GrammarPhile Blog

Proofreading Road Signs: The Good, the Bad, and the Humerus

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jan 28, 2021 7:30:00 AM

heartache-1293191_640Don’t risk the heartache and indigestion bad proofreaders can bring. Read this highly scientific and casually vetted list to educate yourself on the obvious signals that indicate you’re dealing with proofreading duds or winners.

Signs of a Bad Proofreader:

1. They don’t own a monocle or a long-stemmed pipe. As everyone who is anyone within the proofreading community knows, at least one of these is absolutely necessary for the dual purpose of looking debonair and snooty while correcting someone’s grammar in a nasal tone. Though this deficit can be partially assuaged with a false accent (specifically one in which the “r” sound is absent), it takes a concerted effort to garner the same level of authority automatically endowed by a high-class monocle or classic meerschaum.

Which raises the question, if a proofreader lacks dedication in this area, what else are they letting slip? My opinion: probably a lot. And another question: What is a meerschaum?

2. Should you mention a style guide, they’ll wonder why people would be reading during a fashion show.

3. In earnest, they believe a thesaurus is a type of dinosaur, assume a connoisseur is a thief, and use “far flung” as a verb (as in “I far flunged that ball because I was really angry.”) Run away. Quickly.

4. If you ask about using “track changes,” they tell you they never hunt and don’t even know what’s in season. 

5. They use odd names for punctuation marks. The “squiggly one” could refer to a quotation mark, tilde, or a comma. The “teensy thingamabob” could be a period, apostrophe, or hyphen. You’ll never know (and neither will they) and you almost prefer it that way.

6. Their only knowledge of anatomy is the funny bone, which is why they think “humerus” and “humorous” are identical (see title). If you mentioned the homonyms “colon” and “colon,” they would be speechless, disgusted, and confused (but more confused than anything).

Homographs escape their notice completely. Don’t attempt to resolve their ignorance. Frankly, who even has a minute to explain such minute differences?

Signs of a Good Proofreader:

1. They are polite and reasonable. If they are surly, it’s only ever on national holidays when the library is closed. If they are sassy, it’s generally because Microsoft Word is acting up or they discover a dog-eared page in one of their favorite books. Give them a cookie, a warm blanket, and a voucher to their favorite bookstore and they’ll be set to rights in no time.

2. Each year, they complete a dictionary reading plan. January usually spans the As and Bs, February the Cs, Ds, and Es, and so on. Because of this, you’ll often come upon them muttering something along the lines of:

PR: Insouciance. InSOUciance. InsouCIANCE. No matter how you say it, it’s delicious.

You: Would you please be quiet?

PR: Her insouciance for my love of words was vexing.

You: What?

PR: I am a malcontent raconteur. An afficionado of the verbose. I have a gulosity for extravagant, labyrinthian words.

You: Have mercy!

PR: Where’s my tea?

You: I didn’t make you any tea.

PR: Blast! Hullabaloo! How pernicious…

3. As an extension to the previous item, their speech is commensurate with their keen knowledge of grammar and 25-cent words, even unconsciously (as in without awareness and whilst dreaming).

PR: Faugh!

You: What’s wrong?

PR: Tis folly, you rasping, gelatinous choke weed!

You: What did I do?

PR: Thou hast thwarted my endeavors and raided my larder. It shall not be borne!

You: I ate one of your toaster pastries. Calm down.

PR: Villain! Scoundrel! Heaping toadstools and curdled milk! Stinky cheese and teeming glitter upon your head!

You: …

PR: Did you hear my sleep recording? I recited Act 1 Scene 1 of Macbeth from memory, using different voices for each character. The intermittent snoring gives it a real panache.

You: (sigh)

4. You’ll find that their home decorating is tasteful and understated. There is a bookcase or bookshelf in every room. They love muted tones and no TV. They pay exorbitant home insurance premiums due to the added fire risk of thousands of highly flammable books. Some of their oldest books are never read, only sniffed occasionally, and lovingly returned to their places of prominence (a desk, an empty bathtub, or a slightly teetering stack of books).

5. They are charming—to a point. If you tell them serial commas are superfluous, they will fight you. I’m talking fists-out, legs-thrashing, teeth-gnashing, feet-kicking, duct tape-you-to-a-park-bench, rolling-old-tires-down-a-hill-after-you, no-holds-barred fighting. You’ll be saying your prayers while heavyweight dictionaries are hurled at your car, creative and poignant expletives from their favorite 19th century novels resound through the air, and raspberries are blown in your general direction. Your protests will be constantly interrupted and etymologically dissected with extreme disdain.


You could argue that I assigned this to the wrong list. Upon reflection, it applies to both, but I have relegated it to the second as a surprise.

6. They tell exceptionally delightful jokes.

PR: Knock, knock.

You: Who’s there?

PR: To

You: To who?

PR: Actually, it’s to whom.

You: …

7. They work for Bazinga! What’s the word for obvious partiality and a blind refusal to consider alternatives, while being desirous of appearing objective and humble? Don’t worry; I’m sure I’ll find something that fits the bill. After all, it’s only January and I’ve got the Cs through the Zs to go (see number 2).


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Topics: proofreading

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