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I’m not a detail person (except when I am)

By Emily Milner

I am not a detail person. I don’t paint my toenails often. I don’t pull all the weeds. I rarely dust. I’m blind to the nuances that detail people take for granted: hospital corners on beds, ironed linens. Or, if I notice the nuances, I feel irritable. Surely that level of perfection is unreasonable. Right? Who’s with me?

Except, of course, when I am a detail person: with words. I acknowledge that I am not as detailed as many others, but I still notice things. Ever since second grade, when Mrs. May taught me the difference between “your” and “you’re,” I have noticed that. Also “they’re,” “there,” and “their.” And “its” and “it’s.”

Being a detail person with words means that I automatically resonate with other word detail people (Like Annette Lyon, the Word Nerd). “Yes!” I say to myself when someone complains about its and it’s. “Someone else cares about this too!” It means that I admire copyeditors, my heroes, who are much more detailed than I am. All hail copyeditors!

When I was a kid, I took glee in discovering printed material with punctuation errors. I was amazed that grown-ups made mistakes that I, a kid, could easily identify. I pointed them out loudly and in public (sorry about that, Mom and Dad). But now, I’m not so… picky about them. I notice when there’s a your instead of you’re. How could I not? It hurts my eyes.

But it’s occurred to me that my unpainted toenails probably hurt someone’s eyes too. And my dust, and my weeds. And whatever other nuance or detail that is so above me, I just don’t even think about it. I hope they have a little mercy on me, for my lack of expertise where they shine. I can let a “your” slide every so often in exchange for someone turning a blind eye to my dandelions.

Do you consider yourself a detail person? In just one thing, or do you specialize in many? How do you share your talent for detail, whatever it is, effectively? Or do you just keep it to yourself?

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

42 thoughts on “I’m not a detail person (except when I am)”

  1. Recently I took a grammar test. So when I drove by a billboard that said, "What days are you going?" It drove me nuts, shouldn't it be WHICH days are you attending? or something like that? All that money and time to produce a billboard and you don't check the grammar?

    I also very seldom paint my toenails, but I do make sure my feet are tidy if they are going to make a public appearance.

    The art people had in their homes, or lack of it, used to be my focus because I'm an artist. Now I'm a tired mom with health issues and I know that sometimes the walls come last. So I try not to judge a person that way. Tolerance and understanding are better pathways to friendship.

    It is good that we all have a focus in different areas, it is what makes the world work. If we all wanted to grow beets, who would raise chickens? …metaphorically speaking 😉

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  2. Emily, we are kindred spirits as well. My house is a mess, my shelves have dust on them, my carpets are dirty, and my pictures are most likely hung incorrectly. But seeing grammatical errors, especially in public places drives me BATTY!

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  3. My job consists of detail and after being in this job for over two years I have learned I am NOT a detail person when it comes to matters of documents. So now what? Eek.

    But I AM a detail freak when it comes to planning vacations. I like to have plane tickets, rooms booked WELL in advance and itineraries done. My itinerary always includes down time, naps, reading books but I like to know where I'm going and where I'm staying. Don't surprise me last minute and make me pay exuberant prices for hotel rooms.

    and a little dust in the house? well, uh, don't come to my house today… 🙂

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  4. I get annoyed about grammatical errors, but not to the same degree my DH does. It takes him ten minutes to preview a message board post to make sure everything is perfect (even though perfection isn't expected on message boards). On the other hand, I always find mistypings in my blog posts (just found one at the RBS this morning). Maybe teaching English for several years inured me to the grammatical errors– I just saw too many of them.

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  5. Another kindred spirit here! I was noticing yesterday how badly my apartment needs to be swept, but didn't do anything about it. Yet, if I'm re-reading an old blog post of mine and see an error, I'll correct it immediately, even if I don't think someone will see it.

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  6. I'm a detail person when it comes to grammar and spelling errors, and when it comes to fact-checking as well. I'm also very detail oriented when planning things. But I'm not detail oriented with cleaning my house, little things like wearing makeup or painting my fingernails/toenails (or shaving my legs–don't look too close!). I'm also very un-coordinated when it comes to crafty projects like sewing or cake decorating. I love to cook and it tastes good, but making it look nice is not my forte. I also have a bad eye for decorating, but thankfully my husband has an artistic temperament and a good eye so our pictures are all well-hung.

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  7. I think this idea is interesting: that maybe none of use are detail people–except when we are. My detail issues have changed over time, and I think this is one of the virtues of age. It's easier now to identify with others because I can remember having the same detail issues.

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  8. I think we all have detail issues. I am quite certain that there is something that bugs every one of us. Incorrect spelling drives me crazy. If I see a mistake in a printed piece I really have to make an effort to even finish reading.

    My husband is a graphic designer – talk about judgemental. We can't drive anywhere without him making comments about signage. And it's real fun to go to restaurants with him, he'd like to redo every menu he sees.

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  9. Emily, put me down as another kindred spirit. All those little grammatical errors bug me so much! I remember years ago, the Brick Oven restaurant in Provo had as its slogan "Pizza at it's best" and it drove me nuts–I actually filled out one of their comment cards, pointing out their error. They now use "its"–I don't know if it was due to my complaint, but still, it pleases me. Another of my pet peeves is the misuse of the apostrophe in plural nouns. Whenever I see something like "The Johnson's went to Hawaii" I say to myself, "The Johnson's [and "the Johnson" would be a single entity in this case] what went to Hawaii? The Johnson's dog? The Johnson's clothes?" Apostrophes should only be used in contractions and to indicate possession–never in plurals, people (see how fanatical I am?). We live in a gated community and there's a sign at the back gate that says, "Delivery people and guest's please use front gate." I want to scratch out that apostrophe with a permanent marker.
    Also, your post reminded me that I need to paint my toenails–they are in sad shape.

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  10. I for one would actually like to know how to hang my pictures correctly. I think there is value in each of us having a different focus for our detail obsessions (is that too strong a word?) as long as we can tactfully share our strengths with others. I agree that our detail issues evolve over time…in fact I'm hoping they do because I can't stand my current focus on the pathology of germs and the details of good sanitizing. I look forward to the day that other details will take over and help my sanity to remain intact. The key is definitely balance and whether or not we can let things go and avoid passing judgment.

    Along with eyes for grammatical errors I'm a spelling freak (did you know judgement is correct spelling in Great Britain?) and fact checker…I became known in my family as the snopes queen and people finally stopped sending me forwards. Details are good, but I have to constantly remind myself not to take things too far.

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  11. Spelling – mis-spelling drives me CRAZY. But I have learned, for the most part, to keep my mouth shut about it. We have a writer's group and it is not good when someone reads a great sensitive piece and someone says, "excuse me, shouldn't there be a comma there instead of a dash?". Timing truly is one of the great secrets to life!
    Clutter does not bother me – in fact I believe clutter is LOVE. Dirty dishes and laundry lying around another thing entirely.
    But we all have our own timelines……

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  12. I agree with Ahna that your detail issues change over time, which truly is a blessing of age. I'm still obsessive about travel details and I already have my primary lesson completely prepared for next Sunday. When I stayed home all summer, I would become obsessive about gardening. I would have perfectly groomed, artistically designed flower beds and gorgeous pots of flowers on my patio. I love gardening because it is an opportunity to be creative and artistic. You have a new canvas to work with every year. I love to try out new varieties of flowers. I guess I'm only a detail person about things that bring me joy…

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  13. You had me at "except when I am."
    My life is far too full of these exceptions!!! {Help me!}

    And I laugh at your word nerdiness. I am the same way. My favorite (or unfavorite) is could of, should of, would of. (Oh, if only you really could HAVE.) And I love it when people (grown-ups especially) say: eXpecially. Fun times.

    Great post. I'm sure I'm blinding someone somewhere with something annoying that I can't help myself from doing.
    You made me laugh today. Thanks.

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  14. What fun to come over and see my cover here. Thanks, Emily!

    I am indeed a bit obnoxious when it comes to grammar and punctuation issues. I about flipped out when I saw a t-shirt from a *teacher's convention* with a comma splice on it. ARGH!

    But I have plenty of clutter in my house. Not sure what that says about me. 🙂

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  15. Emily–I luv this post! I am totally like that, to. I really hate it when people use poor grammar and spelling. Could they of at least used spell-chek? I think its hilarious when I see signs on the freeway and I think "Didn't they know this was gonna be were lot's of people would see it?" Its my biggest pet peeve!

    In all seriousness, 🙂 I can completely relate and I couldn't resist having a little fun. I am a total word/grammar geek! Dust bunnies…yes! Wrong use of possessive apostrophes…no! Fun, fun, fun post.

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  16. Add me to the list of kindred spirits. My husband and I take great joy in editing everything we read and hear both for for grammatical correctness and factual correctness. As for attention to details, my attention to words is always there, but to other things–like painted toenails, appropriately hung art, clutter control, it seems I flit from thing to thing depending on what is bothering me most at the most at the moment. There are often times when I wish I had the ability to sustain attention to all those things, but my physical health and the requirements of day to day living simply don't allow for it.

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  17. Shelly–lol!

    Ditto on the dust & such as well as on the grammar issue. I'm not a grammar guru, so I make plenty of mistakes (please don't edit this comment!) . . . but there are a few things that do really irk me, such as those possessive apostrophes.

    I just about called a billboard sign co. last year when I read, "Keeping up with the Jones'." I wanted to yell, "Keeping up with the Jones' WHAT?" Similarly, I know some Joneses who have a blog and their title includes a misuse of "Jones'." I don't know how to bring it up to her, but it's like fingernails down the chalkboard every time I look at it.

    I've never read "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves," but hear it's great fun. Would that be a good book to read if I want to brush up on some things?

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  18. Another kindred spirit . . . and my toenails need some attention. I wonder what this means.

    They're, their, there, its, it's – can't make myself stop. Plural apostrophes, too.

    I'm now officially pensive.

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  19. I'm afraid I'm a detail dork, in almost every way. If I'm doing something – anything – I'm mired in the details of it. That might be why I was a convention planner before I had children. Planning every minute detail of the lives of thousands of people for days on end, I totally dig that.

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  20. Wow, Justine, I should hire you to plan out my next vacation! And, Wendy, "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" would be a great book to read if you want to brush up on grammar skills and have some fun along the way.

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  21. oh yes, Miss Emily, oh yes. Dust is fine; mixing up to and too is just wrong. 😉

    separate is the word that makes me crazy– I see it spelled incorrectly on billboards, in stores, everywhere!

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  22. I'm glad to see so many kindred spirits!

    And I really like hearing about what other people are detailed at. It's good for me to realize that some people who love hanging pictures perfectly, whereas I just want the darn thing on the wall someplace…. or people who love planning trips (bleh) or major events (I would die).

    I guess what I think is most important for me is the realization that I need to learn from others' detailed gifts, rather than be intimidated by them. This is harder than it sounds, but I'm working at it.

    Thanks for all the great input. And if you ever read a typo in one of my posts, it's okay to let me know. Like I said, all hail copyeditors! 🙂

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  23. I'm a stickler for grammar and punctuation. And toenails. My pet peeve is the liberal and incorrect use of quotation marks. I was at a restaurant and the menu actually said, "don't forget to take "pie" home for dessert!" So I guess it only looked like pie; it was actually something else. I just feel like screaming, "quotation marks and underlining are not interchangeable!!!"

    I tend to get more involved in details that in the big picture sometimes. Lsst week I completely planned what my daughter's birthday cake would look like, but forgot to book the party place until three days before. I guess I only like the interesting details.

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  24. I get so bugged when the author of a novel messes up little details about characters. For example, if the age of the character is given as 14 somewhere and then, later in the story, it's clear that the character is actually older or younger or whatever. Why does this annoy me? Does anyone else notice this? 🙂

    That being said, I can easily close the door on a messy room and go on my merry way.

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  25. I'd have to say I'm more visually detailed than anything. For example, when someone comes over for dinner, I tend to focus more on what table cloth and napkins I'm using rather than what I'm actually making for dinner. I figure even if the dinner stinks, at least it looks nice.

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  26. I used to mark up the weekly ward bulletin and laugh and the errors in the ward newsletter. Then I was called to do that job. I now cut people slack because I certainly got my comeuppance.

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  27. Wendy, if you are claiming to be an expert, I would love to double check what I think I know about using my last name that ends in s. Before I knew I'd have it as a last name, I had clarified the rule (for possession pretend like it doesn't have an s at the end and follow the regular rules) but since then I have read some conflicting info and I certainly see people doing different things.
    Name has been changed but it is similar enough.
    Our name= Simmons
    Our family= The Simmonses
    Our house= The Simmonses' house
    Me= Mrs. Simmons
    My house= Mrs. Simmons's house
    What do you think? Is that right?

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  28. ditto the grammar.
    My husband will run a job lead by me to see what I think, and then I start asking for all kinds of details, and pretty soon I have come up with a frightening scenario where there was once an exciting prospect. I hate getting into something that will affect our financial well-being only to have some sticky fine print surprise us. Give me all the details before I sign!

    Can you tell my dad is a lawyer?

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  29. i confess to a smug sense of superiority when i see errors that i know to avoid. the their, they're, there's of the grammar world, but i'm humbled whenever i need to write something that i'm not 100% sure about. JKS painted a good example above with the S conundrum. there have been times i've gone out of my way to find out a rule, only to promptly forget it. it's its its' falls into that category. so i'm not verbal about it when i see others making their mistakes.

    one phrase i wish we'd just add to the official English Language Cannon is the commonly used "whole nother…" because nother isn't a word. "Another whole…" is what they *should* say (at least i think so!) 🙂

    but thats a whole nother topic that i exspeshially think there are better qualified people (like the simonses) to talk about than me. or i. ♥

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  30. Emily, I love your title! I'm not a detail person (except then I am), too! In some ways I feel like a crazed perfectionist and in others I'm a total slob. Go figure?

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  31. ok, here is one that makes me cringe:

    my adorable niece (8 yo) says a-tchi- cally for actually. I love her, but that DRIVES ME NUTS!!!!! Sometimes I am anal and correct her, but other times I have to take a deep breath and tell myself that everything will be ok.

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  32. Okay, I was a bit of a detail person… until I read this blog!
    Now I'm paranoid :-)!
    Are my apostrophes in the right place?
    Is this the right your?
    How do I make this plural again?
    Paranoid, or more observant, I thank you for helping my writing improve! (I hope!)

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  33. Now as I go around town I see them everywhere and they are driving me nuts. Today I even saw a crude statement about something being TOO big where 'too' was spelled 'to'. DUH!

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  34. I feel really sorry for the stores/schools with those letter signs — you know, the ones that strategic letters are always falling off?
    We saw one advertising its pizza (got the its right, right?!) for $999.
    Didn't eat there :-).

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  35. Grammatical kindred spirits! I had several English majors as roommates at BYU, and when they all took an editing class, red pen was everywhere. I loved it, though. I had the most grammatically correct papers in teh entire P. E. department. We loved to notice incorrect signs around Provo and mock them. Our all-time favorite was "Renting Single Ladies: Clean and Affordable."

    As far as my own ability to be detail oriented, I really love to be organized, except when I don't have time. Then things just lie where they fall until I can get around to them–sometimes weeks later. My husband does not understand this quirk at all, and considers it very inconsistent of me.

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