Giles Coren: Much ado about noshing

It took me a long time to realise believe that Giles Coren’s furious email to subeditors at the Times (of London) wasn’t actually a brilliant satire. Coren (who has previous) was complaining that the hapless subs had removed an indefinite article from the final sentence of his restaurant review of Cafe Boheme in London’s Soho. I won’t go over the fine detail here, save to say that the joke that was “ruined” because it depended on readers understanding the etymology of the Yiddish loan-word word “nosh”. It seems that many people feel sympathy for the poor subs, even those who agree with Coren’s point that the removal of the indefinite article ruined the both the point and the metre of his punchline.

The most sensible thing written about it that I’ve seen comes courtesy of Ivor Tossell, a freelancer who writes for the Globe and Mail in Canada. He argues that a joke that rests entirely on the status of an indefinite article is probably too delicate to print:

“I’ve found that in order to make it through the editorial process, my copy should have a certain ruggedness built in. If an entire point is going to fall apart with the removal of a definite article, then it should be rewritten in a more durable form. When I read edits to my work, my benchmark for grousing isn’t “Is this what I wrote?”, but “Is this what I could have written?” If it’s something I wouldn’t have written, I’ll object.”

He adds: “Here we are again: if an article is so fragile that it crumbles with a tweak, it deserves what it gets.”

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