Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Lessons from Bremner

I received a wonderful DVD, "John Bremner: Guardian of the Newsroom," of John Bremner teaching a seminar, and it's worthy of sharing. So, here's a pretty faithful transcript. Although not all of this will translate perfectly to the written word, I think there's merit in avoiding paraphrases. Read what you like, and skim the rest. But there are a lot of editing lessons in here.

I've broken it into several days' worth.

A narrator begins by informing that Bremner had an unusual start in the editing world. He was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1920. He was ordained a priest and first worked for a Catholic publication. After he moved to the States, he earned his master's at Columbia and his doctorate at the University of Iowa. In 1968, he left the priesthood, and he joined the KU faculty the next year. This DVD is from a seminar for young journalism professors at Indiana University in 1986.

What follows is Bremner:
My business is language. I teach editing, things like accuracy and consistency and suspicion and imagination and fairness and general knowledge and saturation of the liberal arts and all that stuff. In back of it all is the language, and you're not going to get anywhere as a student or as an instructor -- as a pro, even -- unless you are thoroughly immersed in this language. This bastard language of ours, English, which takes its roots from so many different languages from all over the world, not just Latin and Greek.

And you have to be a master of this language. I know it's ideal, but it's also a fact. The first way to teach students to be a master of this language is through a dictionary.

You say, "Well, anyone can use a dictionary." That's not true. You don't look up a dictionary just to see how a word is spelled. That's part of it. I'll never look up anything unless I check the derivation, check the etymology. Looking up a word in the dictionary, this really exposes you to so many other words in the language and expand your vocabulary.

The second way to teach them, and this is tough -- not through the dictionary. You have to teach them -- excuse my using the word -- grammar. The first of the trivium in the classical liberal arts: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

I don't apologize for saying it. It's become sophisticated to say that you don't teach students grammar. Bologna! There's no such thing as a literary genius in elementary school or high school, and I would dare say even college.

(Singing) Do, a deer, a female deer. Re, a drop of golden sun. Do re mi fa so la ti do. (speaking) Where do we get that, by the way? You've been singing that since you learned it at your mother's knees, or some other joint. I don't know, but you learned it. Why do we sing do re mi fa so la ti do?

All music, ultimately -- or Western music, anyway -- Western music, comes from the scale. ... And all English language comes from the seven parts of speech. And one of the tricks of learning the language, to become a master of the language, is to put these things together. It's what's called syntax. You get into logic then, how to put them together logically. And then you get into rhetoric. (And not the debasement of the word rhetoric as we have it today. That's a bunch of rhetoric, we can't believe rhetoric. Rhetoric is the science, the art of persuasion of inducing beauty and ... to persuade people, to appreciate what you--

Noun, verb, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition and conjunction. There you have it. That's what it's all about.


At 6:39 PM, May 19, 2004, Blogger Paul said...

Our deputy editor buys Words on Words in bulk when she visits the United States.

At 6:52 PM, May 19, 2004, Blogger Nick said...

Folks might keep an eye on Barnes & Noble's clearance tables. One of our editors here in Wichita managed to buy a copy of Words on Words for every one of his teammates at about $3 apiece.

At 11:07 PM, May 19, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

Hmph. I paid considerably more than $3.

At 1:26 PM, September 16, 2007, Anonymous Becky Y said...

Thank you for this tribute to a giant intellect. It was my second experience of fright/love (first was my dad). I was a KU grad student in 1978; thought I was pretty damn smart until Copy Editing I. One of my greatest thrills was knowing the answers to two of his class-wide questions-- "Does ANYONE know the ANSWER?-- You? You!? YOU!!??" He nearly burst trying to give us his knowledge. I miss him.


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