Skip to content

100 Fleeting Thoughts on Information

Today’s topic: Stylebooks

blog! from work! blog! blog! from work!

So through my original job in PHARMACEUTICALS ADVERTISING BUM BUM ****BUMMMMM**** I have now secured a position as a proofreader of medical texts. I have never worked to AMA style before, and I thought it would be difficult, but really, picking it up was no harder than picking up AP style; I feel quite fluent already.

What difficulties there are come in two flavors. The first is not losing my lunch over how totally slack and pathetic AMA style is. When it actually has a point, most of it seems geared to making things incomprehensible. Acronyms are encouraged to spread like mold. Periods are removed after abbreviations to the extent that confusion runs rampant (is that an abbreviation? an element? a short word? sheesh!). The very straightforward hyphenation rules in AP style are nowhere to be found, replaced by what look to me like a few vague suggestions about some times when maybe a hyphen might be a good idea, sorta. C’mon, now. My training was in Strunk and White style! I don’t have time for your slack-ass pathetic can’t-be-bothered-to-be-neater-than-doctors’-handwriting style! I demand clarity!

It really does take up time puzzling out AMA style directives, and this is problem number two. The bulk of my hours go not towards cleaning up errors in the original text, but towards Talmudic debate with the other editors in the office about how to capitalize and punctuate things like “No. 1 McFarland standard.”

Somehow I hadn’t expected this. You have a stylebook: it should define things to the point where you are ultimately able to arrive at an immaculate, standardized piece of text. But such is not the case. Specifically under AMA standards I think this problem is exacerbated, but there are bound to be problems anywhere. One editor forgets you don’t put a period after Inc or Ltd; that error is re-introduced to clean copy; you, on the other hand, do remember that rule, and have to fix it again later, maybe in multiple places. The current batch of papers we are working on was begun without an in-house stylesheet as an addendum to the AMA book, and I imagine we’re going to have to go back and fix all sorts of earlier errors once the printer proofs come in. Human error creates a certain measure of heat and noise even within the biosphere of the editorial level; we’re really making work for ourselves.

Most people in the world, obviously, have no idea what goes on at this level of text production, not even well-educated people. The doctors we get these articles from have a very different style of citing references than the ones we use; I imagine they learned them in college, because they all seem to be consistent to each other rather than to AMA style.

I’m not looking down on anyone for poor spelling; far from it. Once I thought spelling and punctuation were the alpha and omega of standards for determining a person’s intelligence; thank god, meeting a broader range of people at Hampshire, and classes on linguistics I took there, broke me of that. At this point in time I am quite happy to ignore the grammatical failings of people who aren’t proofreaders or other castes of the word junkie hierarchy. None of that matters, so long as people are communicating clearly; and since everyone’s brains are wired to learn language most people are quite adequate at that.

Among proofreaders and Scrabble players, though, I reserve the right to be an uninhibited asshole about linguistic superiority. I am the best goddamn proofreader in New York City. Sucka MCs may call me sire. I reserve the right to claim superiority over this miserable little postage-stamp of intelligence.

and that’s why I actually have a third problem with AMA style — sudden-onset hysteria every time I have to [this section excised]

yeah. losing my shit over that one.

When I manage to step back from it all and realize it’s not really important to me to stand toe-to-toe with him and defeat him at Scrabble, it’s all quite pathetic. Just about every stylebook I’ve seen begins with a preface claiming that the clarity resulting from good style is crucial to maintaining order in the world. But that’s never what it comes down to. It comes down to inserting commas, and then removing them again, and agonizing over whether you’ve done the right thing. It’s a colossal waste of time. And we get paid well for it, especially for moving commas the AMA way. We get $35, $40, $50 an hour. Meanwhile, home-based workers who care for the elderly, infirm, and children struggle to make a wage at all.

What. What?! I don’t have solutions. Leave me alone.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *