Mighty Red Pen

February 15, 2008

All in the family

Filed under: Lit review,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 5:08 pm
Tags: , ,

One of my workplace partners in crime recently recommended Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.

It’s a quick and charming read. Fadiman muses on a range of topics word nerds and bookworms will enjoy. She meditates on such subjects as inscriptions, merging libraries after several years of marriage, sonnets, and gender sensitivity in language.

But her essay, “Insert a Caret” (there are some diacritical squiggles in the way the title is rendered in the book that are tricky to reproduce here), made me just about fall out of my chair. She describes a moment when she is out to dinner with her family and they each realize that they are all proofreading the menu:

We stared at one another. You’d think that after all these decades, we Fadimans would have mapped every corner of our deviant tribal identity, but apparently there was one pan-familial gene we had never before diagnosed: we were all compulsive proofreaders. 

An entire family of word nerds?! I know what you’re thinking: It’s like a dream come true.



  1. Long ago, on my parents’ first trip to my new home city of NYC, I took them to see PDQ Bach at Carnegie Hall. (well, mostly to see Carnegie Hall; PDQ just happened to be there)

    We were reading the program, and we each found–mom, dad, me, and husband-to-be-someday–the phrase, “unchartered territory.” I pointed it out to my boyfriend, my mom pointed it out to me, then dad pointed it out to mom.

    Then Peter Schickele, in his intro, pointed out an error in the program–“unchartered territory.”

    We burst into loud laughter, while everyone else was tittering quietly–they all looked over to see what was so darn hilarious!

    Of course, later, other people would laugh loudly at some MUSICAL joke that went right over our heads. Grammar, word usage, punctuation–that, we got. Musical jokes, well, we’re the philistines.

    Comment by TootsNYC — February 19, 2008 @ 7:40 pm | Reply

  2. I love that Peter Schickele pointed it out in his intro!

    Comment by mightyredpen — February 20, 2008 @ 7:58 pm | Reply

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