Live Long and Nitpick

Why I'll still be around long after you're gone

I was listening last week to Radio Times and heard host Marty Moss-Coane interviewing a woman named Leslie Martin, the co-author of a book called The Longevity Project. The book recounts the findings of a study, begun in the 1920s, of a group of 1,500 Californian kids. Researchers followed the subjects from the age of 10 onward through eight decades, tracking their personalities, their habits, their lifestyles, their diets, their career paths, in service of the question: What makes people live long lives?

In the end, the results of the study were both obvious and surprising. It’s not the health nuts or the exercise maniacs or the God-fearing or the stress-free who live into their eighties and beyond. It’s the conscientious—the careful, the meticulous, those who pay attention to detail and follow through.

Since I spent most of my adult working life as a copy editor, this conclusion caused me to jump up and down in glee—or would have, if I hadn’t been concerned about hurting an ankle. Who could possibly be more conscientious than someone who revels in scanning columns of type for misplaced modifiers? Who winces when her younger colleagues blithely interchange “which” and “that”? Who is willing to go to the mat for the serial comma? I began eagerly to anticipate a future in which I and my scrupulous cohorts would sit in porch rockers at the old folks’ home, sipping lemonade and heatedly discussing arcane points of grammar, the art of baseball score-keeping, and our home remedies for removing stubborn soap scum from shower tiles.

There aren’t many rewards in this life for those of us who just can’t stop ourselves from picking bits of lint off strangers’ sweaters while correcting their misuse of “who” and “whom.” We know what you think of us—that we’re rigid, humorless pains in the arse. Well, the joke’s on you: We may be humorless, but it looks like we’ll get the last laugh.

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