FRANK TALK: Good people who edit good

Today, there’s an offer for an intellectual product that would make a mockery of the centuries-long struggles of editors to use an ellipsis properly (for God’s sake, you treat it like a three-letter word with spaces fore and aft).

The cold metallic-like menace of artificial intelligence taking away the jobs of happy-go-lucky Homo sapiens never worried me much.

I toiled away in blissful ignorance, never concerned that AI could possibly imitate what I do – let alone replace me.

Well, the self-aware, artificially intelligent chickens have come home to roost.

Sure, AI could one day perform surgery, create breakthroughs in astrophysics, and even solve many of the universe’s mysteries due to its ability to learn.

All well and good.

But what about something important, something vital to humankind?

What about grammar?

For years, decades even, a stalwart band of wordsmiths known as editors have struggled to learn the intricacies of proper comma placement.

What happens to us?

Because, let me tell you something, people aren’t born knowing when to hyphenate a compound adjective.

That’s a skill that has to be learned, whether in the heady confines of academia, through the pressures of the fast-paced work-day world, or on some of the meanest streets in America. Let me tell you something about my old neighborhood - if you were ignorant of the fact that you can’t hyphenate a compound modifier when the adverb ends in “ly,” you were in for the beating of your life.

Yet, today, there’s an offer for an intellectual product that would make a mockery of the centuries-long struggles of editors to use an ellipsis properly (for God’s sake, you treat it like a three-letter word with spaces fore and aft).

Purveryors of this product, the name of which rhymes with hammarly, purport to be able to not only correct spelling but grammar, as well.

Spell-check is one thing, but grammar corrections should be left in the human hands of dedicated editors.

And then, insult to injury, this smart-alecky floating AI cursor is actually empowered to engineer stylistic refinements.

They say it can make a client’s writing bolder, clearer, and more informative to the reader.

Well, I think that’s a bunch of hooey (let’s see AI make that sentence more informative to the reader!).

You may have seen advertisements extolling this service’s virtues.

I’ve certainly seen them on YouTube.

They’re rife with disinformation, if you ask me.

For one thing, the people who are supposedly utilizing this contrivance are always smiling broadly.

They’re so deliriously happy with the corrections being made to their copy.

Well, let me tell you something, sporty.

I’ve been editing copy for decades.

And not once, not a single solitary time in all those years have I seen a smile of gratitude from those benefiting from my grammatical-stylistic expertise.

Au contraire.

If you’re lucky, you get no acknowledgement whatsoever.

Occasionally, you’ll get a remonstrance from ingrates, particularly on the style end when you change something and have innocently introduced an error into their copy.

Well, if you had written the text clearly in the first place, then a hard-working, under-appreciated editor type wouldn’t have made the mistake.

But, no.

You’ll never win that argument.

Take this conversation that I happened to overhear one day:

Ingrate: Um, in my story, you moved a paragraph down.

Editor: Yeah?

Ingrate: Well, you changed the story’s meaning by doing that.

Editor: Yeah?

Ingrate: Well, I’m getting all sorts of angry calls that I got the story wrong.

Editor: People can be so unkind.

Ingrate: Well, what should I tell them?

Editor: Ah, just tell them your editor’s an idiot. They’ll believe that.

Ingrate: Sounds good!

Let’s see hammarly try that one.

And only slightly less odious is the ingrate who questions why you failed to correct a mistake they had made.

That’s right. I have seen it happen. The writer makes a huge, unpardonable error and the editor is on the hot seat for failing to make the correction.

The nerve!

Name one other profession where a person is held accountable for another person’s mistake.

Maybe electoral politics, but that’s it.

Well, I’m going to make a stand here and call on all those who would write grammatically to always seek out human editors.

In a slight twist on an old song:

Let’s see hammarly write something that pithy.

By Frank Mulliganm, Courier & Sentinel Editor. First published at March 16th, 2021