News of The New York Times’ plan to cut half its copy-editing jobs has copy editors in a snit. I can’t imagine why. Sacked editors will be scarfed up like tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. After all, there’s nothing this country needs more than copy editors. Bad grammar is rampant. So are misspellings and senseless punctuation. I know because I make a hobby of finding writing boo-boos. And I find them everywhere except The New York Times.
One of my favorite catches is the missing acute accent, like the listing in a Total Wine flyer for “Jacqueline Leonne Rose.” A rose is a flower. It rhymes with hose. The wine is rosé, which rhymes with José.
The most accent-challenged folks on Earth have got to be restaurateurs. Not only do they leave accents out of their rosés, pâtés and crème brûlées; they leave it out of the very names of their cafés. So instead of a name that sounds charmingly French, they end up with cafe, which sounds like chafe. And waif. It’s an omission I might expect in Bismarck or Tuscaloosa, but not in the city Infoplease named the country’s most cultured, and certainly not at Russ & Daughters. I’ve never been to Russ & Daughters, or just about any other restaurant in New York. But I know it’s special because Calvin Trillin loves it. And anyone who writes like Calvin Trillin must have exquisite taste in Jewish delis. So why can’t the owners of Russ & Daughters spell café? The place has been in business since 1914. That should be enough time to open a dictionary. The gaffe is good, of course, for the NYT crew. With more than 26,000 restaurants in the city and four new ones opening every week, a copy editor could spend a lifetime accenting cafes.
Missing accents even plague the institutions we entrust to teach us where to put accents. Boston College Career Center’s web site shows browsers “How to Write a Resume.” Writers at the career center would do well to resume their grammar education, possibly with a former NYT copy editor. Applicants should send a résumé.
Some bumbling is born of the best intentions, like this one from my substitute-teaching guidelines: “Often a person is angry simply because they felt that they weren’t being heard…” Politically, it’s correct, which matters a lot to an institution beholden to taxpayers. Grammatically, it sounds like a fingernail down a chalkboard. An NYT copy editor could replace “they” with “he,” or “she,” even “he or she.” If those choices sound sexist or awkward, she could rewrite it as “Often people are angry…” That should protect everyone’s ears and sensibilities.
Then there are the blunders we all make from inattention or haste, like the one in this sentence: “We are in fact eliminating a free standing copy desk.” This suggests the desk is standing and that it doesn’t cost a dime. Another one of those d’oh mistakes occurs a few sentences later with “We have also made clear that in a environment…” Surely the writers know enough to write “an” before “environment.” At least they should. They’re New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joseph Kahn. They wrote the letter in response to one from NYT reporters warning the paper will be rife with errors under a gutted copy desk. The execs countered that they need to reduce the “layers of editing” to speed up production. Judging by the letter, Baquet and Kahn could use more layers of editing themselves. But why should the unwanted copy editors oblige? They’ve got a world of opportunities awaiting.