I’m the author of the ODPC workshop program and therefore, I have to proofread a lot of text. I was explaining to my proofreader, Nancy, why I am so finicky. I explained it this way:
My first job in 1961, was that of a proof-reader at a newspaper (the Midland Daily News). Obviously that made me aware of the problems with the “language.” It was about then that I had my two children.
After that I worked as a secretary at Dow Chemical Company for about a dozen years. I worked there in the 1970′s. (That means I am “vested” and I currently receive about $60 a month from the Dow Chemical retirement program.)
I quit working completely for a couple of years while my children were teenagers (a difficult time.) After that brief hiatus when I was a “stay at home mom,” I became personal secretary for the wealthy owner of several hockey clubs including the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was a tough boss who really needed someone who knew everything.
But the job at the newspaper, at Dow, and at the hockey club, were all easier than what I encountered next… When I left the hockey club, I went to Saginaw Valley State University.
It was in the late 1970′s that I became supervisor of faculty secretaries for Saginaw Valley State University. Obviously when you are preparing papers for instructors, including the English Department, you need to be accurate.
That’s when I discovered that I could spot problems in punctuation, spelling, and language usage. I found errors when papers were handed to me by the instructors in the various departments. (Those departments included English, accounting, history, etc.) I felt there were often obvious problems.
Finally I went to the head of the English Department (Dr. Basil Clark). I told him I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t my job to tell a PhD that he’d used incorrect English, but I could tell that many of the instructors were wrong in their grammar or sentence structure. It was a problem of tact. I didn’t know how to handle it.
Dr. Clark and I came to an understanding. He had faith that I knew more about proper English usage than all but one of his instructors. After our conversation, Dr. Clark let it be known that I had his permission to change any papers that came to me with, what I determined to be, errors. (He said I knew more than his staff.)
There was only the one exception. That one exception was a Rhodes scholar, Dr. Tiner, who wanted everything the way he wrote it without exception. (And I certainly respected him enough to leave his writings and papers alone.)
For the couple of years while I worked at Saginaw Valley State University, my instruction was to proof all papers which came across my desk. I was told the reputation of the university depended on me. I needed to be sure that there were no (English language) mistakes.
It stuck with me.
A couple of years later I was sought out by St. Mary’s Medical Center to work in their Administration Department. I felt that was one of the strong reasons they had recruited me. At St. Mary’s, my first job was at an administrative secretarial level but, by the time I retired (23 years later, in 2004), my job was in administration at the hospital working as the person who wrote reports which went to the state for approval of services and equipment. I had become the expert person who worked for them and through-out the region and wrote vital reports to obtain operating rooms, lithotripters, MRIs, and other major pieces of equipment. I was “rented out” for my skills.
During my last year at the hospital, when a Vice President from St. Mary’s went to another position (Tawas City) as president of that hospital, I took over a lot of his job.
All of it took an excellence in writing skills.
But surprisingly, it was that old job at Saginaw Valley which had impressed on me the need for perfect English more than any other ability.
I can’t change now. I’m too old.
PS: Part of the problem is that rules continuously change. I just “proofed” this posting and found that the word “English” is now almost always capitalized. Previously it was only used with a capital when it pertained to “England.” Therefore the broad term, english language, would have been ok in lower case, but now it’s “English language” with a capital on the “E.” You can’t use yesterday’s rules and be correct.
And I never use spell checkers. They don’t understand English usage.