There’s a scene in The Birdcage where the son is trying, for lack of a better term, to “de-gayify” the house. Why? Because his fiance’s conservative parents are coming for a visit and (though he doesn’t know it) to discuss wedding plans. He is being assisted in this endeavor by drag queens from his father’s club, and while he’s busy hiding things in closets and cupboards, they keep putting out objects they think straight people would have in their homes. The chaos finally reaches its zenith when two helpers hang a moose head on the wall and ask, “Too butch?”
Val’s reply is terse utterance I’ve come to use when making editing decisions…
“Don’t add. Just subtract.”
More often than not, this little maxim has served me well. I’m often tempted to alter a document to a way I think sounds better, and while I can say I’m not batting .1000 in the “less is more” department, I do hit more than I strike out.
I wish the same could be said of then Sharpie-wielding clodpate who decided he had an ironclad grasp of English grammar and spelling rules and should “correct” one of the signs on the very nice walking trail in my neighborhood. Granted, this sign is the closest one to a bridge where several resident artists have chosen to make the world a brighter place one shaken can of Krylon at a time. For the record, many them espouse the merits of cannabis…the ones I could read at least. There was, however, one in thin black letters that simply said “Genuine Vandalism” I actually chuckled at.
Okay, the editor in me sees two problems right away.
1. The obvious kerning issue in “HABITAT.” Why in the world did they print a sign with that much space between two letters? Honestly, it’s so far apart, it looks like “HABIT AT.”
2. There are two periods missing. Both the sentences at the bottom are obviously complete and need end punctuation. I would have gone with periods for both, but a case could have been made for an exclamation point in the first one.
There’s also a clarity problem with the phrase “native creatures.” There was a veritable passel of dogs in the park today–all of them walking, playing ball and frisbee, and smelling and being smelled. Seriously, it looked like the party at the end of Go, Dog, Go!
But I digress. My point is that, according to that bossy sign, I could harm the dogs if I wished (and their owners weren’t looking). They aren’t covered by the decree because they are, in fact, not “native creatures.” Something like “Don’t harm the animals” would have been much more inclusive to any critter, creature, or varmint in the general area.
I know. I know….We all assume the prohibition on animal cruelty applies to all of them whether they be “native” or “foreign.” But some uncouth ne’er-do-well could take advantage of a loophole in the signage. I’m just saying.
And then there’s that “E.” Crooked. Awkward. Banal. And somehow comically obscene. It leans on the “M” like a truant child might against a convenience store wall, a pilfered Virginia Slim from his mother’s unguarded pack between his lips.
I have no clue why it’s there or who in the name of Strunk and White thought it would be wise to add an utterly superfluous vowel at the end of a word—one that your average second grader can spell correctly, even under pressure. (Okay, in a completely irrelevant aside, I was looking at the word “Harm” just now and started saying it like Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride. You know, Inigo Montoya, helping Fezzik with his rhymes? “Probably he means no..haaaarrrmmmm….” Now you’re doing it, too, aren’t you?)
I looked up “harme” in the dictionary, hoping for some reason that it would be a word that could serve as an acceptable synonym, but alas and alack! It isn’t a word at all. Nope, this is just another example of needless human error—like the haphazard use of apostrophes when forming plurals or the casual flinging about of commas—the grammatical equivalent of negligent homicide. Epic fail, good sir or madam. Epic fail indeed. 🙂