Data are, physics is

I got my first copyediting job almost ten years ago. I took a year and a half off to do a different publishing job sometime in the middle, but overall that’s a long time to edit. I have officially been an editor as long as I was a bookseller. (I don’t know what it is about fall, but I have been thinking a lot about this stuff. Maybe it’s because DP turned 41 today. Such an old man.)

The Unwritten Word confessed in print to being uncomfortable with the phrase “data are.” Data tends to be plural in scientific copy. Because I am short on tact, I possibly made fun of him for it. But then I remembered learning that “data” was plural round about ten years ago. It sounded weird then.

The other day I had to look up the word “kinetics” (the study of motion), and discovered that it is singular. Companies are “it” rather than “they” in formal writing. There are conventions that I am so used to, that I forget that they sound strange elsewhere.

The other day I was trying to describe the parts of a book to a student, who is assembling a chapbook. “You need to ask how many pages of front matter they want,” I told her.

“Front matter…?”

“Well, let me see. You have….well, a chapbook, so you probably won’t have a half title page,”

“Half title….?”

“But there is the title page, copyright, TOC…” the words spilled off my tongue. “Usually when you put together a book sample, you include dummy text to see how it will lay out.”

“Dummy text…?”

I guess I’m pleased to be entrenched in the field enough to forget what words regular people use and words they don’t use. Publishing is pretty awesome in that the jargon is really old. Leading is the space between lines, and comes from when typesetters put little metal blocks in lines.

There is a standard “dummy text” that you use to test a book layout. It is from Cicero, and is used so you aren’t distracted by actual text when looking at a layout. “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit…”

At my first copyediting job, the editorial folks used  the word “shill” for a slash or virgule (don’t worry, I never use the word virgule, I’m just showing off here, and in fact I just googled it to make sure I’m using it right). I thought for years that they were making up the term, or had gotten it wrong somehow. Finally I read somewhere that “shill” had to do with “shilling,” you know, a British coin that is never used. Cool. I’m inhabiting geek paradise.

What’s your jargon?

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15 responses to “Data are, physics is

  1. Case in point: I go right back to editing and see “xxxxx minimizing a functional representing yyy”. I craft a careful query saying “Is there a word missing? Functional is an adjective,” but then the author uses it again in the next line. Turns out “functional” is a noun in math. Who knew? Thank god for google, saving copyeditors’ asses!

  2. I think we should write Chicago and urge them to make data singular and plural. Like Moose. No one gets snippy when you say “The moose is…”

    Unless that sentence ends in “charging.” PLENTY snippy then.

  3. In my world, a shill is a ringer, planted in the audience to help the snake oil salesman hook the marks.

    And virgule may be a comma, but it sounds rather rude., like a wooden ruler used for spanking amenable young women.

  4. I miss the photographic jargon of my previous life. Shooting wide open (lens at maximum aperture), in the golden light (just before sunset), surrounded by photographers with lens envy (similar to penis envy, as in the other guy’s got a longer one). Very sexy lingo, I’ve always thought.

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