Three words editors hate to hear
Wine buffs often quote Kingsley Amis, that luxuriant drinker, who once wrote that three of the most depressing words in the English language were, ‘Red or white?’ (As a teenager, I had to have that joke explained to me; now, I shudder along with the old devil.) Once, on a slow day in the office, some colleagues and I made up a game inspired by his remark. Everyone tried to pin down the three words that really made their hearts sink.
One woman, a freelancer, chose a familiar formula: ‘Thanks but no.’ A politically conscious friend chose ‘PFI’, or ‘private finance initiative’, the disastrous New Labour scheme for funding public development. A financial editor, after some thought, came up with ‘pre-Budget report’. And one friend of mine spoke for the nation when he chose the dreaded ‘Rail Replacement Service’.
What about me? As a team leader for a group of sub-editors, as well as countless freelance subs who were desperate to stick like glue to house style, I had to choose: ‘Is it hyphenated?’
Now, there may be editors out there who like nothing better than a good old chin-wag about the hyphenatability (or possibly hyphenatabilitude) of a given compound. After all, it’s their bread and butter. Er, bread-and-butter. But every editor has some particular bugbear, some little phrase or question, three words long, that strikes a death knell only they can hear. What’s yours?