Tuesday, October 9, 2007

on proofreading

Professor Diane Murley forwarded this story:

"This particular bump made me think of my old journalism teacher at the University of Minnesota, Robert Lindsay, a gruff man with a big shiny head with a deep dent in it. The dent looked like a direct hit by a mortar shell. Professor Lindsay had fought in World War II and the Korean War as a U.S. Marine, retiring with the rank of captain, and now he was teaching a writing course to sophomores five days a week, a fresh assignment every day.

"Though we were in journalism, none of us spoke up in class and asked Mr. Lindsay how he got that dent in his head. We were scared of him. He had a rule that any writing assignment that contained a misspelling would be an automatic F, which struck us as horribly unfair. What if you wrote something utterly brilliant but had misspelled one little teeny-tiny word? 'If you're not sure, look it up,' he said. 'Learn what to be sure of and what not to be.'

"We think we want teachers for our children who will nurture and encourage them (You Are All Special, Each In Your Own Way, So Be Yourself And Follow Your Dream), but Mr. Lindsay was a teacher who gave good value. I was not a proofreader when I enrolled in his course and when I got out, I was. I still am. Simple as that. And he brought an ex-Marine's eye to lit'ry pretensions that had served me well in high school and he triple-underlined them and wrote, 'What's this about?' in the margin. And sometimes 'B.S.' And once he wrote, 'Oh for God's sake.'"

Garrison Keillor, A Good Hard Bump, Salon, Aug. 29, 2007



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