Monday, February 21, 2005

Goodbye to a grammarian

The New Yorker has a reverent obit on Eleanor Gould (by David Remnick, no less), who worked at the magazine 54 years, mostly as grammarian, a title created for her that was retired with her.
A typical "Gould proof" was filled with the lightly pencilled tracery of her objections, suggestions, and abbreviated queries: "emph?" "ind.," "mean this?" She confronted the galley proofs of writers as various as Joseph Mitchell, J. D. Salinger, Janet Flanner--well, everyone, really. She did a proof on every nonfiction piece published in the magazine. Even a writer as determinedly vernacular as Pauline Kael, who initially found Miss Gould's suggestions intrusive, came to accept them--many of them, anyway--with gratitude. Her reading was detached, objective, scientific, as if she somehow believed that a kind of perfection in prose was possible. Like Bobby Fischer's sense of the chessboard, her feel for English was at a higher level than the rest of us--we editors and writers--could hope to glimpse.
Read about her language peeves, some amusing anecdotes on her "over-editing" ("Miss Gould once found what she believed were four grammatical errors in a three-word sentence") and what she did in her free time.

And if you're still looking for a copy-editing hero, she sounds like a good candidate.


At 8:58 PM, February 21, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Maybe Kilpatrick mentioned this, but his idea of "portmanteau sentences" seems closely related to the "indirection" despised by Miss Gould.

(In newspaper writing, I'm afraid, we're stuck with such things, though we should go after egregious non sequiturs.)

At 9:02 PM, February 21, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Kilpatrick did not mention it.

And I believe that may set a record for quickest post-to-comment time.


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