Archive for April, 2009

April 9, 2009

Public Proofreading: Compulsion or Compassion?

It’s happened again. That uncontrollable urge to unsheathe my red pen. My daughter brought home a letter from her karate instructor inviting her to join the Black Belt class. I was thrilled. I was proud. And then, I was editing.

The spacing between sentences was inconsistent. A word was missing in one sentence. There was an incorrectly hyphenated word in another. I was just going to let it go, but then, there it was, the infraction that I just couldn’t overlook. An its that should have been an it’s. By the time I was done, I’d left over a dozen marks on a one-page letter. My husband didn’t want me to give it to the karate teacher. You see, he wants to be in the Black Belt class, too, and doesn’t want my pushy proofreading ways to hurt his chances.

My husband—like many other non-writers—does not understand my compulsion. Why must I point to the menu and tell the waiter that flatiron (as in the steak) should be one word, not two. Why do I beg baristas to change chocalate to chocolate on their chalkboard? Why would an otherwise sane person run a red felt tip marker through the alot printed on a sign dangling by the soda dispenser at a convenience store in Yuma, in front of the children no less?

He thinks what I’m doing is crazy. No, I tell him, what I’m doing is correcting—and it’s for the greater good. It takes a village to maintain the standards of proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It’s compassion, not compulsion, which drives me to point out these errors.

Yes, public proofreading is an unsolicited act of kindness, albeit one that may elicit a twinge of shame if you’re on the receiving end . . . like when someone tells you your zipper’s down or that you have a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. You blush, but you’re glad they told you.