Letters from the Editor

Monday, December 1, 2008

It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes we get hate-mail. Well, not so much hate-mail as nit-picky mail--where a subscriber finds a single typo or misused term and then sends us a really long letter dwelling on how our negligence sent him into catatonic shock. These letters always end with the line,

"If you need help editing your articles, I'm an excellent proofreader and work cheap!"

It's obnoxious because letters like these are never written with the intent of improving the magazine; they're written so the author can show off how much of a smarty-pants he is and how big of a dumb-head we all is.

And so we occasionally bite back.

For example, a few years ago, one of our subscribers spent 1500 words and probably the better part of an afternoon expressing his dissatisfaction with an article that, in a casual aside, translated the German word verein as truly. We wrote this in response:


You are truly correct: Mr. Smith's command of the German language is obviously, vastly inferior to your own.

And we are truly ashamed, not only with Mr. Smith's flagrant deficiencies in the Teutonic tongue, but also with our own staff, who failed to catch the error, and especially with our German editor, whom we have since dismissed and shot. Hans had been with us for years, but clearly such monstrous neglect was unacceptable.

In closing, let's just make a deal: We'll tell Smith to stick to English if you just stick to Deutsch. Truly – or, as they say in the old country, "verein."

Then again, given that the guy was a doctor, the opportunity cost was much more bitter than anything we could come up with.

But it still bug us.

Yeah, we make mistakes, but in a 70-page magazine with an average of 500 words per page--35,000 words--you're bound to overlook something, and if there's one mistake among those 35,000, you're still looking at a percentage of error that's so close to zero it may as well be.

What'd really be fun is to show our readers what most of the articles look like before we edit them--with all the authors' meandering sentences, cliches, and violent fluctuations in diction included.

But in the end, it's the occasional nit=picky letter that reminds you you're running a quality publication--if errors were common, none of your readers--whatever few you had--would bother pointing them out.