Saturday, 8 February 2014

A poor choice of words

I've been in correspondance by email with a lady who has requested I do an article for a family history review, based on a recent presentation, which -- I'm told -- was well-received, being "entertaining".

All lovely so far.

As it happened, I had just posted an adaptation of the presentation on my family history blog to share with relatives, and this editor took the link, and told me she'd be back in touch with suggestions on how to adapt it for the review. The presentation had been an hour long, so we both agreed it would need considerable shortening, before its inclusion in the spring issue of the review.

I didn't hear from her for nearly a month.

Last week, she got back in touch, with the apologetic explanation that she had had to purchase a computer just before going on a trip. She told me the content would need a fair amount of revision, though the story is interesting . . . . and that if I didn't mind mind making the style more straightforward, there would be room in the summer issue for it.

I felt that familiar dropping in my stomach.
"More straightforward"?
That would mean less whatever-the-antonym-of-straightforward-is, wouldn't it?
I checked my trusty thesaurus.


Aren't editors in the business of choosing words? She said she often edited and adapted submissions herself, but in my case, she was worried about losing your personal voice.

(What? My devious, insincere and tricky voice?)

I decided to wait a day before answering her. I commiserated about replacing a computer -- our computer died the week after the presentation, so we had undergone similar stress. I had done a word count, I informed her. To meet the length limitations, I understood I would have to halve the text. Then, almost as an afterthought, I added that I hoped she had meant "more concise" rather than "more straightforward".

The response was quick in coming.  A thank-you for agreeing to submit the article, and an apology -- she had been trying to find a polite way of saying a more formal style, suitable for a quarterly journal.

And I thought to myself:  When did "more formal", which implies my writing is informal, become less polite than saying "more straightforward", which implies that my writing is a host of unpleasant things?  Don't editors have thesauruses?

Perhaps it's kinder to put this down to jet lag.

No comments: