January 28, 2009
Pardon My French
Ooh la la! One of my authors, writing of a freak encounter with an unwashed rodent, let slip a naughty word. I'm blushing, I think. We may be edgy over here at Likewise Books, but we're not typically that edgy.
Normally our policy on vulgarities follows the policy of magazines, such as Time and others: either edit around it so it's no longer necessary, or strike the damning characters so that no one's virgin eyes are deflowered. So, for example, Lady Macbeth might be edited to the more family-friendly "Out, d*** spot!" Or, to keep it interesting, "Out, d*** s***"--in the event that I was feeling a little naughty myself. On the rare occasion when such edits will actually subvert the intent of the author, we will soberly leave the word unobscured.
The first time this problem came across my desk, it was assigned to me. An author had used a careless word, and his editor had failed to sniff it out. During a final review the word caught the attention of my sharp-eyed boss, and he commissioned me to review the entire book for other instances. I spent the better part of an hour giggling like a seventh grader as I typed every four-letter word I'd ever been spanked over into the search field in Microsoft Word. I felt like the George Carlin of the Christian publishing industry. (Google it.) An hour in my hot little hands and that manuscript earned itself a G rating, thank you very much.
So I'm accustomed to editing out the bad language of authors. But here I'm presented with a curious dilemma: the offending word is written in French.
This isn't the author trying to get around my puritanical editing; given the context, it's actually appropriate--a French epithet employed in a conversation that actually happened. The pottymouth in question is a Francophone. (Google it.)
Most of the author's audience are likely not Francophones, so only a percentage of the book's readers will know they're being sworn at. But I'll know, and the publishers in Francophone countries who are interested in translating the book for their audience will know. And my boss, with his annoyingly French surname, will also know. And when he reads the book, the m**** will hit the fan, if you catch my meaning.
So I'm editing the word out of the book. That is, perhaps, what Jesus would do, if Jesus were a twenty-first-century editor of Christian books for the American marketplace. Right?