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Copy-editing is a very silly business

I used to be a copy-editor, many lifetimes ago, but I was never a very good one. My attention span isn't up to it. I still start scowling when I see obvious mistakes like its/it's and whose/who's, and don’t you dare use impact as a verb in my presence. I will impact you in your nuts! However, I don't do copy-editing anymore. I got tired of endless debates about teabag vs tea-bag. It doesn't matter. That particular point is style, not grammar. Choose your style, be consistent and chillax.

Then, unexpectedly, I got involved in editing again. Suffice it to say that it's an Afrikaans version of a Japanese document. A Very Official Bureaucratic Kind Of Document. The kind of document that is written in extremely formal language, with unnecessary repetition of synonyms (each consisting of more syllables than the previous word) and a generous application of the passive voice.

The Hero is translating from his native Japanese; I'm editing his Afrikaans. Not that it needs much editing. He's just careless with punctuation. (You are! You know you are!)

I developed a headache halfway into the second paragraph thanks to the passive voice. Or should I say, a headache was developed. Neither I nor text had any role in it. It transmogrified from a spacetime singularity into a headachy beingness. That's the passive voice. Nobody does anything. Things just happen, entirely by themselves. Beer was consumed, emergency measures were undertaken, from the silly to the sublime. The beer is, of course, an example of the sublime.

I've also realized that Afrikaans has two extremely irritating aspects:

(1) Its diacritics. It loves letters like ô ê ï ë. Do you know what a pain in the butt it is to write these letters in Word? Should I growl at Word rather than at my mother tongue? The Hero, being The Hero, blithely ignores all diacritics in his translation; I, being a compulsive-obsessive anal-retentive copy-editor, have to redo them with much muttering, mumbling and grumbling.

(2) The lingering use of the polite form of the second-person personal pronoun. English – such an uncomplicated language! – has you, French has the familiar tu and the formal vous, German has the familiar du and the formal Sie, Japanese has … oh dear … how many different humble, standard, polite and exalted forms does Japanese have? Lots. Anyway, Afrikaans has the familiar jy and the formal u, but u has become almost obsolete. It's used so rarely that it sounds hideously pompous, pretentious and just plain stupid. I thought I was rid of it, but here it is, popping up in this Very Official Bureaucratic Kind Of Document. I don't like this address form. U gat. Thine arse.

Pronouns are unnecessary complications. Languages should get rid of them. This whole he/she thing is driving me nuts. The only way to avoid he/she is to use a singular they – a grammatical blasphemy that usually sends copy-editors into a froth – but I'm ready to hands-up. What's good enough for Chaucer is good enough for me. Here's a line from The Canterbury Tales, circa 1400:

And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,
They
 wol come up …

(Whoso is syntactically singular, but it's followed by a plural they.)

This editing job has increased my Japanese vocabulary exponentially. I
now know at least 2 117 new words, such as 領置物
, that I will never be able to use in ordinary conversation. It's enough to drive a woman off THEIR edge. 

PS: S
erendipity. Just before I published this post, I noticed that No-sword wrote this post about Japanese pronouns. We're on opposite ends of the scale – he's a total guru and I'm a barbaric beginner – but I really enjoy his blog. Highly recommended.

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