Correct me if I'm wrong ...;Talkback;Opinion

17th April 1998 at 01:00
TES sub-editors have obliged Richard Daubney by not changing his copy. Here's why

I hate being corrected. If ever this gets into print I'd hate it if some sub-editor had been through it correcting my English. Because the way you write is so personal. Check: did that last sentence begin with because?

When I'd just started grammar school, my dad was promoted from a job he could do to one he had problems with. Worst of all were his problems with English: minuting meetings, writing reports. He'd come home in the evenings with pages of foolscap and crossings out and he got very twanky (Thomas Hardy dialect word meaning cross, don't correct it). Someone, a grammar school boy (he himself was secondary mod), had just corrected his grammar. So he got twanky with me.

Our first English homework was to write about Greek myths in modern English and I wrote about Iole, the beloved of Hercules, and included the sentence: "Then Iole is very worried."

I still think to this day it's a good little sentence. It comes after a longer one. It starts with a preposition, but what's so bad about that? It has naturalness and vigour, it moves the story along.

"Then Iole is very worried," sarcastically grumbled my dad. "How's that for English grammar? Don't they teach them grammar at grammar school?" And so powerful was the impression I got from this self-taught corrector that when the English teacher gave the essay back with the "Then Iole . . . " sentence uncorrected, I simply assumed he hadn't noticed it.

I'm still being corrected. Me and a colleague - sorry, a colleague and I - have just been to visit an educational institution. I've had to write a report. What I saw at this educational institution was brilliant, superb. The teachers were wonderful, and I told them so. So in my report I include this perfect little workhorse of a sentence that goes: "The best classes we visited were indeed excellent, with variety of pace, and the kind of intellectual rigour that truly stuns the visitor."

Oh dear no, that will never do. The report had to be checked first by an intermediary and it was corrected. "We visited" went, with its sense of being there; "indeed" went (a mere superfluity, a reinforcement), excellent must stand alone, unqualified.

If you tell me I am excellent I shall be chuffed. If anybody ever tells me (and nobody ever has) I am indeed excellent I shall be dead chuffed.

"The kind of intellectual rigour that truly stuns" has been replaced by the bland phrase "activities designed to challenge and extend all students".

That must come out of a book of felicitous phrases. It could be describing anywhere and it means nothing.

The intermediary's comment is: "this sentence does not give the impression that you are making sound, professional judgments".

Sorry! To be professional, and sound, we must follow the pattern. We must not have style, we must not be different, we must not say what we truly think. We must not be indeed excellent. We must not actually be there. And we must not start a sentence with and.

Check, reader. Has the ghastly sub been at this? Does my last sentence finish with and?

Richard Daubney teaches in the South- east. He writes under a pseudonym

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