Why use a copyeditor indeed.

I’m not a big re-blogger (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve done it here before…certainly very few times). But this post crossed my desk courtesy of the Editorial Freelancers Association (of which I am a member), and it’s worth sharing.

Holly Robinson, an author of books, articles, and essays, recently published the following short but very appreciative and accurate post about how important good copyediting really is:

In Praise of Copy Editors

That’s right. Copyeditors aren’t only about making sure everything is spelled correctly; that your use of numerals versus spelled numbers is consistent; that your verb tenses make sense; and that your punctuation doesn’t lead to unintentional confusion (or comic results). Lord knows, we do an awful lot of that sort of work.

More important to many projects, we act as a second head on your shoulders: not simply that “second pair of eyes” writers always talk about, but in fact a complete second brain, one that’s there to filter, sort, compare, index, and fact check when your own memory for the details might not be entirely up to the task. (Or maybe you just can’t be bothered to look things up. That’s okay — doing it for you is part of what we do.)

Holly is spot-on with the kind of things we work to catch and correct in the name of making the author look better. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve snagged little errors of the kind she highlights: wrong days of the week, fluctuating time of day, age of a character, hair or eye color, the weather, character name (or spelling) changes, position of objects critical to the action in a scene, and so on. I’m especially a stickler for technology and anachronistic speech, and often root out misuses of both that have gone unnoticed by earlier readers.

There’s an infamous error in Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the “Robinson” overlap with Holly is pure coincidence). Near the start of Chapter IV, Crusoe strips off his clothes and swims out to the wreck of his ship — where shortly thereafter he fills his pockets (!) with biscuit from the ship’s stores. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but it’s a pretty safe bet that a good copyeditor wouldn’t have let such a snicker-inducing gaffe slip by.

Thanks, Holly. Copyeditors are used to being unsung heroes, but this one isn’t about to turn his nose up at the unsolicited shout-out you’ve given us.

Posted in Grammar, Language, Punctuation, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Burn This Book Review: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England (2007, Brock Clarke)

I’ve been attending the library book club in my city for close to a decade. I often feel that I don’t read enough books, and preparing for the club forces me to add about a dozen each year. This particular group has a lot of regulars, and while we often disagree about books, for many reasons, I’ve never gotten angry with any of them about our differing opinions. Until last week, when the club discussed this book.

He’s not Bruce Banner. You might still like him when he’s angry.

Posted in Culture, Film or Book Review, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ISIS or ISIL? What’s in a name? A lot if you’re paying attention.

I was pleased last week to hear President Obama refer to the “Islamic State” entity in the Middle East as “ISIL.” Most official Obama Administration spokespersons and the US military use ISIL, but the American press refers to the group almost exclusively as “ISIS.” It might not seem important at first glance what one chooses to call the group, but in this case it is, and using ISIS has been a disservice to the news-consuming population.

If you don’t know your Levant from your leavening, click here

Posted in Culture, Language, Things you should know, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Word Crimes: Weird Al gets it. Why don’t the grammar police?

Weird Al Yankovic has been releasing videos for his new album this week, and the one for “Word Crimes” (based on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”) has gotten a lot of attention in the news and chat circles I follow — which as you might suspect are overpopulated by writers, editors, English teachers, and similar types.

I hadn’t planned to blog about the video, except to stress that “Weird Al has a new album out!” But then I watched as not one, not two, but three different language blogs posted pieces on (ahem) ‘what Al got “right” and what he got “wrong.”‘ This stream of hypercorrection has continued, which prompted me to write a few words to try, in my own small way, to set them back on the path of sanity.

Caution: If you’re a grammar cop, clicking here may cause severe stress!

Posted in Culture, Film or Book Review, Grammar, Language, Punctuation, Things you should know, Words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What is an epicenter? Maybe not what you think.

There are a lot of words and phrases that get overused (or used incorrectly) especially in the media or in casual conversation. One that catches my attention every time is epicenter.

You’ve heard it or read it: when something is momentous, it’s not just at the center. It’s the epicenter. It’s difficult to not encounter this word. A quick and sloppy search on the web uncovers phrases like these:

“Manhattan was the epicenter of car culture”
“California is the epicenter of climate change”
“Waxahachie should have been the epicenter of science”
“the Church will become the epicenter of imagination”
“Russia has positioned itself at the epicenter of global politics”
“it was the epicenter of the city’s social scene at the beginning of the nineteenth century”
“it’s the epicenter of who I am as a writer”

And so on. There are literally tens of millions of similar constructions out there (according to Google). All you need to do is fiddle with the search verbiage a little (“viewed as”, “seen as”, “considered the”, etc.) and hordes of additional examples appear.

Click to become the epicenter of this post

Posted in Language, Things you should know, Words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment