While I plow through my collection of end-of-term assignments to grade, the New York Times came out with a related article.
One of the assignments the 519 students get is to conduct an e-mail interview and write up an article based on the result.
Virginia Heffernan last weekend had a column in the New York Times on how to quote text you find online, primarily in message boards rather than e-mail, but the concepts carry over. The first example Heffernan uses is:
pornography if for the ruling classes and their violent vulgar all consuming appetites. Or their slaves.
As a writer or editor, do you correct issues of punctuation and capitalization? What about grammar? What do you do with a piece of text that’s irreplaceably salient yet so riddled with mistakes that it makes the author seem like an idiot? If you do correct it, do you lose the flavour?
Daniel Okrent, the first public editor for The Times, who is now at work on a book about the history of Prohibition, e-mailed me further thoughts: “The minute you start trying to replicate someone’s accent or diction, you run the risk of appearing to be patronizing or worse. When the Mississippi State football coach said something like, ‘There ain’t but one color that matters here,’ the paper was wrong to recast it as ‘There is only one color….’ – he didn’t say that.”
The article leaves us with no answers, and I don’t think there can be a single definite solution. But it is a point to ponder.