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The Hubris of the Perfect Writer

Posted by cdonegal on September 23, 2012 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)
  • I enjoy writing.
  • I enjoy reading about careful writing.
  • I have been a professional writer and editor for two dozen years.
  • I make mistakes.

I add the fourth point because making an error is de rigueur when writing about careful writing. It is how the gods of writing preserve us from the hubris of the self-righteous. That basic principle is fundamental to anyone who dares to take others to task for their errors. As I perused writing columns this morning, I found the University of Richmond (Virginia) Writing Center’s “Faculty ‘Pet Peeves’” by Joe Essid, Writing Center Director. (http/  At the top of the page, Mr. Essid wrote: “Kudos to Rebecca, who spotted an error placed in this document. She is the first person to do so, after nearly eight years.”

He continued:

“This [blog] began for my own classes, and I update it regularly. Despite its name, the list is not that unique, but it may be unusual in that I have published it; most writers learn about their professors' likes and dislikes through the hard knocks of getting a marked paper back. Most Richmond students are decent writers, but they can be very careless. I tell my writers, ‘get ready to be careful.’”

I smirked the smirk of superiority, the smirkiest smirk there is. (Forgive the Seussian moment.)

I wondered what error it was that Rebecca had discovered. Was it a modifier for unique, which does not take a modifier? Unique means a sole example. Its root is uni: one. Was it the use of “very” before careless, which adds nothing to the adjective? As Mark Twain said: “Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

This and nine other bits of grammatical wisdom from the great American humorist are included in’s grammar advice at http/

Now the task: Tell me what errors you found in this blog.

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