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The Fine Art of Noshing vs Scoffing

August 8, 2008

For those of you in the world that missed it – here is Giles Coren’s fantastically rude but correct letter to the sub-editor of The Times. He was a bit pissed off.



I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don’t know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i’m assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it’s only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn’t here – if he had been I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened.

I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I’m really hoping it wasn’t you that fucked up my review on saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

I wrote: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh.”

It appeared as: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.”

There is no length issue. This is someone thinking “I’ll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and i know best”.

Well, you fucking don’t.
This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.
1) ‘Nosh’, as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardisation of the German ‘naschen’. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, ‘nosh’, means simply ‘food’. You have decided that this is what i meant and removed the ‘a’. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, ‘nosh’ means “a session of eating” – in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of ‘scoff’. you can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. the sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what i meant. Why would you change a sentnece aso that it meant something i didn’t mean? I don’t know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it’s easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.

2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, i was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as “sexually-charged”. I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y.. I have used the word ‘gaily’ as a gentle nudge. And “looking for a nosh” has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. “looking for nosh” does not have that ambiguity. the joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you’ve fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking christ, don’t you read the copy?

3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed ‘a’ so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.

I am sorry if this looks petty (last time i mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word i got in all sorts of trouble) but i care deeply about my work and i hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you’ve been subbing joe and hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think “hey ho, it’s tomorrow’s fish and chips” – well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. weird, maybe. but that’s how it is.

It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. i’ve got a review to write this morning and i really don’t feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and i’m going to have another weekend ruined for me.

I’ve been writing for The Times for 15 years and i have never asked this before – i have never asked it of anyone i have written for – but I must insist, from now on, that i am sent a proof of every review i do, in pdf format, so i can check it for fuck-ups. and i must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way i can carry on in the job.

And, just out of interest, I’d like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.

Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.
All the best

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  1. GreatSheElephant permalink

    I can’t help feeling that if he reread his point #2 he might well find the answer for why the change was made.<br/><br/>I’ve always thought he is a bit of a twatwaffle (all that stuff about flopsies) and this has in no way reduced that impression.

  2. Jimmy Page's Trousers permalink

    I am mightily pissed off at his clumsy ‘Irish plasterer’ stereotype, the prolix prick. <br/><br/>Over-sensitive? Maybe, but where can I send my equally pleonastic response?

  3. rockmother permalink

    Great She – he certainly knows how to ruffle kerfuffle doesn’t he?<br/><br/>Jimsters Trooserster – oh yes – please do – try this:<br/><br/>

  4. Annie permalink

    That is a magnificent hissy fit. <br/><br/>I don’t think Giles could handle the cut and thrust of blogging. <br/><br/>"You’re DELIBERATELY MISUNDERSTANDING. You see, I was making a JOKE. There goes another weekend RUINED. fuck FUCK FUCK Fuck" etc etc.

  5. Geoff permalink

    The rant is funny. The joke wasn’t.

  6. rockmother permalink

    Annie – Yes – it is a fabulous hissy fit and I find it very funny. My stepmother read it out at breakfast when we were away in France and we all had a jolly good guffaw despite wincing at the multitude of swearwords which were uttered in front of the wee ginger one!<br/><br/>Geoffster – I know what you mean. I hope Giles Coren reads your comment and has another rant!

  7. Jimmy Page's Trousers permalink

    Popped off a (semi-drunken) email to The Times. It’s a little bit after-the-fact so they may be keen to put it behind them. Still, they probably hate Coren now, so fingers crossed.

  8. Axe Victim permalink

    I know what it feels like to have copy mucked about and meddled with and it does bring out this sort of behaviour in the worst of people and its rather horrible to be on the receiving end of. I once lost a ??2k pm writing gig because somebody did this to me over a very innocuous comment I’d let slip in an article. People like this are the scum of the earth.

  9. Robert Swipe permalink

    Well I’m glad someone has their priorities right.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>btw …..have they found Madeline yet?<br/><br/>xxx<br/>Bob

  10. llewtrah permalink

    He’s a bit of a pretentious twat isn’t he?

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