*For clarity's sake -- a subeditor is what Brits call copy editors (my job).*
My favorite part of what you're about to read:
"I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck."
Posted in The Guardian:
This week a furious and foul-mouthed email from the Times' restaurant critic Giles Coren to the paper's subeditors went viral. And it isn't the first time. Laura Barton introduces a choice selection.
Amid all the kerfuffle over Canoe Wife, the credit crunch and Karadzic, it could be that you missed this week's most entertaining story; that of an irate email from Giles Coren, restaurant critic for the Times, to the newspaper's subeditors, leaked in all its wonderfully expletive glory. This was not the first of Coren's mails to unexpectedly see the light of day: previous outbursts have included a chastening missive to Feargus O'Sullivan, restaurant critic at the London Paper, and an exasperated tirade over the subediting of a book review.
"I'm more well-known for these emails than for anything else I've done," says Coren, somewhat sheepishly, adding that he has in a number of hours received more than 20 supportive emails from newspaper writers, including Mike Atherton, and been abused in the street by a member of the public. "So it's a mixed response," he says.
Coren admits that he sent another angry email recently, but it was intercepted by his editor, who gave him a stern telling-off. "People say 'Why don't you moderate your tone?'" he muses.
For those not familiar with the newspaper editing process, it works a little like this: a writer files an article to an editor, who then passes it to a subeditor, who sets it out on the page, cuts the words to fit, checks for spelling and grammatical errors, wanton cursing and factual inaccuracies.
There is, it must be said, something of a long-standing tension between writers and subeditors. We writers are rather protective of our words, prone to filing late and flouncing about and are altogether a tad precious. In short, subeditors view us as the Little Lord Fauntleroys of the office, and we in turn view them as our evil nemeses, hellbent on our undoing.
So while half of Fleet Street undoubtedly thought Coren a proper wazzock for his outpouring this week, there were at least some of us who sympathised somewhat. Most of us, at one point or another, have mentally drafted what we shall henceforth refer to as a "Corenian" letter, but never quite found the chutzpah required to actually send it. So today Giles, on behalf of your fellow hacks, we'd just like to say thanks, buddy - you've taken one for the team.
The offending emailsTo: the Times subeditors
From: Coren, Giles
I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don't know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i'm assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it's only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn't here - if he had been I'm guessing it wouldn't have happened.
I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on saturday.
It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.
I wrote: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh."
It appeared as: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh."
There is no length issue. This is someone thinking "I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and i know best".
Well, you fucking don't.
This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.
1) 'Nosh', as I'm sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardisation of the German 'naschen'. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, 'nosh', means simply 'food'. You have decided that this is what i meant and removed the 'a'. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, 'nosh' means "a session of eating" - in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of 'scoff'. you can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. the sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what i meant. Why would you change a sentnece aso that it meant something i didn't mean? I don't know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it's easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.
3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed 'a' so that the stress that should have fallen on "nosh" is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you're winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can't you hear? Can't you hear that it is wrong? It's not fucking rocket science. It's fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.
I am sorry if this looks petty (last time i mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word i got in all sorts of trouble) but i care deeply about my work and i hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you've been subbing joe and hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think "hey ho, it's tomorrow's fish and chips" - well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. weird, maybe. but that's how it is.
It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. i've got a review to write this morning and i really don't feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and i'm going to have another weekend ruined for me.
I've been writing for The Times for 15 years and i have never asked this before - i have never asked it of anyone i have written for - but I must insist, from now on, that i am sent a proof of every review i do, in pdf format, so i can check it for fuck-ups. and i must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way i can carry on in the job.
And, just out of interest, I'd like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.
Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.
All the best
From: Coren, Giles
Sent: August 10 2002 16.41
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. how fucking difficult is that? it's the sentence that bestrides the fucking book i reviewed for you. it is the sentence i wrote first in my fucking review. it is 35 fucking letters long, which is why i wrote that it was. and so some useless cunt subeditor decides to change it to "jumps over A lazy dog" can you fucking count? can you see that that makes it a 33 letter sentence? so it looks as if i can't count, and the cunting author of the book, poor mr dunn, cannot count. the whole bastard book turns on the sentence being as i fucking wrote it. and that it is exactly 33 letters long. why do you meddle. what do you think you achieve with that kind of dumb-witted smart-arsery? why do you change things you do not understand without consulting. why do you believe you know best when you know fuck all. jack shit.
that is as bad as editing can be. fuck, i hope you're proud. it will be small relief for the author that nobody reads your poxy magazine.
never ever ask me to write something for you. and don't pay me. i'd rather take £400 quid for assassinating a crack whore's only child in a revenge killing for a busted drug deal - my integrity would be less compromised.
jesus fucking wept i don't know what else to say.
To: the London Paper's restaurant critic
From: Coren, Giles
Sent: 09 July 2008 23:06
I'm emailing to say that your review of osteria emilia, in most ways perfectly fine and good and spot on, pissed me off. i booked, as ever, under a pseudonym, that over made up italian bird did not have a fucking clue who i was (or even who baddiel was, who i ate with because he lives, like me, round the corner). Nor were there any kitchen staff peeking out of any porthole. i appreciate that you have to keep your column as lively as possible - and name dropping david i guess might be exciting for your readers (i'll certainly be doing it in my column) - but in your froth to show how folksy and incognito you are, you did your readers and the restaurant an immense disservice: you suggested that i got some special dispensation in eating a la carte. But if you'd spent a bit more time looking at your lunch menu, and a bit less gawping at me, you'd have noticed that it said, "dishes from the evening a la carte menu are available at lunchtime, with some exceptions".
You said "i didn't have the brass neck to demand anything off the unavailable a la carte". it makes you sound like an utter tit. you are not only a chippy fuck but a lazy journalist. 'brass neck'. learn to write, and take your head out of your arse, you fucking twat.
all the best
· These are abridged - but not subedited - versions of the original emails.
A response to his letters:
Sub-editing is a noble profession. It is also a thankless one - particularly when your writers call you a "useless cunt".
There was a sharp intake of breath when your e-mail hit the inbox of subs throughout the industry this week - that was after we'd stopped laughing. Not that we didn't think you had a point. Yes, tinkering with copy just for the sake of it and without consultation is wrong. It is disrespectful and arrogant. And we can see why you'd be furious at the loss even of an indefinite article.
There is nothing more irritating than a sub-editor who thinks they know better than a writer, particularly one who cares deeply about his work. But did you really have to be so rude?
Laura Barton stated in Friday's Guardian that there's "something of a long-standing tension between writers and sub-editors". Do you wonder why? Contrary to your belief, we don't "believe we know best when we know fuck all".
If you could only see the state of some of the raw copy we have to knock into shape. It's badly structured, poorly spelt, appallingly punctuated, lazily researched. We're not saying your writing falls into that category - on the contrary, your journalism is highly accomplished. Never having worked on your copy, we can only take your word for it that it is beyond improvement in its pre-published state. Strange as it may seem, many writers do not possess your grasp of language; indeed it is sometimes difficult to believe that English is their mother tongue, and they don't give a damn about what they produce because they know that a good, often highly educated sub-editor will correct it, check it and turn it into readable prose.
None of this, however, can excuse your nasty, bullying, "know your place, you insignificant little fuckwit" e-mail. Yes, it's funny, in a way that pieces that use "fuck", "shit" and "cunt" so liberally often can be, but, please - someone made a mistake. They surely had no intention of sabotaging your deathless prose. So you don't like what happened to your piece - have a word with your editor. The hapless sub will no doubt already have been soundly thrashed and had their dictionary privileges removed.
Some years ago, a colleague of ours had a T-shirt printed up with the legend "xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx is a cunt" on the front, which he wore every week when having to deal with the writer to whom it referred, because he, like you, became so disproportionately abusive when his use of language was questioned. We'd hate that to happen to you, because you can actually write, and having "Giles Coren is a sanctimonious little twat who needs to get over himself" could be quite costly in T-shirt lettering. Subs are no more infallible than writers. So, let's all try a little mutual respect, shall we?
All the best,
Mia Aimaro Ogden
Senior sub-editors, The Sunday Times