[The first installment is here.]
In writing these posts about writing words, I looked up the word “wordsmith” to make sure it was properly one word and not two, and I also confirmed another thing I suspected about it: common dictionaries do not show a verb use of “wordsmith.” So, it is currently proper to say “Joe is a good wordsmith,” but it is not (yet) correct to say “Joe, would you wordsmith this for me?” I intentionally left “wordsmithing” in the title/slug of these blogposts, because it was more important to me to have three parallel gerunds there than to be proper with a figurative word.
As time passes, words do change in meaning and in usage; modern dictionaries tend to be good repositories of information on relatively current usage. Incidentally and yet substantively, I originally led that last sentence with “Over time,” but thought better and changed it to “As time passes.” “Over time” is an awkward prepositional phrase I tend to avoid, but I don’t think it’s as bad as “over $10,000.” (It is better to say “more than $10,000.”)
Recently, I “caught” (when you read that figure of speech, do you think of trapping or fishing or baseball or a virus or a “catch” in a skeletal joint?) a couple of typos for a coworker, and she caught an error or two of mine in another document. Sometimes this kind of collaboration can work really nicely, especially when a writer isn’t too proud to admit mistakes—or the potential benefit of a minor (wordsmith’s) change. My use of a dash in that last sentence reminds me that, many years ago, a coworker was very humble in accepting my proofreader’s suggestions for his writing, but he absolutely hated the dash. I, on the other hand, love the dash. I find it very expressive, helpful in communication, and under-used in most other people’s writing . . . so I overuse it in my writing, to a fault.
I have of course discovered more errors in my own writing than I care to admit. There will probably still be one or two in this post, even after I revised based on the second draft (below) or the third (not shown—there was too much red on it).
My aggregate number of written errors would be well into seven figures, I figure. (Was that a clever use of a figure of speech or an annoying redundancy?) I recently completed revisions of two of my books, having corrected several outright errors and having improved several other transitions and expressions, but I’m sure there are still errors present. My father has discovered quite a few of my errors in various readings of my stuff. He almost always knows whereof he speaks—far more than I—but sometimes he doesn’t know the jargon of a certain sphere of thought, or I simply might not care to be “correct” on this or that point, choosing rather to leave things consistently nonstandard instead of going to the trouble to force 47 instances to conform.
Most readers know that I care very deeply about scriptural text. However, I am not one who holds to the popular evangelical doctrine of inerrancy. Primarily, I refer here to minor scribal errors—those that involve “jots”/”iotas” and misspellings and even word substitutions—but my disenchantment with the notion of inerrancy goes beyond these. Even the most contemporary, meta-evangelistic¹ statement I have seen about inerrancy, as pure-hearted as it seems to be, leaves me dissatisfied. I am quite certain that errors exist in many available foundational manuscripts from the early centuries CE, and I am not at all sure that God cares about any particular conception of inerrancy, as concocted by humans, even if some original autographs might one day be discovered. With that said, I will re-confess a little joy that came when I discovered and reported an error in an important Greek scripture e-text. You might want to read about that here, and don’t miss the wonderful quotation at the bottom from linguist Moisés Silva about mistakes.
Please know, again, that I’m all too aware that I myself am prone to error. It gives me strange pleasure, then, to find even one error in the work of a master writer. Here is an extract from chapter 46 of a John Grisham novel (The Chamber) I recently finished. I believe this is the first error I’ve ever found in any of the eight or ten of Grisham books I’ve read:
His proofreaders are great, but they missed that one. (One may “marshall forces,” but that’s the wrong spelling for the noun.) One particular proofreader friend of mind is the best I’ve ever personally known. I have served as a proofreader for a few others (notably, CH, GDC, and GLF) and have probably failed or annoyed the authors as much as I’ve helped them, but I persist with the pen as well as the computer keyboard. I’ll close this piece by sharing some proofreading marks I made on a corporate mass memo to its customer base. I think this memo would have benefited from more review and revision!
B. Casey, 2/12/17
¹ Here I mean to imply a figurative “evangelism” about the scripture which is, in turn, a core element in (non-figurative) evangelism. It is possible to be “evangelistic” about scriptures without being evangelistic (good-news-sharing-oriented) about Jesus.