Paul Basham of Concord sent us a ficticious letter from a fictitious proofreader of a fictitious newspaper. Confused? It was a homework assignment for the creative writing course he just completed. The course, sponsored by Concord Community Education and held at Concord High School, was taught by Linda Thompson-Odum. He wanted to share his homework assignment with you, readers, as a tribute to Linda, who, as he writes, is “very skilled in the craft of writing.”
We couldn’t help but wonder if Paul was a little inspired by our ongoing battle with the Grammarnator.
Without further ado, here’s Paul’s fake letter, called “In His Own Words.”
I serve on the editorial staff of a popular New Hampshire newspaper and my job is to proofread all the letters that are sent to our paper’s editor. If we were to print all these letters exactly as they come to us, we would be the most ridiculous newspaper that ever went to press and our faithful readers would laugh us out of business.
As it is, some mistakes do get by us and we do hear about it! Can you imagine the pressure we are under with all those vigilant grammar detectives out there going over our paper with a fine tooth pencil. Let us misidentify a bird pictured on the nature page and we are tarred and feathered with e-mails telling us it was a red-breasted sapsucker and not a red-throated sapsucker.
There are times we may omit a comma where it ought to be or stick it in where it has no place to be and the punctuation gurus will take us to the wood shed. But that goes with the territory of working in a pressure cooker with the next deadline wrapped around our necks.
Now about those letters to the editor. They come written on all kinds of paper including napkins and the backs of envelopes. While we want each letter to remain true to the letter writer’s central purpose, my job is to dress up these critters before they can be seen in public. I am the journalistic beautician that takes an epistle with a poor complexion and prepares it for the limelight. I am the filter through which foul language passes so it is fit for polite society. I am the decoder who ferrets out messages hidden between the lines and I am the transformer that can handle high voltage rhetoric and reduce it so the electrifying words will not make the readers’ hair curl.
Furthermore, we cannot allow our paper to take part in any character assassination or to be the scene of a hate crime. For that reason, some letters are totally rejected. That is when I serve as a word mortician to give the letter a decent burial. I stand guard to make sure no spoiled verbiage is ever served at our table.
Some letters are so boringly long that I must amputate the dangling participles. I must be ruthless in pruning out any dead wood. Nouns come in as cross-dressed verbs, and there are always people who do not know what to do with adverbs. Some letter writers go wild with unruly adjectives. For some, the English dictionary has become extinct.
But anyway, I love my job and I will be here when your next letter comes across my desk. The saddest day will be when no more letters arrive in the mail. Then I will have to look for a new job. So keep those letters coming.