No Argument

One of my friends texted me, “Someone [presumably at her job?] is trying to argue that the Chicago Manual of Style is the ‘best’.” Clearly she was looking at the wrong person for backup.

“It is!” I wrote back cheerfully.

“I like that it takes all the crap out of the actual text [she was talking about citations as footnotes]. But that’s it.”

I did concede that the citation style was possibly not as perfect as the rest of the book.

“But how can you hate the style that brought you such classics such as ‘Pipe down with the Gratuitous Capitalization over there’?”

And thus, Indy’s Quick and Dirty Guide to the Chicago Manual of Style was born.

1. Pipe down with the Gratuitous Capitalizations over there.

2. Why the fuck would you even consider not using a serial comma?

3. Hyphenate adjectives that are more than one word only when they appear before a noun. Were you raised in a red-brown barn??

4. One does not italicize for emphasis, one lets the mightiness of her vocabulary rain emphasis down on her enemies instead.

5. Close up words so as not to overburden and overtax your underrepresented word count.

5a. Yeah, that didn’t really make sense.

6. Delete each and every redundant word phrase redundancy.

6a. Can you imagine how much it hurt me to write the last sentence?

6b. The pain was unbearable.

6c. I wept into my empty coffee cup.

7. When I’m queen of the world, I will call myself Queen Indy the Great and demand that everyone use single spaces between sentences without fail. That includes the royal consort, DP.

What are some of your favorite rules?

How To Fuck Up Your Editing Project Without Even Trying

I have done all of these things. This is why you do two passes in any copyediting project.

1. Press Ctrl + V instead of Ctrl + C.

I had to check to see if methethyldioxide (yes, I made that up, no that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist) was a real word. I cut and paste words into google a hundred times a day. Keyboard shortcuts make my job go ten times faster. But never go so fast that you hit paste when you mean to copy, because then you have a sentence that reads “The researchers put 4 mL of dimethethylrosannadanna solution into the 96-well plate” rather than “The researchers put 4 mL of tricrystalmethbananasplit solution into the 96-well plate.” And don’t tell me (except you, Dr. B) that you have enough education to catch that error.

2. Don’t completely delete the original text when you add something.

You’re going to look pretty stupid when your author query reads: “AU: OK to change ‘monkey-duck pants’ to ‘monkey pants’?” but the text says “monkey- du pants.” I often edit in “Show Final” in track changes, otherwise I can’t tell if I’m adding extra spaces, or forgetting to delete the duck.

3. Leave your computer unattended.

Someone you promised in front of all your friends to love for the rest of your natural life might add “Indy Clause is a pretty pretty princess” in the text of your article on the effect of beta-superman on deep-vein thrombosis. Try explaining that to the tech editors.

How easy is it to fuck up your work life?

This post is dedicated to reader B who has become Dr. B this week. Huzzah!

When I give a shit

When I first became a copyeditor, my friends got nervous about writing letters to me. I scolded them (because I’m all diplomatic like that), telling them that I would never correct their grammar in an email. My mama raised me better than that. However if they handed me a copy of their resumes, all bets were off.

I try to make my blog posts grammatically correct because I’m a goddamned copyeditor. I use sentence fragments sparingly in my creative writing for effect. I’ve stopped putting semi colons in my poems. A certain amount of adherence to grammar rules depends on the circumstance.

It’s never okay to confuse its and it’s. But contractions? “Didn’t” is fine in informal and even formal published writing. But you’d better write that shit out in your dissertation.

When you write your lawyer, your professor, your publisher, etc., you’d best be sure that you have no grammatical inconsistencies. No fragments, no contractions, no departure from the most anal rules of the English language (look, a fragment for effect!). Do not end your sentences with a preposition. It’s not that it’s wrong to do so, it’s that you want to be using your most formal style.

In creative writing, you can calm the fuck down. Write in fragments, curse, use contractions. But make sure it’s comprehensible to the reader, unless you have a good reason for it to be obtuse.

I have the amazing ability to moderate my editorial eye. In a cover letter, I’ll bust you for capitalizing “department” in “English department.” In creative writing, I’ll let you use sentence fragments to your heart’s content.

What rules are you  living by today?


Copyeditors are often perceived as extraordinarily organized, anal, and conservative in action. (And I assure you that this is exactly what I’m like.) But the truth is that even for a left-wing, bisexual, free-thinking hippy such as myself, anomalies make me nervous in my line of work.

Authors tend to be consistent in their errors. If they use an ampersand for an “and” in the citations, they will do so throughout. So when their mistakes are inconsistent, I become uneasy. When the system generates queries (don’t ask, it’s not very interesting) that shouldn’t really be there, I worry that I’m missing something.

And sure enough, the system generated a query that didn’t make sense. Well, machines are even more consistent than erring authors, and so I took a second link. Oh. Turns out that Table 1 was labeled as Table I. You can imagine why I might miss that my first time around.

Even uptight copyeditors get lazy, feel as if they know what they are doing, and don’t look as closely as they might. So it’s always good to be reminded that although the page numbers are almost always right, sometimes they are incorrect, and you have to make sure the numbers make sense. Check again. It won’t hurt, and while it won’t save lives, it might save your ass.

What do you need to remember?

Comma Crisis (Averted)

OK, folks, here’s the story. I got involved with this writing group. On my first critique, within about fifteen minutes of having met me, one of the other members of the group pointed out the five places where I should have used a semi colon instead of a comma, as well as advising that I remove an apostrophe.

I succinctly explained why the apostrophe was correct. Then I acknowledged that in each place I could have used a semi colon. Sometimes when I am inwardly appalled, I get super polite. I think this comes from a combination of having grown up in the South and having worked in bookstores for many years. When you lose your shit in front of an irritating customer, it means that the customer has won.

And so I turned the question back at the group. I explained that, while technically there should be semi colons here, I was writing a litany. I was using commas for effect. The sentence was the last one in the section and said “We didn’t need A. We needed X, we needed Y, we needed Z.” (Rest assured, the sentence was a bit more interesting than that.) This is not a scientific article, it is a work of creative prose. Sound is important, and semi colons would have been clunky there.

I used to use semi colons in my poems until one of my poetry buddies (and my dear companion from my copyediting class back in the day—one of our favorite memories ever was sitting in the bar after class arguing about the serial comma) gently suggested that I didn’t need to be quite so rigorous in my creative work.

I’m trying to look at the issue as an editor. If I were editing creative work, would I let it go by? At first I thought no. But then I thought about the memoir I am editing. My author has sentence fragments that I don’t change. She is also writing for rhythm and voice. Putting a subject in the fragment would slow the rhythm down. And so, I will keep my commas.

And to my non-editor writer friends, I assure you I misuse commas all the fuck over the place when I am writing. And I quit the group. What are your writing dilemmas today?


Copyediting Laws

There are a few things that are consistent across all kinds of copyediting. No matter if you are editing books about tatting lace with dental floss or curing cancer, no matter if you are losing your mind because of nonediting drama, you must follow these rules.

1. Be consistent.

Copyeditor, thy name is consistency. Very few people will notice that on page 41, “yellow-throated warbler” isn’t hyphenated. [And, no, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a yellow-throated warbler. I don’t care. If there is, it should be hyphenated.] But one person might notice, and it probably will be your managing editor, and that would suck. This is what find and replace is for, people! Also, if your managing editor does not approve of your editorial choices, at least you can claim consistency.

2. Would you bet [your favorite person in the world’s] life on it?

If not, look it up or double check. I mean, I’m pretty sure that the author’s name was spelled “Machacek” on the previous page, but then I think about whether I would swear on my grandmother’s grave that Machacek doesn’t have an extra letter I overlooked, I go back and check. Grandma was interested in journalism. She’d understand.

Are you sure there should be a semi colon before “whereas”? Pretty sure? Kinda sure? Not good enough. Go to the Chicago Manual of Style and look it up.

3. It will always take longer than you think.

What are your immutables?

Apostrophes, plurals, and the pesky letter S

I can’t focus on my manuscript, which is, among other things, about ADHD. Stop laughing.

But I hadn’t forgotten that some of you asked about whether you add an apostrophe s in a word that ends with an s or a z. Chicago has gone back and forth about these issues over the years and editions. I started to write out the quote, but then I remembered, you don’t care. You are staring at your computer yelling “Indy, if we wanted to read Chicago’s version, we would have bought the damn book.”

Right, sorry. Here it is:

Chicago’s definitive rules on how to add apostrophes to words with “s” sounds at the end

1. It is now acceptable, nay, required, to add an s at the end of words that end with an s or z. Sorry folks.

2. Add an apostrophe s to words where the s is silent.

3. Add an apostrophe s to proper names that end  in an s

Kansas’s legislature

but Lincolns’ marriage [this is different because “Lincolns” is plural]

Decartes’s three dreams

Euripides’s tragedies

(Source: Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., 7.15–18)

Exception 1. If the plural and the singular is the same, do not add an s after the apostrophe (e.g., politics’ true meaning or United States’ role; CMOS 7.19).

Exception 2. This one I have to quote because it is really funny “For the sake of euphony a few for . . . sake expressions used with a singular noun that ends in an s end in an apostrophe alone…for goodness’ sake” (7.20)

This is a change from Chicago 15. But it’s the rules for standard American publishing. Now you know.

Author Queries are Queries for a Reason

I’m going through author queries. It’s not a bad job, you get to see how the author responded to each delicately worded comment and carefully considered style decisions.

However, it plucks on my last nerve when I say “AU: Can you be more specific than ‘schmutz‘ here?” and then the author responds “OK.”

Awesome. You know what? I knew you could be more specific. That’s why I asked. You are the one with subject expertise and one or ten more advanced degrees than I have.

Cougar Clause likes to tell me that there are no stupid things, just stupid people. She likes to tell me this after I stub my toe on a door, for example. And then she wonders why I’m so cranky to her and not to other people.

Considering the idea that  there are no stupid authors just stupid author queries (which, incidentally I don’t believe for a minute, but am using for argument’s sake), I might admit that I could have phrased the query better. “Please be more specific here.” But communication is a two-way street. Maybe the author, who, remember, has ten more advanced degrees than I do, should have realized that the query was a politely worded prompt to be more specific.

Are there stupid authors? Does “schmutz” really have a “c” in it? What are your questions?

Eating Peas

I am not a systems thinker. In general, I am ass backward. I do it the right way or wrong way often enough that it becomes a pattern. Then, six months later, I realize I have a system. This is not necessarily the best way to be a copyeditor. But you gotta work with the material you have.

If I were to make a resolution, it would be to be better about following my own systems. I am a little too fond of flying by the seat of my pants. But my systems are born of experience, born of knowing that I fucking hate to edit references and will leave them to the last minute if I don’t do them first. And if you leave them to the last minute, sometimes you find out on the day that a project is due that an author has been plagiarizing. This is not a sound business practice.

Eat your peas. No dessert before you finish your mashed potatoes. Edit your references. Check your author queries twice, even if it is the most tedious thing you’ve done all week.

What’s your system? What’s your excuse?

Editing Shit I Don’t Know the First Thing About

Welcome back from driving across a couple states! Now edit something in an entirely new field with a new style. OK, no problem. How do I do it?

1. Slowly

I look up every fucking thing. Wikipedia (ahem) will tell me whether something is animal, vegetable, or mineral, and that gives me enough to look through the (143-page badly designed) style manual.

2. Twice

Usually I have one serious pass where I look up everything I wouldn’t swear on my mother’s dearly departed soul was true. The second pass is quicker. I make sure I haven’t introduced any errors, or missed anything. When I’m editing something new new, I take two serious passes.

3. With Coffee

Prop these fucking eyelids up!

4. Using Context Clues

One kind of acronym is italicized. Why? I have no fucking clue, but the author is consistent about it. So it must be A Thing. And so I scour the style section under “italics” and then google the term itself so I can figure out whether it is animal, vegetable, or mineral. Then I figure what it is and thus why it is italicized.

5. With Find and Replace and Two Style Manuals

I have both a printed out style manual and one open on my desktop. Sometimes I have a very pointed question, such as is a hyphen used with “auto-“? I do a Ctrl + F “auto” because it’s a question I understand. If I need to figure out how to set footnotes, I turn to the paper copy and read the whole section, because I might find the answer to a question I didn’t even know to ask.

6. With Limited but Focused Internet Breaks

Hello blog readers, what are you doing today?