I feel sure you’ve all read the abusive emails of Giles Coren by now. If not, here they are. If you don’t know him, he’s the son of Alan Coren, brother of Victoria, a restaurant reviewer, all-round hack and TV presenter. For those not conversant with journalistic jargon, sub editors are the underpaid footsoldiers of Fleet Street whose thankless task it is to chop copy to length – a length that is constantly changing according to the whim of a desperate ad department – and keep it readable. Sometimes, their job is to turn copy into English. Like a lot of writers, Giles Coren gets all precious and cross if changes are made to his copy by sub editors. However, unlike a lot of writers, Giles Coren actually writes sweary, self-aggrandising, abusive emails – and sends them. Amazingly, a disgruntled sub has passed them round like canapes, and here are three. (Note: these emails have not been “subbed” and are occasionally a little lax on capital letters and punctuation.)
To: the Times subeditors
From: Coren, Giles
I am mightily pissed off … 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 … 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 subediting 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” …
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 … 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.
Right, Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.
All the best
To: the Times subeditors
From: Coren, Giles
Sent: August 10 2002 16.41
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. how fucking difficult is that? it’s the sentence that bestrides the fucking book i reviewed for you. it is the sentence i wrote first in my fucking review. it is 35 fucking letters long, which is why i wrote that it was. and so some useless cunt subeditor decides to change it to “jumps over A lazy dog” can you fucking count? can you see that that makes it a 33 letter sentence? so it looks as if i can’t count, and the cunting author of the book, poor mr dunn, cannot count. the whole bastard book turns on the sentence being as i fucking wrote it. and that it is exactly 33 letters long. why do you meddle. what do you think you achieve with that kind of dumb-witted smart-arsery? why do you change things you do not understand without consulting. why do you believe you know best when you know fuck all. jack shit.
that is as bad as editing can be. fuck, i hope you’re proud. it will be small relief for the author that nobody reads your poxy magazine.
never ever ask me to write something for you. and don’t pay me. i’d rather take £400 quid for assassinating a crack whore’s only child in a revenge killing for a busted drug deal – my integrity would be less compromised.
jesus fucking wept i don’t know what else to say.
To: the London Paper‘s restaurant critic
From: Coren, Giles
Sent: 09 July 2008 23:06
I’m emailing to say that your review of osteria emilia, in most ways perfectly fine and good and spot on, pissed me off. i booked, as ever, under a pseudonym, that over made up italian bird did not have a fucking clue who i was (or even who baddiel was, who i ate with because he lives, like me, round the corner). Nor were there any kitchen staff peeking out of any porthole. i appreciate that you have to keep your column as lively as possible – and name dropping david i guess might be exciting for your readers (i’ll certainly be doing it in my column) – but in your froth to show how folksy and incognito you are, you did your readers and the restaurant an immense disservice: you suggested that i got some special dispensation in eating a la carte. But if you’d spent a bit more time looking at your lunch menu, and a bit less gawping at me, you’d have noticed that it said, “dishes from the evening a la carte menu are available at lunchtime, with some exceptions”.
You said “i didn’t have the brass neck to demand anything off the unavailable a la carte”. it makes you sound like an utter tit. you are not only a chippy fuck but a lazy journalist. ‘brass neck’. learn to write, and take your head out of your arse, you fucking twat.
all the best
So then … righteous defender of the English tongue and noble frontiersman for vandalised prose-writers everywhere, or prick? As someone who writes and has also sub-edited, I can see both sides of the argument, but I’m Upstairs Downstairs enough to think that actual abuse, and especially over-ripe use of fuck and cunt, leaves you without recourse to the moral high ground. Equally, if you’re jousting with a fellow critic, as he is in the third email – “learn to write, and take your head out of your arse, you fucking twat” is hardly Wildean. It’s possible to deal with BT call centres and not swear, so why not fellow workers at the coalface of journalism? (“Sorry to to go on,” doesn’t quite defuse it. If a sub doesn’t rearrange the initial letters of his next review to read I AM AN OVERPRIVELIGED PRAM-EMPTYING BUFFOON, they won’t be worth their salt.) In some perverse way, I almost admire his brass neck. If only he was directing this ire at someone worthwhile, over something worth getting this hot under the collar about. He should go and work as a sub for a week.