The ‘Joys’ of Copy Editing

Somehow I managed to omit Lori Franklin’s eloquent and depressing post when I wrote “The Death of English.”

The first thing I noticed about her piece was the choice of artwork. That’s Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth in the production that Larry and I saw at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2008. I didn’t realize until I read Ms. Franklin’s post that the photograph had engendered a new phrase.

I spend an inordinate amount of time and type in this blog on newspaper gaffes, but they do upset me, and I always appreciate someone else who has labored in the trenches and finds some glaring and awful screwup (is “screwup” one word or two or hyphenated?)

Ms. Franklin is absolutely right that once you’ve been trained to catch mistakes, you can’t be untrained. The only mistakes we miss are our own. I instantly lose respect for any printed matter that contains an obvious typo. I can’t tell you how many Chinese restaurants announce “We delivery.” They have an excuse because English is not their first language, but it still grates on my nerves. That was not the case with the  “nursury school” up the street. It took years before someone corrected the sign out front.

Ms. Franklin is right that about having no personal interest in whether words are run together, hyphenated or separated by a space, or for any other grammatical nicety. The words I care about are my own name: Elisabeth with an “s” and not a “z,” which is why I use Liz most of the time, and Petry, which has at last count twenty-six spelling variations, which is why I use Riley most of the time. But then I get Reilly, O’Riley, etc. Oh, well.

I, too, had a childhood revelation, though it wasn’t quite as risqué as Ms. Franklin’s. When the new copies of Mother’s book Tituba of Salem Village arrived, the first thing I noticed was that the dedication contained an error. My great-uncle was Frank P. Chisholm, for Pierce. Crowell had rendered it with a “B.” Mother seemed upset, but there was nothing to be done at that point. It’s ever been corrected. And no, I don’t know what black person would name their kid after an alcoholic president who was responsible for “bleeding Kansas” and betrayed his New Hampshire roots by supporting the secessionists.

Ms. Franklin said that she disliked copy conversations. Even sadder than grammar and punctuation discussions with non-copy editors are the talks with colleagues. Besides the serial comma, there’s adviser vs. advisor, president vs. President. How sad. One can always turn to FakeAPStylebook on Twitter. Favorites: “When writing about Senators, use ‘D’ for Democrats, ‘R’ for Republicans, ‘I’ for independents, and choose one at random for Joe Lieberman.” “Due to reader complaints, articles about newly discovered animals should no longer comment on how they taste as burgers.” And one totally appropriate for this week: “Make sure you include ‘TURN OVEN ON’ in turkey recipes. We got complaints last year.” Oy.

Well, it’s time for me to get a life, which includes shopping for all the items I couldn’t buy yesterday because the store had run out, finding a birthday present for my mother-in-law who turns 86 on Sunday, buying gas before the lines stretch from one end of town to the other.

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2 Responses to “The ‘Joys’ of Copy Editing”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Don’t you just love the name thing? I get McMillon, McMillin, McMillen, McMillian, MacMillen and on and on ad nauseum. Even worse is getting something addressed to Besty, Bitsy, Busty and Butsy!

    • lizr128 Says:

      Ain’t it sad! I even had a problem when I was married (briefly to a man named Gilbert). Never used Elizabeth Gilbert as it was just way too Jane Austen. Have a fabulous Thanksgiving. I’ll be in touch after the weekend.

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