STET Syndrome Transmitted Person to Person, Related to Written Language Disorder

IMG_0542[1]Sick and Tired of Editing Texts Syndrome (STET) is a mysterious medical syndrome characterized by excessive pen top chewing, an unusual affinity for ultra-fine-tipped red ink pens, and patchy hair loss. Individuals suffering from extreme cases of STET may exhibit additional pathological behaviors including: stopping in the middle of traffic to correct spelling and punctuation errors on billboards, pacing in circles muttering about the misuse of the word “utilize”, or standing on street corners warning about the impending apocalypse if people do not stop using “aliquot” as a verb. Interestingly, affected individuals start to shake and foam at the mouth when separated from their copies of Strunk and White Elements of Style. This syndrome is not limited to members of the editing profession but has also been described in populations of modern language arts teachers and literary agents.

A major breakthrough in understanding STET comes on the heels of the announcement that Written Language Disorder (WLD) is now an officially recognized condition. The researchers who have identified WLD also describe a perfect correlation between the occurrence of WLD in a writer and the development of STET syndrome in the teachers and editors who work with that affected writer. This suggests that STET is passed person-to-person by some kind of transmissible agent that can manifest itself in different ways depending upon the written language aptitude of the infected individual. It is unclear if there is a genetic predisposition to infection with the agent or if environment is the major factor determining how the agent manifests its pathology. In academia, STET syndrome appears to convert to WLD, suggesting that environment may play an important role in the disease. WLD symptoms are worse the longer an individual remains in academia and often are severely aggravated by the achievement of tenure in prestigious institutions.

Scientists are now performing studies on individuals infected with WLD or STET to see if they can isolate any potential causative agent common between the two groups. In addition to serum studies to isolate an infectious agent, researchers are also examining the pedigrees of families who possess notoriously bad writing skills. Families with generational legacies in English teaching or publishing are also being examined. If a candidate gene or genes are found, transgenic mouse models will be created to study further the function of the genes involved. Of course, the most difficult part of this analysis will be teaching the mice to read and write.

According to Auntie Cedent, an affected member of one of the WLD families being studied, “It will be great relief to us if they find a germ that we can kill. It’s dreadful seeing all the grandchildren come back with a “U” [sic: unsatisfactory] in reading and writing on their progress reports.”

Treatment modalities for STET remain controversial. Desensitization treatment, in which affected editors and teachers were placed in isolation and forced to view poorly written copy for 14 days with no access to any literary work appeared to worsen the syndrome, causing the editors and teachers to be grow increasingly violent with their red pens. Talk therapy, particularly with other affected editors and teachers, does appear to reduce the severity of STET symptoms.

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Michele Arduengo

Social Media Manager at Promega Corporation
Michele earned her B.A. in biology at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and her PhD through the BCDB Program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Michele is the social media manager at Promega and managing editor of the Promega Connections blog. She enjoys getting lost in a good book, trumpet playing, knitting, and snowshoeing.


  1. This entry brought a smile to my face! I hope that writing this blog entry (along with talk therapy) provides therapeutic relief from any STET you might be experiencing.

  2. I am gratful for this article. As someone who has suffered with STET for a long time, I am eager for the results of testing, and in the meantime will consider whether desensitization training might work for me. But I fear I cannot let go of one symptom of my disorder, which is the Campaign to Abolish the Apostrophe, detailed in my article at

    Clutching my red pen, yours,

  3. Great article! It’s making its way among my editor friends, and everyone’s appreciating the chuckles! But I can’t resist…isn’t the word “pin” in the third line supposed to be “pen”?

    1. Dear Elena,

      Alas you have caught me in my own worst nightmare…a typo in an article about editing (at least it wasn’t an article about the importance of careful proofreading). Perhaps my STET is converting to WLD…time for a vacation, I think. I have corrected the typo. Thank you for the extra set of eyes.


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