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Wilf Popoff

An Editor Who Laughed at Her Work


As an editor Karen Virag never seemed to flinch when she spotted a gaffe. Why should she? She had the smarts to identify the problem and the skill to correct it. She also recognized that without bad writing she wouldn’t have a job.

Such virtues apply to any competent editor, but Karen went further. She would recycle the worst howlers in Grammar Grumble, her mirthful column in Latest Edition and Active Voice, or in commentaries on this blog.

pen_dictionaryThis is her take on being deceived by a word’s sound: “How often have you heard someone refer to creatures like our own Pamela Anderson as a bodacious babe? Often, I should think. However, Grammar Grumble suggests that one who uses the word bodacious in such a context is either misled by the first three letters or somehow distracted by one or two other things. In reality, the word bodacious does not refer to the body; rather, bodacious is an American slang word that is the result of the melding of two other words: bold and audacious.”

Another Grumble opens: “Imagine how gasted my flabber was when I recently overhead a normally eloquent friend say ‘That is so not going to happen!’ This jejune abuse of the latest victim in the grammar wars, the inoffensive little so, so shocked and awed me that I immediately hied to my trusty Canadian Oxford and Revised Fowler to discover if there was a historical basis for this wretched turn of phrase. I discovered that so is a busy fellow; according to the CanOx, so is an adverb, a conjunction, a pronoun and an interjection. But nowhere could I find support for my friend’s egregious use of it.”

And in her first entry to this site: “This reminds me of a birthday card I once received. It had a photo of two women on the front. One asks the other, ‘Where’s your birthday party at?’ The other replies, ‘Don’t you know it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?’ At this point, you open the card to reveal a perfect riposte to the grammar snob (who mistakenly believes that there is actually a rule against sentence-ending prepositions): ‘Where’s your birthday party at, bitch?’”

I adored Karen’s approach. Having dozed through much of my grammar schooling I was later fortunate to discover Bernstein’s ironic critique of style along with Fowler’s sarcasm and Gowers’s dry wit. And I started to learn.

Karen was part of this confederacy. I can only imagine what I would have achieved had she been my grammar teacher.


See also: In Memoriam


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4 Comments on “An Editor Who Laughed at Her Work”

  • Georgina Montgomery


    A terrific snapshot of a memorable individual, Wilf. You captured so much about Karen in a few short paragraphs. Yours, still smiling …

    • Rosemary Shipton


      I agree – beautifully done, Wilf. Thank you …

  • Anita Jenkins


    Nother one.

    “For the safety of our passengers with allergies, these cookies contain nuts.”

    Now, I have to say, I don’t know why so many people complain about Air Canada. Knowing how many passengers are allergic to nuts, AC actually went out of its way to prepare a snack that, well, contained nuts. Good on them.

    What Air Canada probably meant to say on this sign was, “These cookies contain nuts. So, if you are allergic to nuts don’t eat them because you could die.” (Or something like that. Maybe it would be too much to expect an airline to use the verb “die” in any of its materials.)

    Off-kilter sentences like this belong to a particularly rich linguistic class I like to call verbal boobery (VB).»

  • Bobby Popoff


    Hi Wilf, you are great, even though you are my cousin; I glad to see your work again. Read so much of your stuff published by the Saskatoon Star Phoenix over the years. Tally ho Partner
    Bobby Popoff

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