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"Edmon L. Rowell, Jr." <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 1 Dec 2003 16:59:15 -0500
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Re : Laura Cerruti's notice (a bit late--the notice that
is--wasn't it?) of Fishkin on Twain on NPR, especially her tag
quote regarding (superidiot) proofreaders. ("In the first place
God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made
proof-readers." --MT 1893)

    'Tis a cute e-mail tag, but a half-truth and so dead wrong.

Sometime storyteller and always curmudgeon Twain did indeed
verbally thrash and trash some of his "proof-readers." Rightly
so. (Some proofreaders and copy editors do take ourselves much
too seriously.) But Twain also praised some of them--if somewhat
begrudgingly. For example:

"And then there is that other thing: when you [the author] think
you are reading proof, whereas [N.B.] you are merely reading
your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and
vacancies but you don't know it, because you are filling them
from your mind as you go along. Sometimes--but not often
enough--the . . . proof-reader saves you--and offends you--with
this cold sign in the margin: (?) and you search the passage and
find that the insulter is right--it doesn't say what you thought
it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn't light the
jets." [Copy editor's note. We will just assume the present
readers understand that last antiquated figure?]
    --letter to Walter Bessant, 22 February 1898

Which of course is why responsible publishers insist on
proofreading (and copyediting if necessary)--Yes, even a Mark
Twain, and Yes, even if some overly zealous, prissily
presumptuous, superidiot copy editors (not just "proofreaders,"
Mr. Clemens) messed with some of his prose (and not just
_Huckleberry Finn_). And which--we may Sincerely Hope--explains
Laura Cerruti's part-truth: she knows there's another side to
Twain's estimate of "proof-readers." She assumes--we must
suppose--that we also know.


(Edmon L. Rowell, Jr.) senior editor
Mercer University Press

     "We can't be right
          about everything
               we believe.
          Thank God,
     we don't have to be."
--credo of the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua