Revision : Heterovision

I tell students and clients they shouldn’t take feedback on their work as personal critiques. “You are not the words on the paper on which your reports are printed.” This seems like a straight-forward point, but even seasoned editors tend to forget it on occasion, so I tend to make it a lot. “What we have in common is our concern for the usefulness of this prose here, this separate and individual bit of existence that is neither you nor me.”

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The word “revision” comes from Latin word revisionem, meaning “to see again.” While an author and an editor might look at a single work of prose more than once, often the work itself needs to be seen, amended, and fixed by other stakeholders and document contributors as well (lawyers, accountants, scientists, project managers, executive assistants), folk who will look at this work of prose just once. What these latter individuals are doing is not, strictly speaking, “seeing again.”

So, perhaps we need a new word to explain what our written works really and more precisely need, over and above “revision.” I suggest heterovision – meaning “seen by others” (hetero- coming from the Greek for “other” or “different”). This neologism conveys the collaborative aspect of editing better than the word “revision” does. (Analogous expressions would be heterodoxy and heteronym.)

In sum: While the work itself is looked at again (“revised”), the people who do the fixing, who proffer their critiques, are usually heterovising.

(Could our nifty neologism catch on? I am not betting on it. The prefix “hetero” seems rather charged in our language at the moment, connoting culturally normative and uniform values, I think, rather than what’s inclusive, alternative and welcoming. And editing’s nothing if not “welcoming.”)

 

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Note: An earlier version of this post appears in nocontest.ca.

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