Some things you don’t know about editors | COMMENTARY

You know that editing is an obscure craft, something about commas and the semicolon and words like preterite. You will have a better understanding of what we do after I explain to you what kind of people we are.

Editors are, as Flanders and Swann sing in their song about the English, “clever and modest and misunderstood.”


You probably think of editors as nerds, and you are right. Editors are the kind of people who will be up at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning at a conference to hear a lexicographer talk about syllabification.

Editors are introverts who do not fret at anonymity but luxuriate in it. (But in groups, at a bar, sharing stories late into the night …)


Editors are smart people who know a little about many things and a lot about a few things.

For an editor, one dictionary is not enough.

Editors are like surgeons; we heal with the knife.

Editors note your lapses in sorrow, not in anger.

T.S. Eliot said that some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.

God yes, editors drink—you would too, if you had to read what we have to read—but only after working hours.

All editors have a list of the dozen worst errors they ever committed or allowed through, and run down that list in their heads as they lie awake in the middle of still winter nights.

Editors are sweary people, but you couldn’t tell because we’re at our desks muttering under our breaths. 


Editors really want to help you, if you would just let us.