Friday, February 18, 2005

Language expert

Tonight I met the writer of the paper I'm proofreading. He needed to explain some difficult bits to me so that I could understand them enough to rephrase the bits that needed rephrasing, and it was getting too tricky via email. He is a friend of The Man's, but I don't know him all that well so I was a little tense. It can be delicate, proofreading someone's work. Some people don't take it well, even when the work is not written in their native language and they know I'm trying to help them to express their ideas as well as possible. It still can feel like criticism.

At one point I went into great detail about why I found the numbers on one page terribly difficult to understand. I told him I had spent half an hour or so puzzling over one particular sentence which suddenly included the HUGE number 45312. Nothing added up, I told him. I'd read over the charts and graphs, and reread the preceding section and the section following, but it just didn't make sense. The sentence was wrong anyway, but I couldn't fix it because I couldn't understand the numbers. Four hundred and fifty three to the power of twelve was just too big a number to fit anywhere. I was completely baffled.

He explained patiently that the 12 was a footnote number.

The floor did not open to swallow me up as I so suddenly and devoutly wished it would, so I crossed out a word in the offending sentence and said, "OK. That's better. Now, my next question in on page fifteen." I flipped the page.

Then I looked up and accidentally met his eye, and after a long pause during which I could tell he was trying very, very hard not to laugh he told me solemnly that my question had made him feel a lot better about all the red ink I'd been so generously decorating his pages with.

It was a relief to let out that big snort, really. Much better for me than banging my head on the wall, too. And after we'd let it all out and wiped our eyes we could relax and settle down to some serious work, and the tension was all gone.


RuKsaK said...

Used to do the same job in Moscow - I'll take the teaching any day instead.

Badaunt said...

In my case it depends very much on the students - I've had students who make this job look like a cakewalk. Also, it depends on who I'm doing the proofreading/rewriting for. This guy is a delight to work with, it turns out, and that isn't always the case. Also, he's an excellent teacher, so he's able to explain the concepts to me in a way I can understand, so I'm not only able to do a good job, I'm learning something as well.

(Not that I'm all THAT interested in post-listing negative drift, but I can pretend to be, for the duration of the job at least.)