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]