The Outsourcer’s Apprentice

Another rumor in circulation [at Time]…was that McKinsey would recommend outsourcing copy-editing jobs to India.

The New York Observer, January 15, 2007

Memo to the Copy Desk from the Copy Chief, Bangalore:


Nice job nailing the magazine gig from America. The crouching elephant may yet eat their lunch. If we don’t blow it, we’ll be able to spring for something better than these steam-driven PCs we’ve been using. To that end I’ve laid out a few caveats “going forward,” a nearly always gratuitous phrase you will find they cannot say too frequently. Let’s not get busted back to licking envelopes for the Vassar alumni association. Please note:

Asking for more balance in a story is one thing, but keep your politics to yourself. Their typically triumphant accounts of India’s roaring new economy—just like the West!—should not be interrupted with bright little queries like “Mention that economic growth is largely jobless?” or “Worth citing 17 public toilets for every million people?” Not that I’ll be any less giddy than you are if we ever beat out China on the Misery Index.

Another caution: Mixed metaphors are a sure sign of an empire in decline, but it wouldn’t be cricket for us to sit idly by. “Already the bitter cocktail of hair-raising volatility is driving ordinary investors away” came too close to making it into print (nice save, Anoop). “That strange smell in the air may well be the scent of price stability” is a horse of a different color, but should have been strangled in the stall.

“Ironically”: avoid; invariably used to mean merely “oddly.”

“Kipling”: avoid, unless used as a gerund.

“Literally”: avoid; invariably used to mean “metaphorically.”

“Madras shorts” (Brooks Brothers story): Do not change to “Chennai shorts.”

McKinsey & Co. is the correct name of the global business consultancy that was the source of most of the stats in the India story; Kinsey Institute is a sex outfit in Indiana. Ouch!

Shakespeare allusions: always check; generally wrong (“one fell swoop,” Macbeth, invariably misused to mean merely “at once”).

“Take the reins”: Americans never take over—they must always be on horseback (unless they’re on their yachts and at the helm). Please fix silently.

“Talmudic”: avoid; invariably used by a writer who has never read the Talmud.

“White knight”: Avoid.

Wordplay in headlines: I know, we don’t write them, but I think we might venture the odd objection. The one about the spread of Western-style spas, “Massage to India,” was a groaner. Ditto “The Last Hurraj.”

Finally, be on the qui vive for labored cutesiness. In the June story about the newly emblematic Mumbai entrepreneur who has left behind all semblance of traditional life (he drinks, he holidays in Europe and California, he’s single), they went for this kicker: “Old Mother India would have a cow.”

She’d have a fit, you see, and cows in India are sacred—geddit? But fits are not sacred. This is what Fowler-ji calls an “irrelevant allusion.” Avoid.

Until next week…


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