The internet has changed the way we live, work—and spell.
IMAGINE BEING A CHAMBERMAID at the Chateau Marmont after CourtneyLove just blew through, and you’ll have a good idea of the cleanup dutyfacing the 21st-century editor, what with the mess the internet dragged in.The digital revolution didn’t just blow a hole in the way commerce and communicationare done; it crashed headlong into the English language, leavingshards of grammar everywhere you step. Cyber became a prefix. A phenomenonthat can only be called intra-capitalization took hold: eBusiness,ePortfolio. Any principled word jockey has only one answer to that: eGads!It’s the editor, that most incidental of professions, who is tasked with siftingthrough the remains, to place this over here and that over there—toassign some order to all this chaos.
Take website…please. Tell me: Is it Web site or website? The former is too stiff, the latter a bit audacious. In cases such as this, language prefers to take its own sweet time. You have to log some time in word purgatory, as a hyphenate, that is, before being promoted from two words to one. That venerable warhorse ice-skating is still awaiting its papers. Perhaps it’s better to split the difference and go with web site. But that is just so Merriam-Webster’s Tenth Edition, don’t you think?
Who cares, you say? You, sir, are not an editor. Editors need things to be in their place, and this festival seating in cyberspace may be great for the creative mind, but for the fussy one, the one that craves rules, it’s no party. And don’t get me started on these internet companies that want me to put their names in all lowercase letters. Yeah, that’ll happen…when monkeys fly out of my Strunk and White guide, it will!
We’ve held meetings on this sort of thing. Serious ones. The kind without bagels. Recently, we took up whether to attach http:// to web addresses that don’t take the www prefix. To be frank, I lost. I’m not a fan of those little buggers—aesthetically, they’re an atrocity. They look like profanity symbols to me. As in, I hate those *^$#@ things! Clarity before beauty, I suppose.
That was a minor skirmish. I once had a boss who ordered me to misspell doughnuts. He wanted it spelled donuts. He said doughnut was snooty; donut was the people’s word. And he punctuated the remark by jamming one arm into the crook of the other, and jerking that other arm up, which was his way of flipping the bird to all those wispy, over-refined dandies who insist on spelling words correctly.
I don’t know what the proletariat thinks of website, but I know a line I once read: The good editor knows the rules; the great editor knows when to break them. There’s no telling about the middling editor, but at any rate, website, you’re in. Ice-skating, we’ll keep your resume on file. If that makes you blanch, e-mail me about it. Or email me. Just don’t eMail me.
-Jeff Weinstock, Executive Editor
This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.