What’s the Point?

While at first sight you might wonder whether you have strayed from the Ayr Writers’ Blog to that of the town’s philosophical society, then please pause before exiting, because at this week’s meeting, we were invited to consider exactly this, and many other such grammatical issues.
Catherine Lang, with her professional editorial background, guided us on a comprehensive tour of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of grammar, spelling, punctuation and all things literary, in a manner that was both informative and entertaining.
The human mind, despite much daily evidence suggesting the contrary, is a clever creature. We learned that its capacity to deduce, infer, anticipate and employ many other cognitive shortcuts might serve us well in life in general, but when it comes to accuracy in reading and writing and our precision in attention to detail, such skills are not always advantageous.
It was demonstrated, for example, that the brain is quite able to interpret words so long as intiail and fianal lerrtes are prorpelly plcaed and that this is a problem. In order to produce a piece of work with accuracy, we must train ourselves to overrule such pathways.
So how do we do that? Catherine outlined an extensive list of strategies designed to help us get it right. When considering the content of any piece, we were advised to take nothing for granted, check the facts, check them again, and again and make sure that it actually says what you intended to say. In terms of spelling, grammar and punctuation, get to know the rules, read your work over with breaks between each reading, read it aloud, change its appearance (using different font style and size, for example). The general message was that by disrupting the normal presentation of material, we might wrong foot our critical faculties just for long enough to force them to abandon the usual assumption based strategies, helping us to see what is actually there on paper and not what we assume to be so.
Despite Catherine’s professed anxiety that she might bore us all into a deep, if troubled, sleep, the audience was riveted throughout; pens flew across pages to capture (in almost certainly less than perfect English) her words of wisdom, eyes squinted at the screen as we tackled the editorial challenges flashed before us and groups of grown men and women wiped brows and groaned as they attempted to complete tasks that were probably once the standard fare of the early years of Secondary school English.
The dangers of relying on modern technology for information, spelling and due attention to meaning (especially if allowing predictive text software its voice), were also highlighted. Just as humans overlook accuracy for meaning, intelligent software can work in reverse, sacrificing meaning to apparent accuracy. In short, we were advised to be aware and be prepared; arm ourselves with reliable, old fashioned, paper aids.
Despite our performance-anxiety induced stress, a great night was had by all and I’m sure I’m not the only one who left clutching a scribbled note to self:
buy a good dictionary for writers and editors!
Dorothy Gallagher

One comment

  1. Carolyn O'Hara

    Great snap shot of the evening, Dorothy, and you too managed to be engaging on a subject which could be snooze inducing!

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