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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Subs and Eds (& Contributors): Take note!

When I got back from a week-long trip to India last Monday, I planned to write several posts about the trip, but a bout of food-poisoning (caught here ... and furthering my resolve to stay away from 5-Star Cuisine) has laid me low. So, until I am back in action - in a couple of days at most - I thought I'd share a particularly delightful piece from the Guardian. While Giles Coren - quoted in full below - makes a solid case (and the response from The Time's subs, imho, is a poor effort at one-upmanship), it is to the credit of The Times to have responded in another newspaper and The Guardian to have published Coren's piece, in the first place. It also highlights the maturity of the press in the UK. I doubt if such an exchange could have been possibly published, in a daily of such a vast readership, in the USA or any other part of the Free[Speech] World. Several friends and I have been victims of sub-editorial misdemeanors, often at the hands of twerps still unweaned, it seems, from their Radiant Way series. I hope this will help both sides of what should not be a divide to start thinking about the process. (Subs & Eds have my sympathies, too. To those who submit the trash that these poor guys have to wade through daily, Giles offers one helluva lesson on what good, precise writing requires. Learn from it!) And now to Giles Coren: frequently controversial, as a quick peek at this Wikipedia entry will show, but, in the true Oxbridge tradition, delightfully witty, barbed, and almost always fun to read. Here’s Giles Coren's letter to Times subs: Caution (or Temptation?): Strong Language Ahead! — ZAK

Wednesday July 23 2008 Chaps, I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don't know who I am supposed to be pissed off with (I'm assuming Owen, but I filed to Amanda and Ben, so it's only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn't here - if he had been I'm guessing it wouldn't have happened. I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on Saturday. It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend. I wrote: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh." It appeared as: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh." There is no length issue. This is someone thinking "I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and I know best". Well, you fucking don't. This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons. 1) 'Nosh', as I'm sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardization of the German 'naschen'. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, 'nosh', means simply 'food'. You have decided that this is what I meant and removed the 'a'. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, 'nosh' means "a session of eating" - in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of 'scoff'. You can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. The sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what I meant. Why would you change a sentence so that it meant something I didn't mean? I don't know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it's easy. Not. A. Word. Ever. 2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, I was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as "sexually-charged". I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y. I have used the word 'gaily' as a gentle nudge. And "looking for a nosh" has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is Soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. "Looking for nosh" does not have that ambiguity. The joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you've fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking Jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking christ, don't you read the copy? 3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittiest of all, you have removed the unstressed 'a' so that the stress that should have fallen on "nosh" is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you're winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can't you hear? Can't you hear that it is wrong? It's not fucking rocket science. It's fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck. I am sorry if this looks petty (last time I mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word I got in all sorts of trouble) but I care deeply about my work and I hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you've been subbing Joe and Hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think "hey ho, it's tomorrow's fish and chips" - well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on Sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. Weird, maybe. But that's how it is. It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. I've got a review to write this morning and I really don't feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and I'm going to have another weekend ruined for me. I've been writing for The Times for 15 years and I have never asked this before - I have never asked it of anyone I have written for - but I must insist, from now on, that I am sent a proof of every review I do, in PDF format, so I can check it for fuck-ups. And I must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way I can carry on in the job. And, just out of interest, I'd like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy. Right ... Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger, can make a man verbose. All the best. Giles © Guardian News and Media Limited 2000

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

I think I would've been far more impressed if Mr. Coren had been confident enough to write this minus the profanities. The use of profanities seems to betray a serious lack of self-confidence on the part of the writer, at least to me, regardless of his/her reputation/credentials/celbrity status. It apears as if he/she believes that it wouldn't be quite as hard-hitting a piece, if no profanities were used.

I am not willing to buy the argument that the writer was very angry at the time of writing and, hence, the use of profanities is justified, because that, to me, implies a serious lack of self-control and, therefore, strength of character.

I do see the point that Mr. Coren is trying to make with respect to the removal of the indefinite article, but also believe that he and all the readers of The Guardian could have done without the sensationalism.

10 August, 2008 00:23

Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...


'Celbrity' was meant to be 'Celebrity', of course.


10 August, 2008 00:36

Anonymous rahmat masih said...

Honoured sir ... these 'profanities' are quite acceptable today as a legitimate means of expression. After all, The Guardian did not flinch from publishing it without resorting to asterisks. And, often, nothing underscores or express feelings better than expletives. No euphemisms or substitutions will do. I mean I could hardly say 'globules' to your views and feel satisfied ...

10 August, 2008 00:40

Blogger Fawad Zakariya said...

Coren's diatribe is hilarious. He is certainly angry but there is a knowingness to this over the top tirade. BTW, New York editors would never have made this stupid mistake that was made in England. Going for a nosh in New York is not even exotic. It is a commonly used expression of Jewish/Yiddish origin that has been happily adopted broadly.

10 August, 2008 04:15


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