Can word rage be worse than road rage? The other side of editing …

Someone isn’t very pleased with what happened to his copy in the hands of the Times subs. “Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.” Dedicated to 21C’s fabulous izers, who would never inspire such word rage. (And thanks to Olivia for sharing this Guardian article on Facebook. I LOVE it.)

Read Giles Coren’s letter to Times subs


I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don’t know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i’m assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it’s only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn’t here – if he had been I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened.

I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I’m really hoping it wasn’t you that fucked up my review on saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

I wrote: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh.”

It appeared as: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.”

There is no length issue. This is someone thinking “I’ll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and i know best”.

Well, you fucking don’t.
This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.
1) ‘Nosh’, as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardisation of the German ‘naschen’. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, ‘nosh’, means simply ‘food’. You have decided that this is what i meant and removed the ‘a’. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, ‘nosh’ means “a session of eating” – in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of ‘scoff’. you can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. the sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what i meant. Why would you change a sentnece aso that it meant something i didn’t mean? I don’t know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it’s easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.

2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, i was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as “sexually-charged”. I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y.. I have used the word ‘gaily’ as a gentle nudge. And “looking for a nosh” has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. “looking for nosh” does not have that ambiguity. the joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you’ve fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking christ, don’t you read the copy?

3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed ‘a’ so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.

I am sorry if this looks petty (last time i mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word i got in all sorts of trouble) but i care deeply about my work and i hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you’ve been subbing joe and hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think “hey ho, it’s tomorrow’s fish and chips” – well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. weird, maybe. but that’s how it is.

It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. i’ve got a review to write this morning and i really don’t feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and i’m going to have another weekend ruined for me.

I’ve been writing for The Times for 15 years and i have never asked this before – i have never asked it of anyone i have written for – but I must insist, from now on, that i am sent a proof of every review i do, in pdf format, so i can check it for fuck-ups. and i must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way i can carry on in the job.

And, just out of interest, I’d like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.

Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.
All the best


1 thought on “Can word rage be worse than road rage? The other side of editing …

  1. Brian Barder

    I only hope that the sub who received this magnificent tirade from Mr Coren found a painless way to kill him- or herself. I’m with G Coren all the way. Over the years I have written many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of letters to newspapers and magazines (mainly the Times and the Guardian); the majority have been published, but very few indeed have been published in the form that I had intended. In the more civilised days of the Times, until Murdoch’s takeover and moronification of a once great newspaper, the letters editor and his staff would never alter so much as a comma of a letter submitted for publication without the writer’s agreement. Because I’m by nature long-winded (what, you had never noticed?), the changes wanted by my friends at Times Letters often involved abbreviation. They would send me a suggested alternative version that was appreciably shorter. It was usually skilful and a fair representation of the original, but it would generally have cut points I preferred to keep, and kept points I would have been willing, if absolutely necessary, to sacrifice. So I would offer to produce yet another verion of the original, guaranteed to be no longer than the Times’s abbreviated text. Offer accepted, I sent in Mark III. This would usually prompt an extended telephone conversation in which we would go over the three texts, line by line, agreeing a tweak here, a slight expansion there, the excision of an adverb or even of a whole sentence somewhere else. I would explain the rationale underlying my objection to a Times substitution or omission; the Times would explain the motivation for the amendment to which I had objected. I have to admit that in perhaps seven out of ten cases, the finished and published product resulting from this extended dialectical process was better, crisper, clearer and more polished than my original text.

    The Guardian, by contrast, could never afford the staff numbers required for extended haggling over every verbal nuance of the stuff they were sent. Somertimes the version of my letters that the Guardian published could be recognised as having a connection with my letter as written and submitted only by the appearance of my name at the bottom. Remarkably often, my principal point, the punch line, as it were, was completely omitted, prompting the ordinarily perspicacious reader to ask what the hell this guy Barder was on about. Occasionally the text was so ingeniously mutilated that the published text ended up making a point that was the precise, 180 degree opposite of that which I had hoped to get across. Omissions of whole slabs of text would make a mystifying nonsense of a “therefore” or an “accordingly” in the sentence immediately following the omission. The reader was left dangling, bemused, by inability to recognise a “he” or a “this” that had once referred to a person or thing whose identity had been ruthlessly edited out.

    Just occasionally editorial mangling can deliver unexpected rewards. On one occasion the Guardian asked me for a statement on some issue about which I had previously written in the press and perhaps talked for a few seconds on Newsnight or the Today Programme before being cut off in full flow (“Sorry to interrupt, Brian, we’re out of time. Now here’s some information about a BBC programme that’s going out in Thursday of next week….”). I responded with a (for once) pithy written statement in two parts, the second part critically qualifying the first. Sending it in, I stipulated in terms and in writing that if any of my statement were to be published, all of it must be or none of it could be. Above all, the first part was on no account to be published without the second. Needless to say, the next day’s Guardian quoted me as saying the first part, but of the essential qualifier in the second part there was not the slightest sign. I protested in terms almost as excoriating (or, as most of our politicians would say in their endearingly malapropistical ways, ‘coruscating’) as those employed by Giles Coren. In a brainwave, I demanded the right to a ‘corrections’ column of the kind published each day in the Guardian, an extended rebuttal or correction of some misrepresentation, running to a few hundred words. This was almost instantly granted, and a few days later I was back in print, a picture of my face alongside the subject line, with a much fuller exposition of my argument than had been possible in my brief original statement. And, best of all, my correction column was printed exactly as I had written it, down to the last semi-colon.

    Now who was it that called me long-winded?


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