Relearning the Rules of Grammar and Punctuation

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dear Diary,
Today was the first day of the grammar and punctuation sessions. It was on this day that I experienced the famed Calcutta rains. My friend Sarah and I got late; stranded in the rain, looking out hopefully for an empty auto. This concept of sharing autos with other people is something that I have recently wrapped my head around. Not to mention the endless queues of people waiting very patiently for an auto to come around. On the other hand, the swarm of people that Sarah and I have to wade through everyday, at peak hour, just to get on the Metro, is something I have now completely embraced. It’s funny though, because I never really have anything to hold on to in the train; so I clutch on to Sarah’s hand. The poor thing almost ends up getting yanked off her hand-rung every time the train halts or takes off.

So, after battling the humidity, heat and the pushing and shoving that comes with every train, Sarah and I finally made it to class.

One of the first things I noticed in the room was a hilarious poster that had the symbols and meanings of a proofreader’s marks. I won’t lie, the symbols looked ancient runes and some of them were downright funny—marks of exasperation on the part of the proofreader.

So we walked into class late for the very first session. I had to take the seat right under Bishan’s nose and sat squirming in it for the first ten minutes. The one thing that I was disheartened to hear was that we as editors couldn’t really take over the entire text and make it our own, no matter how much we wanted to. I remember last week how Sunandini reminded us that while we should be at the top of our editing game, we should not murder our co-workers over a semicolon.

Now the thing is, dear Diary, I’d thought that grammar and punctuation are things that would have come very naturally to me, considering that I’d studied them for a very long time. But oh! was I to be proven wrong. Everything that I thought I knew about commas, semicolons and hyphens was about to change.

I think I love how it isn’t just the grammatical correctness of the text that matters but what the author is trying to say, and what the feel of the text is that makes a difference. A single comma can delay a pause, change the tone and even change the meaning of what is being said. An editor is like a mediator between the author and his readers; making sure that the reader gets everything the author wants to say. Of course, we’d have to edit the work in such a way that we have to be invisible.

Then came the fun part—semicolons and colons. I don’t think I’ve ever had to think about whether a pause in a sentence was too short to validate a semicolon or if the comma was framing a clause that wasn’t essential to a sentence.

It’s interesting because one never really notices these details that actually direct the way we read a book. I mean these little markings go almost unnoticed. Now I know I make it sound like commas are a lot of fun and being editors we have the luxury and privilege of throwing them around wherever we please, but what I was to learn later was that there are a ton of rules that limit our editorial powers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Dear Diary,
I struggled to get out of bed today; the sky was overcast and it looked like it was going to rain. Apparently, Sarah took a good half hour to haul me out of bed. It was one of those days where you look forward to coming home and curling up in bed; the air was heavy and muggy, the heat didn’t seem like it was going to give us a break either. Luckily we got some relief in the sweet, cool air at school.

Bishan has been talking to us about the ‘hyphen’, ‘en dash’ and ‘em dash’ over the past few days, and somehow, today, managed to drop pieces of chalk in his water as well as his mug of coffee. He was quite exasperated by the end of it.

I didn’t even know there was something called an ‘em dash’. It’s the biggest of all dashes, of which there are three! (Why couldn’t it be easier?) The only visible difference between the three of these little dashes is their difference in size.

We also got proofreading exercises today which turned out to be a lot tougher than I had expected. Every little comma has to be thought over very carefully and I don’t think a book will ever read the same way for me or at least without being subject to my newly acquired ‘proofreading’ lenses. Every comma, semicolon and hyphen will henceforth be under my scrutinizing gaze.

Did I mention that Bishan likes to mess with our heads? He put in a couple of very innocent-looking sentences that I don’t think anyone in class punctuated correctly. On the other hand, I got a little carried away and filled my page up with a ton of ‘close up space’ marks because I thought the spaces between the words were intentionally put there; much to my disappointment, they were not. It also seems that Harsh and Chanakya have favourite punctuation marks—Harsh likes ‘em dashes’ and Chanakya semicolons, and will use them to substitute commas everywhere they can. And it’s always interesting to hear people ask questions that I’d never thought of, or dissect why a certain comma doesn’t belong here or there but needs to go someplace else.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Dear Diary,
I know that you’d think that grammar and punctuation can only be something exhaustively spoken about, but trust me it isn’t. Even Bishan told us that, ‘When in doubt, the Chicago Manual of Style is our bible.’ It’s a little reassuring to know that I don’t have to remember every single rule of use and that even senior editors consult a guide.

So, Diary, did I mention that our punctuation classes do not end after one week? We get back to punctuating and proofreading next week onward. I think accidentally proofreading every book you lay your hands on—as an editor—is an occupational hazard. But hey, I’m not complaining. Is it nerdy that I actually enjoy marking the pages with tiny little symbols that actually have the power to change a text?

Alright Diary, this is me signing off for a while, I’ve got a flight back home to catch in a couple of hours.

Rhea Chandrachud


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