A Very Strange Letter From Our Copy Editor, Farraz Khan

Farraz Khan is an interesting cat. He got his law degree from Berkeley and took a gig as an associate at a D.C. firm before realizing a couple years ago that he wanted to write. So he quit. To be our intern. Now he’s our copy editor, and he’s working on a book. What’s the book about? I don’t know. Not long ago, I asked if I could take him for a beer and ask him questions about what the hell he was doing with his life. Farraz politely declined. He’s observing Ramadan and thought our meeting would be more enjoyable for both of us once he could eat again. Perhaps low blood sugar led to what you’ll find after the jump.

Awhile back, I grew tired of seeing the word “suddenly” so frequently in stories that were working their way through the D Magazine editing process. Everything, it seemed, was happening suddenly. In dining reviews, dishes arrived suddenly at tables. In short fashion features, dresses were suddenly popular. And so forth. So I suddenly drafted a short memo to the staff, banning the word “suddenly.” Then Farraz wrote this:

Here, at D Magazine, we strive to resist the navel-gazing, self-referencing, meta-play, inside jokes, and lazy narcissism that make[s] for tiresome reading on a Wednesday evening. But, readers, I—the lowly copy editor of the aforementioned magazine—break with our long-established practice to expose a matter of the utmost urgency. I write to beg you for your intervention in this magazine’s steady subversion of the vaunted English language.

Early last month, magazine editor Tim Rogers—a bald man with an unaccountable well of anger—pronounced his decree on a matter of the magazine’s prose styling:

“Take ‘suddenly’ [T.R., K.N.] out of your writing vocabulary. … [N]othing happens suddenly [T.R., K.N.]. If you … disagree and want to use it, you must get two editors to sign off on it.”

Now, the very fact of such a pronouncement was not a reason for alarm. As you may know, D Magazine, like any publication worth its iodized salt, alleges a concern for the craft of writing. So our editorial team goes to great—almost Amazonian—lengths to use language logically and aesthetically, and to produce prose that is readable and bears the polish, the sheen of consistent spelling, grammar, and usage.

For example, you won’t find an “antique shop” in these pages because what we’re talking about isn’t a dilapidated shop, but instead a shop that sells antiques—viz., an “antiques shop.” We rarely use the clunky “Dallas-Fort Worth,” and, of course, never the unsightly, vaguely chemical “Metroplex”; we prefer the tidy simplicity of “North Texas.” And we like lowercase (not the AP Stylebook’s prescribed uppercase) for now mundane, commonplace words such as “internet,” “wi-fi,” and “google.”

My point: the occasion is not altogether irregular when a point of language is adjudicated here. The offense of Rogers’ edict, instead, was in its substance. It was a judgment against “suddenly” [T.R., K.N.]—a death sentence, which I, as copy editor, would be bound to execute. And just like that—as with the abrupt loss of faith that renders a hangman unemployable—the curtain suddenly fell from my eyes.

Let’s leave aside the demonstrable fact that “suddenly” [T.R., K.N.] was plainly good enough for God (in the Bible), Shakespeare (in Hamlet), and The Beatles (in “Yesterday”): my eyes are on something much, much darker.

Readers, we were told that good prose is clear, concise, direct. On that promise, this magazine—wrapped in Hemingway and patriotic Strunk & White—declared a war on modifiers, clichés, redundancies, feeble (and empty) phrasings, and sesquipedalianisms [needlessly long words]. These unsavory elements, these insidious characters—so the justification goes—are a fifth column in the authorial effort, depriving writing of vigor and vividness, power and punch.

But, as the overreach on “suddenly” [T.R., K.N.] reveals, this was all a lie. At last, I see “fat trimming,” “clutter clearing,” and “prose tightening” for what it actually is: merely a pretext for a fascistic, Orwellian project of domination and control.

The truth is that editing is only censorship by another word. At the shallow end, excision of authors’ words betrays a rigid elitism, a paternalism a la big government—i.e., telling us how and how not to write. But the deeper, more sinister fact is this: when this magazine strikes through what it arrogantly deems a lifeless cliché, an inscrutable Latinism, or a tautological redundancy, it is, for all intents and purposes, muzzling us writers. It is seizing our verbal equipment (without any semblance of due process, mind you)—placing helpful prefab formulations like “come hell or high water” and “in flagrante delicto” off-limits—and, ergo, makes it harder for us to say what we think we want to say. Miserabile dictu, D follows in the ignoble wake of the vast majority of history’s most oppressive autocrats as it silences us by leaving us literally and devastatingly speechless.

The imposition is aesthetic, too. Prose lushly marbled with layers upon layers of adjectives, adverbs, phrase tangles, polysyllabic jumbles, and four-or-five-(or)-(six)-words-for-the-price-of-one circumlocutions has a decidedly distinct charm of its own. But to hear this magazine’s ruthlessly and ruefully exacting standard of beauty, such writing is “padded,” “flabby,” “larded up,” “lumbering” with “excess fat,” and—of all, indubitably the most patently outrageous and, if one is to amply consider the not unpersuasive proposition which holds that critiques of beauty are a priori political, the most revelatory of a kind of reactionary and misogynistic politics—even “ugly.” Notions of beauty evolve, yet D adheres to a retrograde, pocrescophobic aesthetic that favors “lean” prose—“tight,” “agile,” “sculpted.” But in an age of democratic beauty—of real women like Christina Hendricks and Sofia Vergara—the prose D decries isn’t “bloated”; it’s shapely, full-figured, voluptuous. A healthy, realistic ideal for young writers to aspire to.

Still, D’s most incendiary aim is in seeking nothing short of the dismantling of the English language. This magazine, in the ostensible service of crisp, clean prose, trumpets brevity, minimalism, an economy of words. It commands that we employ the productive; discard the inessential (e.g., idle words like “suddenly” [T.R., K.N.]). It is an imperative, though, not of literary preoccupation, but of a calculated capitalist conspiracy to eradicate waste—now, the “drag” of so-called excess verbiage; and soon, the “deadweight” of power-diffusing language itself. Little by little, this magazine whittles away at the resources of the English language, debilitating its robustness and versatility; the day will inevitably come when it collapses, fully destabilized, de-buttressed, unable to stand the weight of critical and contemplative pursuits like journalism and literature. On that accursed dayD Day, to coin an ironic term—D will have removed the greatest market inefficiency: the thinking man!!!

It has been said in a comic book movie that “With great power comes great responsibility.” D has abused its power, exploiting the magazine as the perfect cover for its nefarious ends. Readers, we must fight back—for “suddenly,” [T.R., K.N.] and for the countless insignificant words and phrases and sentences that stand in line at the chopping block. We must step up to the plate forthwith; we must put our shoulders to the wheel; we must get our hands dirty with the holy work of saving our world. No longer can we rely on another. We few! We happy few! We band of brothers (and sisters and others)! We are the ones we have been waiting for!