a better place.