A Subeditor Never Sleeps

“Have You Subbed My Schnitzel?” Now, that’s a statement my work colleague, Dan, never thought he would say in casual conversation. But indeed, he just did say it. And it was in response to one of those truly terrible sentences that often escape people’s lips: “I dreamt about you last night”. Scarily, those words just left my lips. The horror.

Let me backtrack. Last night, I had the weirdest dream ever. (Uh oh, here she goes.) Stick with me. So this dream was remarkable for one reason; it was the first time ever that I’ve properly dreamt about my job. And I don’t mean I dreamt about my office. No, that would be far too prosaic. This time, I dreamt about my actual job.

In fact, I dreamt about — in great detail — subbing a Word document written by my colleague. With tracked changes on. (Could it get any nerdier?) Apparently this content piece was a recipe for breaded meat. Hence, Dan’s “have you subbed my schnitzel?” retort. Don’t let anyone tell you that editors are lacking in humour, now.

But this dream, and my subsequent conversation, did make me realise one thing: a subeditor — whether in a newsroom, publishing house or content agency — never really stops subbing. And just like Freddy Krueger, subbing is now invading my dreams. Fortunately, unlike Freddy Krueger, subbing does not taunt or kill people with sharp knives. Though it may feel that way to the more sensitive of writers….

Hello, I’m Robocop

For those that don’t understand what a subeditor does, let me paint a picture. Each and every day I sit down at work to edit documents and spot mistakes, grammatical inconsistencies and style inaccuracies. Some stories may need a new headline and some change to the syntax; some may require a great deal of fact checking and research. Most mistakes are minor, but the odd large mistake can slip through. Believe it or not, writers and editors are human. And all humans make mistakes. So it’s my job to act as quality control, aka, the last line of defence.

My’s? That’s not a word. And never will be. Off to the chopping block with you!"

I love my job. I love taking a piece of work and keeping the writer’s voice but giving it a bit of a tweak here and there to improve it for the reader. I like checking facts and writing creative headlines. I like following a style guide and ensuring that we don’t say percent, per cent and % in the one story, or South-East Asia, Southeast Asia or South East Asia. See, using an inconsistent style is incorrect and jarring to the reader. So, it’s my job to improve and protect the work. Think of me as the Robocop of Words. Without the cyberpunk action or cool costume, alas.

Addicted to Error-Hunting

However the flipside to having a job that requires me to spot mistakes is that I find it difficult to turn that part of my brain off completely. In fact, I feel like I have a metaphysical red pen in my hand at all times. I am surrounded by opportunities to sub everywhere. I proofread street signs, advertisements, lost-and-found posters, menus, nametags, emails, greeting cards, social media content, billboards, car stickers. You name it. I sub it.

The other day while sitting in my car at a red light, I started tut-tutting under my breath at the bus idling alongside me. Not because of a traffic violation, but because there was a poster on the bus door riddled with grammatical mistakes, including one of my pet peeves: the incorrect usage of the possessive apostrophe. “Stand back from the bus door’s,” announced the sign in big red print. Why oh why oh why does the “door” need an apostrophe? You see, doors is plural for door. The door can’t own anything. So why is it spelled door’s instead of doors? It reminds me of a box sitting on my friend’s bookshelf that says, “Photo’s”. That apostrophe is just taunting me.

Likewise, when I’m standing at an elevator, I can’t help but correct the mistakes on a building management notice glued to the wall. “Re-cycle your rubbish” is not technically that bad, but it is incorrect. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s “recycle” not “re-cycle”, so the hyphen is unnecessary. Combined with the notice on the opposite wall screaming, “Be NICE To Your Neighbours and empty your bin CORRECTLY!!!” in a mixture of sentence case, title case and capital letters, and I fear I will never empty my bins again for fear of running into such inaccuracies again.

My TV is A Turn-Off

Even TV is not immune from my wrath. Fortunately, these usually make me laugh and despair in equal measure. The mixed metaphors being trundled out in interviews on reality TV shows are my favourite. For example, last week, a contestant on the British edition of The Apprentice looked to camera and said, in all seriousness, “well, that’s us on the chopping board, then.” The idiocy of mixing up “chopping block” and “chopping board” creates what Aussie comedian Rob Sitch once described simply as “champagne comedy”.

The lowbrow American dating show The Bachelor is also good for a laugh. Why say “our love affair” when you can say “Josh and my’s love affair”, or even better, “My’s and Josh’s love affair.” My’s? That’s not a word. And never will be. Off to the chopping block with you!

Another recent fave was a contestant on Bachelor in Paradise who said something like, “but we were conversating really well”. Conversating? Uh, don’t you mean conversing? Quite simply dude, you do not get a rose.

Nightmares and Nasty Songs

So, let’s go back to my dream (nooooo!) where I was subbing my colleague Daniel’s article. Midway through eyeballing the document, my esteemed teammate and lovely friend who would never raise his voice, actually, can you believe it, raised his voice! He was unhappy that I was making changes to his document. Cue a frenzied battle between creative content writer and subeditor.

Unfortunately, just as things were getting interesting, I woke up. However, now that I’m writing this blog, I have decided to use creative licence and turn my dream into a reality TV gladiatorial battle, complete with shonky interviews and mixed metaphors. Think of a singing battle a la The Voice. Dan could emerge from the blue corner warbling “Stand By Your Writer” and I could slink out from the red corner singing “Subbing is a Battlefield”. It would be epic. And if I am interviewed later and say, “my’s and Dan’s battle was amazing”, I may never sleep, dream or sub again.