Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Serial Killer

I have a new boss.

He officially took over on Monday, but he's been in the office, in a transitioning capacity, for several weeks. My initial impression, gleaned from a very brief meeting to introduce him, was favorable. His qualifications were good and he seemed, at a glance, like he might be a personable guy.

Mostly it's been downhill from there. He started to irritate me by spending several days hobnobbing around with company power-players before even deigning to meet his own staff. I tried not to let that bother me, but when we finally did's hard to describe, but he's vaguely condescending and just dickish in general. He rambles, he gets names wrong, he interrupts, he's a general pain in the ass. Some people just rub you the wrong way, and that's this guy for me.

I've been at my job for two and a half years. This new guy is the fourth person to fill the position in that time. Our entire department is used to changes. Each new person brings their own ideas, their own ways of doing things, but after a certain adjustment period the day-to-day operations have a way of finding a rhythm that's not too much different than it was before. I don't think it's going to be that way with this guy. He has laid out in no uncertain terms the changes he wants to make.

Now, that's not entirely a bad thing. I've spent a good portion of this week working on several different writing projects, whereas previous directors have promised projects that never materialized. So that's cool. On the other hand, each little projects has brought with it a meeting to discuss it, which is a pretty severe waste of time--these "meetings" are really just him laying out what he's looking for, and I never really even say anything. I've got all these new projects in addition to proofreading, which is my primary responsibility, so I'd much rather he just send me an email and let me get to work.

Then today he did something that really pissed me off.

Yesterday I submitted to him a draft of a project he had asked me to work on, and today he brought it back to me with his revisions. We went through it and discussed the changes he had made, most of which were totally understandable. Then we came to a point where he had struck my use of a serial comma (commas used to set off items in a series, such as this, this, and this (as opposed to this, this and this)), which he had done throughout the document. His comment on this change? "I follow the Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk and White, neither of which recommend this, so take it out."

Couple of things here.

Point 1: I'm a proponent of the serial comma. As Language Czar at our company, I've put it into practice, codified in official instructions to our data entry office and used in every document that has come across my desk. For consistency's sake, it should be used in anything we publish, internally or externally, and not just disregarded on a whim.

Point 2: Let's be clear here. I kind of floundered into the wordherding business as a hack with more lingual skills than the average bear. That's not the case anymore. I take a lot of pride in being good at what I do, so I take care to learn and get better. I'm a professional. So if you're going to spit game about such hallowed texts as the Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk and White, you better make damned sure you know what you're talking about. In this case, he did not--both volumes actually endorse the serial comma. Imagine that.

You know, if he doesn't like the serial comma himself, whatever. It's a stylistic quibble; neither method is technically more correct than the other, although I personally consider non-serial comma users to be a slightly less evolved form of life. If he had said he didn't like it and we should stop using it, fine. But using those books to justify his point and being wrong makes him look like a damned fool. And that irritates me.

So I composed an email to him, telling him I had made the revisions he requested except for those dealing with the serial comma. I explained his "mistake," and also pointed out the consistency issue. I have no idea as of yet how he took it--he was too busy calling a meeting (which included me) that lasted well past normal quitting time. Sweet.

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