Thursday, March 16, 2006

the Heidelberg uncertainty principle

This is a photo of a Heidelberg printing machine (a pretty old one). They’re good, apparently.

Today, three of my workmates and I visited a couple of local printers. In my current job, I edit a magazine. I never trained as an editor of publications: almost all I know has been learned on the job. One consequence of this is that I have no idea about some of the publishing/editing jargon and associated technical knowledge. Some I’ve picked up, but I remain clueless about much of it. For instance, I know nothing about industrial printing machines.

And I squirm when I have the following sort of conversation – this one with one of the workmates, who does, it seems, know about printing machines:

Workmate (looking at me, expectantly): Heidelberg is the Mercedes of printing presses!

Me (knowingly): Mmm. Uh huh. (nods head)

My accompanying thoughts: “Quality German engineering….gooooooooood. Why am I saying ‘mmm’ in a way that implies I know deeply that Heidelberg printing machines are unsurpassed in their precision, reliability and overall quality? Why am I nodding my head in an agreeable and assured manner?”

I also never formally studied editing. I probably know when to use the past perfect tense, but I’d have to look it up if you wanted me to define it. My ignorance in this field led to this conversation with the somewhat grammar-obsessed scientific editor who works two offices away from me (and spends his lunch walking laps around the lawn outside our building, proofing papers…I think he probably edits non-work stuff for kicks on the weekends):

Scientific editor (walking into my office): “What do you think of dangling modifiers?”

Me (looking what I hoped might be appropriately amused): “Ha! Well – you know!” (Please don’t ask me what a dangling modifier is. Please.)

Scientific editor: (sniggering, shaking head): “well, this one’s a doozy!”

He proceeded to tell me about said doozy (we shared a laugh over that, he and I!) and saved me the ignominy of trying to say something that proved I knew what it was. It did turn out that I knew one should avoid dangling modifiers, even if I didn’t know how to define one. At least I didn’t answer: “I LOVE dangling modifiers! Use them all the time! Can't catch a fish without one!”


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