When not to edit

There’s a time to edit, and there’s a time when you’re just being a jerk. I was reminded of the latter recently during an occasion in which I — fortunately and out of character — restrained myself from editing.

A friend was digging through old things and discovered a report from the fifth grade. I was browsing — it is and was quite good, in fact — and almost immediately heard, “Please don’t edit that!” Two things left me in a fortunate position: I wasn’t about to burst out with a correction, and it was said in a nice way, more of a friendly caution than said in anger.

But not all of us heed this advice. Some occasions on when it may just be better not to edit:

Twitter and texting: Often, they’re one and the same. There’s a limited number of characters in both, and texting requires a certain typing ability that many people don’t have — and that doesn’t lend itself to accuracy for anyone. Both have a shorthand that’s essential to their success and ease of use. To edit this is to miss the point. (Also, receiving drunken texting? I don’t edit, but I do hold on to those.) The exception: Particularly on Twitter, if the tweet has a broken link, or is astoundingly offensive, without thought, etc. Also, if someone texts you naked photos you weren’t expecting, it’s probably polite to bring that up.

Facebook: To a point. Nothing is more ridiculous than being on Facebook, still the network for college-educated people, and seeing something that isn’t shorthand, isn’t English, isn’t even a dialect, but is just a pissing away of literacy. Still, unless it’s terribly offensive or is spam (i.e. FarmVille), is it worth it to make a big deal? Probably not.

Personal e-mail: E-mails between friends and family are rarely formal letters, and almost never official documents. Getting on them for not following a particular style book or a lack of capitalization is generally going to cause more problems than it will solve.
A professor I had in freshman English at what was then called Loyola College illustrated this point for us: He was a learned man, who loved poetry and actually conveyed that well enough (that I’ve possibly never truly read a poem since is not because of him; it’s that I choose to ignore the value he showed was there), but he was serious about his grammar, his spelling, and his language. But one day, he told us, a friend said, “Look, if you’re going to insist on perfection in e-mails, then I can’t continue to correspond with you.” And he accepted and relented without giving up anything in his teaching. The exception: Work correspondence, job applications and the like still have rules of decorum, grammar and format in e-mail.

Signs and posters: This, like most things in life, depends on context and situation. Surely, if you see someone about to print a sign or poster, and there’s a glaring error, tell them! If the sign is misleading to the point of destroying its message (an incorrect date or location for an event, say), mention it. If it would cause harm (perhaps a harmful chemical lacking proper illustration), let someone know.
But if you’re at an event, especially a nonprofit’s, and you see there’s an insignificant typo in the poster, tell your buddy, or laugh to yourself, but don’t tell the organizers. They can’t do anything about it then, it’s not essential, and you come off like an ass. At best.

For the sake of civility: If you’re going to edit, you should try to have some sort of goal or progress you’d like to make. Some kind of point, at least. If your answer to “Why edit?” is “Why not?” and nothing more, expect to stir up a lot of trouble. Also, expect people to extend the same courtesy to you.

All this being said, if there’s some horrible typo in this post, let me know. I probably deserve it.

Photo credit: Cieleke