Monday, February 22, 2010

Editing fail

This one has all the hallmarks of a really bad bit of editing -- made worse because the end result isn't just entirely grammatical, it makes sense in its own way too. It's very much not the same kind of sense that the original would have made, though, and "submit copy to copydesk at own risk" isn't the sort of message we want to be spreading.

Disclaimer: I'm speculating here. I wasn't at the scene and didn't see the original, so I'm trying to put the crime together from what's left at the scene. But I think it's a fairly good guess, so follow along and see what you think. Let me know if you disagree.

What we have here is a fairly nice feature story about a native who made good -- a guy bitten by the foreign-affairs bug in a seventh-grade debate class in a Detroit school who's coming back to talk about his career with the State Department at a couple of schools before taking up a new job in Washington. Cool so far?

The smoking gun is the transition into the second sentence: "He'll watch officers handle everything from ..." Walk it back a little. He's going to Washington to be a watch officer at the State Department. My guess is that the writer came up with "He'll handle everything from [blah] to [blah]." Somebody on the desk decided no, he can't be doing all that hisownself, and decided to make it "Watch officers handle everything from [blah] to [blah]."

In the course of the operation, somebody forgot to count the surgical tools. A scalpel was left inside the patient, and our protagonist, who's been a consular officer in China for the past couple years, ends up sounding like an intern: "He'll watch officers handle everything from [blah] to [blah]." And it's harder to pick out as an error because, aided by a little noun-verb ambiguity, all three subject-verb-object combinations work:

He'll handle everything
Watch officers handle everything
He'll watch officers handle everything

As I said, a guess. The writer doesn't seem too completely clued in, and the sentence could be original. But it looks a lot more like interference gone bad.

Thoughts?

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1 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I expect you're right - it went from him to them. (Now I'm picturing the same thing happening with "duty" officers, which would just be incoherent, and "deck" officers, which would be funny.)

But you have to admit: watching people schedule phone calls and check media would be a pretty sweet job. And by "sweet" I mean "boring".

5:24 AM, February 23, 2010  

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