Friday, May 20, 2005

Condescending to readers

Christopher Hitchens shares some thoughts on editors in an interview with Stop Smiling Magazine.
I used the word "Promethean" and the [magazine editors] said, "Take that out because people won't know what Promethean means." I said, "Maybe they won't. I'll cut it out if you give me another synonym for it. You give the words that would stand in for it and I'll change it." "There doesn't seem to be one," they said. "No, there isn't, is there?" You either know what "Promethean" means or you don't. If you do, it saves you about 50 words. And if you don't, then you can look it up! So I said, "No. I'm going to keep it, because it's an important word and it's actually not condescending to Americans in the least. You have to condescend far more by finding the 50-word substitute. No, I won't change it. Fuck you. And I don't mean to publish in your magazine, either, for that matter."

I'm reading this review, and I happen to remember -- I forget what the review was of -- but they mentioned Tolstoy. This sentence said, "This is reminiscent of the 19th Century Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy." Now, clearly, the author [of the review] had not written this. But someone had thought, "Not all our readers know who Tolstoy is. We better tell them." This is ridiculous! If you don't know who he is, that doesn't tell you any more than what you don't know.

(Link via Bookslut)


At 9:04 AM, May 21, 2005, Blogger aparker54 said...

I can generally do without Hitchens, but I agree with him here. There's far too much dumbing down in the news biz, and we probably lose a lot of readers that way. Space *is* tight, too — why waste it with needless explanations that, as Hitchens says, ruin the flow of the prose?

At 11:40 AM, May 21, 2005, Anonymous leebert said...

I find I can't read the NYTimes without a dictionary handy. Good. I need the challenge. Is there no end to the goal of keeping readers at all costs? Create a world of dumb asses and at some point they won't be able to read your paper.

At 3:00 PM, May 21, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Hitchens's implied advice could be taken too far, of course, but I agree that treating the reader as a grown-up and even forcing the reader to stretch a little can be good things. Some of the periodicals I've treasured most in my life -- Mad when I was an adolescent, Spy when I was just out of college -- hit me with all sorts of new and initially confusing stuff.


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