Wit and Wisdom, with A Touch of Grammar for Good Measure

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By Julie McCay Turner

Benjamin Dreyer inscribing a copy of his book to Dot Bergin, A fellow practitioner – Image (c) JMcCT, 2019 all rights reserved – Click to view a larger image

The Bedford Citizen’s senior copy editor Dot Bergin was in the audience on Tuesday evening to hear Benjamin Dreyer, author of a current best-seller, Dreyer’s English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, who spoke to an SRO crowd at the Belmont Book Store.

At a time when wanna-be copy editors could walk into jobs, Dreyer was in the right place at the right time. After a turn as a freelance proofreader, he became a copy editor at St. Martin’s Press. He moved to Random House, eventually becoming vice president, managing editor, and copy chief.

Dreyer offered his suggestion for successful copyediting: “Read at least the first third of the work with your hands behind your back.” With an open mind, an author’s quirks have time to reveal themselves. What seems wrong or peculiar in the first few pages may instead be integral to the author’s voice.

“A copy editor’s job is to burnish an author’s writing,” Dreyer said, “and help it to become the best it can be.” The Citizen is fortunate that Bergin practices what Dreyer preaches.

A lively and entertaining speaker, Dreyer has named a grammar nerd’s equivalent of packing peanuts. His list includes oft-used but often useless amplifiers:  very, rather, really, quite, so, of course, [and,] in fact. Two more were added later; just, and actually.  An advocate of substituting stronger or more evocative nouns or verbs, Dreyer’s Twitter feed suggests brilliant instead of very smart, exhausted for very tired, and ravenous to replace hungry.

Editor’s Note: The Bedford Citizen will launch ‘Dot’s Reading Room’ at www.thebedfordcitizen.org on her birthday next week. Visitors will discover an ongoing selection of interesting articles chosen by Bergin to highlight the current state of journalism, First Amendment rights, and (quite possibly) grammar.