Thursday, February 14, 2013

American notions of good writing

Over at the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks, a writer/translator from the UK recently published a summary of his trials and tribulations with American publishing houses “correcting” his English and imposing all kinds of inexplicable style changes.

My experience has been the same. When I wrote my book "Zukunftsenergien" in German, my editor found all kinds of things that needed improving on every page, and I agreed with all of the changes.

But when I wrote the English version of that book a year later, my American editor also made all kinds of changes on every page, much of which I did not agree with. For instance, where I would write “it has also been claimed” she would "correct" it to “it also has been claimed.” I remember sending her and the publisher a list of similar items showing the number of Google hits being very strongly in my favor.

Granted, the rules in English are less black and white than in German. Take commas, for instance – my editor changed commas all over the place, and when I asked her why, she said that the publisher generally did not like to use commas where they were not necessary, to which I could only reply that I did not either...

Perhaps more exposure to foreign languages would at least reveal to Americans that is quite uncommon in other languages for things that are perfectly native to nonetheless be attacked as ungrammatical. There is no equivalent in German, Dutch, or French of  the commotion surrounding split infinitives, prepositions at the end of the sentence, passive verbs, and a slew of other misconceived notions.

Anyway, read Parks' story for yourself.

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