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 Nether World Street. While the use of language needs refining, this list is a perfect example of parallel construction using the gerund form: each point of instruction uses the gerund “ing,” with the cumulative effect of enhancing the readers’ perception of the writer’s authority. The list could have been written with each point starting with “Do not…” and this would be just as effective, as long as each point is written the same way (that is, parallel).
With examples culled from websites, signage, paper print, and the sides of buses, Possum’s Practical Editing aims to illustrate why the world needs editors and to reinforce our unique contributions to a rational and orderly world. You are more than welcome (encouraged, invited) to check Possum’s posts for examples of common errors and, like this sign, of editorial excellence!
Words for today: Copyeditors will always fix your lists.