You know what I hate? Prescriptivists. Those are the people who grieve because the Internet is now lowercase. They decry the singular “they,” and probably put two spaces after their periods. (Which, spoiler alert, comes from the days of monospaced font and typewriters.) They sniff at people who begin sentences with “because.” Because that’s what their high school English teachers taught them.
Language changes, and it is my job as a copyeditor to keep up. It is the Chicago Manual of Style’s job to keep up as well. Just because I learned one rule doesn’t mean that it will never go away. We are not engineers after all. Style rules are not scientific laws. Language is dynamic and fuckity like the people who use it.
What do you hate today?
I very rarely point out other people’s written errors when I’m not paid to do so. I like to call it my work–life balance. (Yes, that should be an en dash. No, WordPress has never heard of an en dash. Yes, these things keep me up nights.)
Those of you who know the real-life persona behind Indy Clause might be surprised that I can keep my opinions to myself. All I can say is that it is a struggle. Your support is greatly appreciated.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on Obscure Historical Figure in order to finish The Fucker. My favorite librarian is tired of hearing from me as my book requests get more and more arcane. My overdue fines have become a dedicated income stream for my local library.
In preparation for yet another interlibrary loan request, I looked up a book description online. I just happened to notice that there were no apostrophes in the entire catalog copy description, despite four or five places where apostrophes were clearly needed. This was a university press website.
I thought about it for a few seconds. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Readers, I did. I emailed someone on the copyediting staff and said very politely that I had noticed these errors and thought they might wish to know about them.
Five minutes later I got a very polite email back saying that the backlist books had gone through various databases that had probably stripped the original copy of its apostrophes. She then (very politely) bewailed the fact that they did not have enough staff to correct all of the errors, but that she would correct the copy for that book.
I neither asked for a job nor encouraged her to exploit unpaid interns. I considered my duty discharged. I think I wasn’t an asshole. And I guess that’s good enough for today.
Copyeditors are the oldest children of the publishing world. They follow and enforce rules set by other people. They are responsible, hold writers to a high standard, and are in general smug and insufferable. And they hate to be crossed.
I got questioned the other day about APA style in the course of a gig. Now, I may be ignorant of a ton of things—my retail experience alone taught me that I can count to 100 fifteen different ways—but I’ve got APA chapter and verse. If I looked it up, I am right. I stamp my feet and say, “because I said so!”.
I didn’t say it was pretty. [Rude comment about older sisters redacted as I have not talked to Cougar in days because she insists on going to other countries and calling me only when I’m at Second Job. Not that you guys care, sorry.]
My role cracks me up because I am the youngest child. I didn’t even have authority over my stuffed animals. (My friends used to turn them against me. I wish I were kidding.) Now I rule over a very small kingdom, placing dots on the page. And, by god, I was right about that point of style.
How bossy are you?
I’ve never been the kind of person who swoons over accents (except for Fitz Simmons, but that’s more the whole package) or paid attention to royalty. However I’ve discovered a strange prejudice. I expect British scientists, as a whole, to write better than American scientists. However, my last two papers written by Brits prove me wrong. I went so far to check whether that and which have different usage rules in British English than in American English for my last paper. They don’t.
(For those who care: “that” is used when it is essential for understanding the clause. For example, This is the dog that we’re giving to my sister in law, our own dog is asleep under the table. You need “that” to understand which dog I’m talking about. Which is used when it is a throwaway clause and always has a comma before it, unless you’re using it the way I did in the previous sentence. Don’t you love English? The book, which has an ugly cover in my opinion, is on the table.)
My current paper has the phrase “and hence, subsequently, the model shows that purple daisies do not summon fairies.” Maybe I made up the last part, but hence, subsequently? Please.
Or this one: “The numerical model representing the supercooled immunosuppressed green fluorescent protein (GFP) actually systematically underestimates the actual verdant nature of the GFP.” (Note, I did NOT make up the GFP, although I did use it in a nonstandard manner.)
What are your dumb prejudices?
It’s my job to be cynical, to suspect you’ve made a mistake until you’ve proved me wrong. When I read as a copyeditor, I balance each word. I am the mirror that magnifies your pores, the light that makes you look a few years older. I don’t believe there’s a period at the end of your sentence until I check it, and then I check it again to make sure it isn’t a spot on my computer screen masquerading as a period. I always think you can do better.
This is not how I read all of the time. When I’m reading for fun, I don’t read carefully enough to notice these things. And when I’m reading for a critique, I assume your commas are correct—although I mark them if they are not.
Everyone else in the production process is trying to make the writer meet deadlines, to produce the correct word count, to make sure that the instructions for making tofu curry won’t poison the readers. Someone has to check the small stuff, someone who cares whether it’s towards (British) or toward (American).
Copyediting is both a job and a frame of mind. It can be hard to get out of my frame of mind when I’m not being paid for it. So in general I try not to point out typos, etc., unless someone asks. My copyediting brain is not a place of mercy. For that, I have to rely on my other skills.
When do you show mercy?
Sometimes the hardest thing about editing is not editing. I’ve been asked to do a developmental edit of a third chapter of a manuscript. In order to do this I have read the first two chapters. I told my client that I’d correct any errors that I found, and he reminded me that he was not worried about the level of writing, but rather organizational issues in chapter 3.
I corrected an appallingly placed comma on p. 6. But the incessant use of “due to” and the awkward but not incorrect phrasings? I had to … let … them … go. You might as well tell a dog not to eat the piece of meat you dropped on the floor.
Fortunately I have a modicum more self control than your average canine, and so I sat on my hands as I read. And repeated to myself “Not my job. Not my job. Not my job.” It worked for now. (Although I did find a bunch of errors in the book I was reading after my working hours sighed to a close. Cambridge Fucking University Press. One might have been a book-designer issue involving spacing, but the other was a glaring typo. Please hire me.)
Can you let it go?
1. When you’re raging around the house looking for your goddamned glasses for the fiftieth time before breakfast you correct your verb tense mid-curse
2. When you can coherently explain to students all elements of a doi
3. When you know what a doi is
4.When you know you could give a solid answer (by which I mean one that you would swear to on your beloved grandmother’s grave) to whether delta is capitalized or not, but it would take an hour and three reference books no sane person has heard of
5. Your friends are no longer afraid to email you because they’ve seen you confuse its and it’s in an email
Do you accept your warning signs?