Grammar, words and spelling are humiliating. I used to be good at this kind of thing in school, but going back to editing reminds me how shaky are the foundations of one’s knowledge. Where do commas go when you use quotation marks? Is ‘none’ singular or plural? Is ‘willpower’ one word or two? These are all questions that came up recently, and oftentimes the answer is not what I expected. I console myself that these differences are the little cracks between American and British English, but I think I’m fooling myself.
I only recently realised, for example, that I’ve always been saying ‘esconced’ for some reason. Only yesterday did I find out it should be ‘ensconced’, as I’m sure you all know. (Well, maybe not all of you: There are more than 5,000 sites where the word ‘esconced’ is used. But you’re right to laugh at me.)
This doesn’t stop me having my bugbears. I once nearly got myself fired for suggesting to his face that the then head of the multinational news organisation I was working for was using the word ‘enervated’ incorrectly, and that it meant the opposite of how it sounded. (It means ‘lacking energy’.)
Then I noticed a couple of newspapers recently have misspelled ‘loath’ as ‘loathe’. Loathe is the verb, loath is the adjective. I am loath to point such a thing out, but loathe it when I see the words misused.
I must stop being an editor. Two things happen: You quickly turn into a pedant, while at the same time realising that you knew far less about the English language than you thought you did.