The pleasure of words
Editors are “word people.” Or perhaps were. Editors of academic journals now may rarely get their hands “wordied” as they promote their journal’s strategic development, the flow of material, and happy relations among all parties. But what got me to my job as executive editor of The Journal of Pacific History was a love of words. Words drew me to this line of work. Ultimately they are a joy.
So I would like to share some insights sharpened by preparing articles for our journal. I refer particularly to articles by non-native speakers of English. For a significant number of our authors, English is a second language. For a smaller number, English is their third, fourth, fifth language or more. This is especially so for authors from islands where many languages are spoken.
Again and again, I see how the wrong words pass spell-checks and elude any editors who tidied a manuscript before it came to us. I still chuckle when I recall the author who described “bear-chested women.” As one reviewer remarked, that would be a sight to behold! But again and again I see words that escape expert readers too. Luckily, our final preparation of an author’s manuscript can catch many of these unintended errors!
I often wonder why articles by non-native speakers of English can be so pleasurable to edit. I suspect many of these authors try extra hard to find the best way to communicate their meaning. Their texts are often written with some quality of intense, embattled thought. Someone like me is somehow helped by the traces of this struggle.
In the end, authors and editors aim for the same thing: for words that fly on their own wings, off the page or the screen, to our readers! So we all rejoice in that result.
Did I wish I knew the pleasure of editing articles by non-native speakers before this became a regular satisfaction of my job? Maybe not – maybe I’m glad for this serendipity.