Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? (Or why rhythm’s not just for poets)

I spotted this in Pseuds Corner in the latest issue of Private Eye (asterisks inserted for those of a sensitive disposition):

And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, s****est 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 f***ing rocket science. It’s f***ing pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable. F***, f***, f***, f***.

Times restaurant critic GILES COREN rebukes his sub-editors, quoted in the Guardian.

Now Pseuds Corner, like The Eye itself, is a great institution. Anything that takes a regular pop at verbal pomposity and pretentiousness should be on every writer’s must-read list.

But I have to confess, on this occasion I felt for the guy. OK, so his assertion that prose scansion is an essential part of the pre-GCSE curriculum says rather more about Coren’s own background than it does about his sub editors’ rhythmical crimes.

And as a former sub, I know how it feels to be the person responsible for turning a precious writer’s impenetrable prose into something approaching readable.

But Coren is absolutely right to champion the lost art of rhythm. (And, let’s face it, you’ve got to admire the Mamet-like rhythmic craft of Coren’s rebuke: “And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, s****est of all”; “Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong?”).

I think that the chief reason I sympathise with Coren is that whenever a client wants to revise my work (as clients invariably do), rhythm is always the first thing to go.

And whenever I find myself internally criticising another writer’s work, nine times of ten it’s their lack of rhythm that grates most of all.

But try explaining rhythm to a client (or a colleague) who just doesn’t get it.

Try explaining that words are aural things – and that sound is no less important than meaning.

Try explaining that clunky copy makes your body flinch and your ears bleed.

In my next post, try and explain it I will.