The Vocation of an Editor

An editor can craft the style, but not the message. Reason — the author’s reason — must prevail, not the editor’s will.

July 19, 2023 22:58 EDT
Dear FO° Reader,

Modern Greek calls the profession of the editor επεξεργασία—from epi, “above,” ex, “out of,” and ergasía, “work.” The editor is someone who works on and from something else.

Indeed, on the surface, it can seem that way. We editors take a draft as something material; we work on it and we beat it into a shape that the public can appreciate. We like to think that we are the ones who stand over the draft and work something out of it.

Greek, both ancient and modern, has all kinds of workers, marked by the suffix –ουργός. The language has given English many of these words. A thaumaturge, like St. Gregory, is a miracle worker. A demiurge is a craftsman—literally, the people’s worker. Plato called his transcendent creator the demiurge. “George,” the given name, means farmer. He is another worker: if we wanted to make the Greek more explicit, we could call him a geo-urge, or earth-worker.

What about the epi-ex-urge? We do not work miracles; we do not frequent the marketplace; nor are we in touch with the earth. What we work with are words. Not ideas, but words; the ideas do not belong to us.

The Greeks were right when they added the prefix epi. An editor takes something as an object and modifies it. But there is a difference. Unlike the other “urge” words, this one does not come from Ancient Greek; it was inspired by a Romance word, the French élaboration. This is why we see the double prefix: one language adds ex (French é-), and the other adds epi. Editors indeed work on the draft, but also from the draft. What they produce is only what comes from the author, whose work is not raw material, but the source of ideas. It is the author that shapes the piece; the editor only shapes the words.

While it may seem like the editor takes the draft as matter to be shaped, in reality the author’s draft is form, not matter. It is the author’s ideas that dictate the form that the words must take. Our vocation is to be humble before the text, to make it accessible and readable, yes, but more importantly to learn from it, to accept it and to let it speak for itself. This is the vocation of FO°: we want to let you speak for yourself and to hear what your neighbor has to say—not what an editorial board has to say.

The only way forward is to allow ideas to shape our writing, not writing to shape our ideas. No one wants to be ruled by those who control the channels of communication. The only thing worthy of human dignity is to be ruled by truth. Help us together make ideas, not agendas, heard. The conversation that emerges will take us collectively one step further towards the truth.

If you have something to say, please send it in. I will be delighted to read it.

With my fondest regards,

Anton Schauble
Assistant Editor

We are an independent nonprofit organization. We do not have a paywall or ads. We believe news must be free for everyone from Detroit to Dakar. Yet servers, images, newsletters, web developers and editors cost money. So, please become a recurring donor to keep Fair Observer free, fair and independent.

Read from anywhere

This email was sent to *|EMAIL|*
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member