11/11/2013. It’s worth noting here – this is the piece that almost got me fired from Future for insubordination. As I remember it, the day after I wrote this, I was called into an office by my editor, Steve Brown, and given a written warning for undermining him. In a later meeting, my publisher, James Binns, offered me lots of freelance work if I’d leave the company. I don’t necessarily hold the views I wrote, probably drunk and angry, in the piece at the time, but I defend my right to write them.
See, it’s a slippery slope. It could be argued that these aren’t matters of right and wrong, and are instead a question of imprecision. But they’re imprecisions I can’t deal with because, as I see it, these people approach their professions with imprecision, which implies that they neither respect nor love what they’re doing enough to care about getting it right.
Normally, I let things slide. I don’t mind minor errors, I don’t try to argue with the fanatics and I look upon friend’s idiocies as endearing foibles. When I do argue, it doesn’t bother me, it’s just a laugh. Yet in the last few weeks, my prissiness has got the better of me and I’ve started correcting people, complaining when I felt complaints needed to be made. Price is right (no pun intended) that our society no longer prizes accuracy. There’s almost a link between the lack of deference for linguistic standards and our society’s emphasis that everything is acceptable, a link even to *gasp* multiculturalism. Sounds like I’m being a bad liberal here, going against freedom doesn’t it? The claim is there is no standard, no norm but each individual has the right to do anything they want to; it lets people be sloppy, lets them claim that they’re ‘not wrong but just different.’ In terms of language, I’m afraid there is right and wrong and it’s a necessary moral system. Language is the essential tool for communicating ideas. If I mean something by a word and you mean something different by the same word, we find ourselves with an obstacle to communication.
Regarding his comments on “approaching professions with imprecision” I normally don’t love my profession; the standards for entry are far too low and set too low by our employers and it has fundamentally discouraged me over the years, making me not work as hard at my job as I could have and not respect myself or others for doing it. Eurogamer, notably, is one site that sets its standards relatively high and I have more respect for the people it employs. Edge magazine, despite my concerns over its increasingly populist focus, also has a care for correct, clear and useful language. However, Future’s magazines, particularly on the console side, seem to care little for talented writing and more for speed of copy production. If a job is advertised (which it often isn’t) we tend to employ the best of the limited selection of passable candidates who apply, rather than looking actively for an ideal candidate. I look at the sub-editors I admire, the ones who can turn lacklustre and poorly written copy into sparkling reams of perfectly fitted prose (their names reveal them to be uniformly women: Katharine Davies, Liz Raderecht, Vanessa Hards and Clare Lydon), and I find their numbers in decline and the respect for them sadly lacking. Those who are good are often discouraged by the mediocrity around them; our art staff, for example, are all immensely qualified and talented but it’s very rare that I see any of them doing original design or varying from templates. Notably our company pays its marketing and advertising personnel very well and promotes them to its top positions, seeing them as the key to larger profits. However, their profit is grounded in the editorial staff and if they’re no good or dissatisfied, and hence imprecise, then the magazine is no good.
Edit: So let’s trace that thought more clearly. I don’t like imprecisions in language because (wide reason) clear communication is necessary for the maintenance of society (assertion to be justified elsewhere) and because (narrow reason) words are my life. Imprecisions in language are on the rise because laxity is in general on the rise. Laxity is on the rise because our society made a choice in the 1960s to be more permissive and that choice accorded with the needs of the economy; that people’s history, knowledge and skills don’t matter so long as they can do the job that is available. Ah, balls, I’ve lost the thread again.
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