"Wordsmith vs. Wurdsmith" -- by Jim Barker

Greetings from WA State Reading "Wordsmith vs. Wurdsmith" -- by Jim Barker 5 minutes Next Coordinate Adjectives
Every once in a while, one stumbles upon something that is priceless and said so eloquently that it needs to be shared. James Barker, creator of SearchMaster, has written so beautifully on the topic most dear to my heart that I simply have to reprint it here. Please give thought to the concept he presents here. Argue your point; stand your ground -- but do it from a position of knowledge of the language and how it works. Thank you, Jim. See you in July. Happy punctuating! Margie
"Wordsmiths v. Wurdsmiths," by Jim Barker
When informed that, in running text, "court reporter" should not be initial-capped, Diane Wurdsmith said, "It may not be correct, but I've been doing it that way for 20 years, and no one has ever complained." When it was suggested to Joe Wurdsmith that, when writing "the judge," the word "judge" should not be initial-capped, Joe responded, "I know it's not correct, but that's the way I've always done it." Confronted with a transcript replete with egregious punctuation errors, Suzie Wurdsmith stated, "The rules aren't important; readability is." When Steve Wurdsmith's agency owner insisted that the sentence "I went to Miami, Florida, in May of 2006" requires a comma after the word "Florida," Steve proclaimed, "I don't like the way it looks." Wordsmiths are experts on the, meaning, spelling, and punctuation of words; wurdsmiths are experts on the subject of their own opinions, notwithstanding how those opinions may conflict with standard English usage. When a wordsmith makes a mistake and is corrected, the wordsmith is happy. Why? Because, for the most part, wordsmiths are governed by the rules, not by their own subjective opinions. When wordsmiths are confronted with a hard-and-fast rule that they have violated, wordsmiths willingly and eagerly consult the rules so as to separate themselves from their error. On the other hand, when a wurdsmith makes a mistake and is corrected, the wurdsmith is unhappy, often unreasonably and testily so. Why? Because wurdsmiths are predominantly governed by their own opinions, regardless of whether those opinions are in harmony with the rules that govern standard English usage. Generally speaking, wordsmiths aren't emotionally invested in the hard-and-fast rules to the extent that that wurdsmiths are emotionally invested in their unalterable opinions. Now, lest anyone think that I'm am addressing my comments here to those language issues about which there is no consensus, even among the authorities, as to that which is correct and that which is incorrect (stylistic preferences) my comments are made with reference to the hard-and-fast rules, those rules about which there is little or no disagreement among the authorities, as illustrated by the following Q & A between a wordsmith and a wurdsmith: Q. Diane, I see that you are initial-capping "court reporter" in your transcripts. Why are you doing that? A. That's the way I was taught. Q. Diane, when you look up "court reporter" in the dictionary, is "court reporter" initial-capped? A. No. Q. That being so, are you going to continue initial-capping "court reporter"? A. That's the way I was taught; that's the way I've always done it; that's the way I like it; and I'm not going to change. Moving on to Steve Wurdsmith: Q. Steve, why did you not place a comma after the word "Florida" in the sentence "I went to Miami, Florida, for my vacation"? A. I don't like the way it looks. Q. If I told you that every authoritative style manual currently in print requires that comma, would you be willing to concede the point? A. No. I don't like the way it looks. I've met Diane Wurdsmith and Steve Wurdsmith, and so have you. They're decent, hard-working people, but they share a common affliction: When faced with a choice between their own opinions and irrefutable facts that are in conflict with their opinions, they reflexively defer to their opinions. Friends, not only do your transcripts constitute the official record, they testify as to whether you are, or are not, a wordsmith, the evidence for such a conclusion being provided by the words on the page, words which have, or have not, been properly spelled and punctuated. So, then, how does one go about the task of transforming oneself from a wurdsmith into a wordsmith? As is so often the case, inertia demands that the first step be the hardest: acknowledging that uninformed and/or misinformed opinions are inferior to facts. The second step requires that one acquaint oneself with the facts -- in other words, the hard-and-fast rules that govern standard English usage, the willing violation of which simply cannot be justified on the basis of one's erroneous, subjective opinions. The rules that govern standard English usage not being carved in stone, changing as they do over time, those of us who wish to be considered professional wordsmiths must remain perpetual students. The target (the English language) is moving. If we don't move with it, we will increasingly fail to hit the bull's eye. Court reporter = wordsmith. Court reporter = wurdsmith. Which will it be? Recommended reading: English Guide for Court Reporters, Second Edition, Lillian Morson The Gregg Reference Manual, 10th Edition, William A. Sabin The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition; Univ. of Chicago Press Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation, Margie Wakeman Wells The Handbook of Good English, Edward D. Johnson Punctuation for Court Reporters (NCRA, Nathaniel Weiss)