Tuesday, February 19

Making the world a better place, one correction at a time


Lying on my belly, I wriggled closer to the edge, inching forward until I could peer down to the crashing waves hundreds of feet below me. I was backpacking around Europe in the quintessential rite of passage for young American pseudo-intellectuals, and there I was on Inishmore, the remote island in Western Ireland, having spent the day cycling through the stony solitude: I was ready.

This was the moment when I would stare into the depths of nature and realize the profound fragility of human life, reflect on how quickly and how easily I could be crushed by the terrible beauty swirling beneath me. I glanced at the distant Cliffs of Moher, just visible through the cold, slightly overcast sky. And I laughed.

My thoughtful contemplation was shattered as I remembered that those same sheer cliffs had starred in “The Princess Bride” as the Cliffs of Insanity and I remembered the quote “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” tacked to the wall over the Copy desk back home.

Even after a year abroad, I still fondly recalled adventures in copy editing, the moments of camaraderie with those who truly understand the importance of a well-placed n-dash, the unforgivable faux pas of faulty parallelism, the devastating power of a misused word. Inigo Montoya, our “brother in Copy,” knew what was up.

The world is a better place because of copy editors, and I’m happy to be one of them. Traveling to foreign countries was nothing if not a reminder of the importance of clear communication.

Trying to break through language barriers is a sort of stripped-down version of the journalist’s role of finding a way to convey truth, to inform others ““ and, of course, to listen to what they have to say. Whether the medium is references to ’80s cult classics, pretentious intellectual metalanguage or basic street directions, the intent is the same: to share stories and counteract insane cliffs of misinformation or ignorance.

Journalism seeks to hold those in power accountable, to open the eyes of everyday people to issues in the world that affect our daily lives. Copy editors keep journalism honest, slashing through factual errors and grammar mistakes as if they were six-fingered counts.

So if that was the epiphanic moment I had been waiting for, at least it brought in the heroes we all know and love, the people who really have the power to save the world: Inigo Montoya and copy editors.

Hello. My name is Audrey Kuo. You made a style error. Prepare to die. (Kuo was a Copy deputy and news writer for the 2007-2008 academic year.)

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