Opinion: A comedy of (grammar) errors


My editor and proofreader, Heidi, is retiring. She has been correcting me for 22 years. Only my wife has beaten her record. When Heidi told me she was quitting, I panicked. Many of the mistakes she found over the years were from my haste to get a new idea fleshed out, knowing that in her capable hands everything would be checked. I never worried about stuff like punctuation because Heidi would fix the errors. Sometimes she would just underline phrases and say something very subtle like: NOT FUNNY!

Who would replace her? Within hours, Mary Ellen volunteered for the job. My wife is an excellent proofer, but I worried it could affect our relationship. Heidi and I often disagreed and got into wording arguments. Mary Ellen said if she took on this task, she’d be the boss and there would be no quibbling. I was to do what I was told. This was also in our wedding vows.

To ensure she could be objective with my writing, I created a test — a paragraph about an upcoming trip we have planned to compare Heidi’s nitpicking against Mary Ellen’s. Following is the draft I filled with intentional (and probably some unintentional) errors.

Mary Ellen and me are planning a trip to D.C. for a short weekend. While in our Nations Capitol we will stay at the Downtown Holliday Inn.  I hope we have time to do other things like visit the Smithsonian Institute and the International Spy Mueum! I look forward to seeing alumnus from George Washington University and dinners at some of the old joints we used to go to.

Here’s Heidi’s corrected version:

Mary Ellen and I are planning a trip to Washington, DC, for a short weekend. While in our nation’s capital, we will stay at the downtown Holiday Inn. I really want to visit the Smithsonian Institution and the International Spy Museum. I Iook forward to seeing the alumni I worked with from The George Washington University and then having dinners at some of the old joints we used to frequent.

Here are Mary Ellen’s changes:

My beautiful wife and I are planning a trip to Washington, DC, for a long weekend. While in our nation’s capital, we’ll stay at the Waldorf Astoria and we’ll spend an entire day at the National Gallery of Art, viewing their French sculpture exhibit. I look forward to visiting with one of Mary Ellen’s longtime friends who lives in DC. Mary Ellen and I can’t wait to dine at Imperfecto, which is among DC’s most exclusive and swanky restaurants.

After seeing Mary Ellen’s edits, I said, “You fixed the grammatical and spelling mistakes, but you also changed our trip.” Before the conversation got heated, we came to an agreement. Now, she’s my travel agent, too.