It is my firm conclusion that the world needs editors-at-large. I believe the quality of print and online content doesn’t have to suffer because it’s so easy to click on those ubiquitous buttons to publish, post, print, share, tweet, and send.

I’ll look at language trends as publishing has changed over the past few years, provide links to editing sites and experts, and opine about errors I’ve spotted in the real world.

Editorial Terrorism

I’ve often thought that writers might like to know something about the preoccupations of editors, and that editors might find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in being misunderstood now and then. To my great surprise, it seems that Carol Saller has written just the thing — The Subversive Copyeditor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself). So happy to see that..! But according to the New York Times review, “Saller herself … once told her son she had to keep editing because she couldn’t think of another job to which she was so well suited. His response: ‘Maybe you could be a terrorist’.”

The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller

This says much about how editing and editors are sometimes, perhaps, perceived… Why “terrorist”? Saller’s son might be relating a single-minded insistence on being right, along with a willingness to go to extremes. as hallmarks of the terrorist but also as traits sometimes attributed to editors. Now the title makes more sense — could it be that subverting “editorial terrorism” [scary quotes, to be addressed in further posts] is Saller’s real subject?

What I hope to find in this book, however, is something I already know: Editors respect the writer’s voice and art, and gently employ editorial skills (and knowledge, training, experience, talent) to ensure the accuracy and integrity of every piece.

Words for today: The editor is always on the writer’s side.

Who Needs Whom?

This Weekender magazine cover created by the folks at my favourite fake-news site, The Onion.com is a great example of visual irony because it inverts the reader’s normal expectations.

dumped2What, precisely, is important here? Surely it must be John and Jennifer. But no. In this case (or in every case, depending on your point of view regarding the popular culture), they are quite beside the point. What we really want to know is — Is it “who” or “whom”? Celebrities are someday forgotten, but the struggle with interrogative personal pronouns in the objective case goes on forever.

There is no doubt a fascinating story to tell about these lovely people, but we all need to know how to use pronouns, and what could be more important than that?  You can read about how we use our copyeditorial power and influence (a combination that is more oxymoronic than ironic) to impose the proper use of who/whom here.

If you are not cross-eyed after reading that, try this quiz.

Words for today: Copyeditors will always fix your pronouns.


Possum’s Practical Editing

In the market of Nether World Street

Small marsupials don’t appear at first glance to have much to do with editing, but there is a connection. Possumness (to coin a noun) suits this category for both personal and metaphorical reasons. The Possum of Eliot’s  Old Possum’s Practical Cats is old, and I too am old — or at least old enough to have encountered most of the language puzzles and traps that English has in store for even the most experienced writer. In their natural environment possums are effective hunters, successful survivors, and largely invisible, and I see editors taking on a similar guise. Our best work is done quietly and expertly, usually in isolation, and the effort if done well, should be invisible.

With that metaphor in mind, these posts will always include some practical advice for you the writer. For example, take a look at this nice-looking list, written to guide customer relations in the scarily named Market of Neth Continue reading

Editors’ Field Trip

Yesterday I spent six precious weekend hours — sunny Saturday in Vancouver! — participating in a seminar about the mechanics of editing taught by Frances Peck and sponsored by the Editors’ Association of Canada, BC Branch. The lecture was an editorial refresher — reminding participants, almost all experienced editors and writers, to recognize contemporary issues, keep up our stylesheets, and return to our sources. It was fun and lively, and I came to realize that the seminar room was populated by like-minded colleagues who are also in love with the English language. Each of us has accepted some amount of personal responsibility for maintaining the language’s integrity, internal logic, and intricate structure as it continually responds to transformations in economics, technology, communications, science, politics, and the popular culture (… please use “climate-change” or “climate change–related”  in the attributive adjectival position…).

Toward the end of the seminar I also realized that, not liking jargon, I don’t pay enough attention to the terms editors often use to persuade writers that proposed changes are necessary and correct! In future I will be heard to say, “Listen, that dependent clause needs to be set off with commas because it’s a non-restrictive modifier of the simple subject… for heaven’s sake.”

I’ll be participating in more of these events, and reporting back the interesting bits for those of you who might be interested in what editors do. So, in that spirit, and to reward you for reading this far, here are some handy tips from the seminar:

  • Always separate list items with semi-colons instead of commas when at least one of the items contains its own comma.
  • Always add “‘s” (e.g. boss’s) to possessive nouns that end in “s.”
  • The punctuation always goes inside the close-quote mark (see previous point).

Words for today: “Is that an exclamation point, or are you just happy to see me?” [comma separating two independent clauses]

A Word from the Editor

Editing is a practical process — following rules that are universal, logical, orderly, and sequential — but it is also an engaging and gratifying vocation. Editors are language-sensitive, and we also pay close attention to your voice, always aiming to fine-tune your message and refine the resulting perception of who you are. We want to do more than make it right; we want to make it shine with polished, professional language and to reflect and enhance your written image and your writing style.

I see this blog as a chance to hear what you may have come to believe or understand about editing, how it has helped (or not!) and to ask and answer questions like, “Do I need an editor?” and “What do editors do?” Or even, “Does sentence length matter?”

Words for today: Making the world a better place, one document at a time…