Through the Zombie Lens: How the Dead’ish Confirmed My Outlook on Life

Zombie Burt and Ernie: Jason Spencer

It seems every other book these days contains a vampire, a werewolf or, more commonly, a team of staggering zombies. Let’s talk about the latter. They are decidedly mean, violent, and relentless—not unlike your typical serial killer sitting in a faraway prison cell, which begs the question: how shall I treat said beasts in manuscripts that I’m editing?

Certain words are attached only to humans; other words are used only for things. A zombie is essentially a moving corpse, so is Dad still Dad if he’s no longer 100 percent human? Are such semantics considered by the reader, or will he or she care whether the creature is a “who” or a “what” needing a “who” or a “that”? This is why writers hire agonizers.

As always, I turned to the oracle, the omniscient source who takes me by both hands and guides me toward the sun: The Chicago Manual of Style. [I feel the same way about the AP Stylebook, just to be clear.] Continue reading

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Junk in the Trunk

Junk in the Trunk

One of my favorite I-remember-when one-liners — Katie Couric to Judge Judy: “I got into news when ‘harass’ was two words.”

Say it out loud, people.

And below is a bonus pic, because I couldn’t resist: a sexist ad from 1969, when housewives apparently deserved a talking-to. This kind of stuff makes my jaw drop. She looks a bit drugged out, or maybe she’s thinking about a safe place to burn her bra. Thank goodness this blatant crap went the way of the capital “T” in the tagline. Oh, advertising. Continue reading

Snark Is Not Just an Imaginary Animal

Parking Notice 3 blue

Some friends and family think I’m a copywriter. It does sound similar to “copy editor” and looks a lot like its smashed-together cousin “copyeditor.” No worries. Despite my smartassness, I’m not a hater. I get it. But if I had a job writing sarcastic gold like this, I might switch professions.

Tony Simmons gives us a little insight: Continue reading

What My Kind Fears the Most

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

One of the many duties of a copy editor is catching small mistakes that can damage credibility. For example, see if you can spot the typo in this ad that appeared in Tacoma’s News Tribune last December:

Are you interested in Pubic Charter Schools?

Continue reading

Ouch…and Yeah!

Nerd Doll

From Slate’s Dear Prudence column:

I am five years younger than the newest hire [at this newspaper], and I am infinitely more efficient, clear with my writing, and communicative with my sources than the new reporter. [She] constantly works overtime, is defensive to managers, and is overall awkward and completely aloof to her bizarre treatment of sources, other reporters, and bosses. I wonder why nobody ever suggested to this girl that she pursue copyediting instead of reporting….

(You can read Prudie’s snippy response here.)

As a colleague of mine said in her email, I’m laughing too hard to be offended.

Initially It’s Funny

John Kerry's just kidding

In December, I published a post about John Waters’ computer auto-correcting his initials to read JEW. Then I saw this nugget about newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry. It’s not quite clear who is kidding whom here. (Just kidding.)

Old-School Hyperlinking

Write Drunk

Evan Robertson, a New York–based graphic designer and writer, created a line of striking illustrations based on quotes from famous authors. He described his inspiration for the series in a Huffington Post interview, deftly breaking it down for the Internet generation: Continue reading

Just Talk to Me

MicBrokenI’ve experienced a specific kind of hell on Earth on more than one occasion. It has nothing to do with music yet everything to do with performance. I’m all for creative expression, but may I ask why poetry is too often read in the most unnatural manner possible? I know I’m not the only one who’s been stuck sitting there like a good puppy, eager to listen, ready to be enlightened, shaken, somehow affected. But something kept happening, something distracting, and finally it forced me to scoot out the door with a sneeze-face. Continue reading

If Only I Were Eugene Mirman

Eugene_Mirman_worriedSome people, like software engineers, make useful things for a living. Other people, like workers in a state unemployment office, make misery for a minimum of one full hour. I endured a phone call from one such person, a dour and condescending lady-robot sliding off the mild end of the autistic spectrum. I haven’t been spoken to like that since I was five. Perhaps she was elitist and judgmental, perhaps she had been encouraged to be suspicious, or maybe she simply hated herself for not getting fired from her horrible job. Wouldn’t it be the sweetest slice of irony to have her get the business-end of a phone call from her former employer?

Why the phone interview? The state had suddenly stopped depositing funds into my account a month earlier because they realized that I made a small error on my application. Contact me for clarification? Pshaw! Obviously I was trying to steal from them to perpetuate a lazy lifestyle. Who actually wants to work and feel fulfilled? Continue reading

You Need an Object

Girl With FistIn my line of work, as in life, things of a lewd nature creep up from time to time. I spent one day replacing every fucking with fuckin’  in a certain character’s dialogue to better convey his Scottish brogue. I quite enjoyed that one.

Then there was the author who had written about a young girl who fisted in her dress. My eyeballs skidded to a halt. Sure, I realized that she curled up her tiny hand into a ball inside the pocket of her dress. But using  fist as a verb requires an object; you must fist something, and such an action is not appropriate for a young lass. I flagged the sentence with a query that described the technicality, further explaining that the action word carries a vulgar connotation even if that wasn’t the intention.

Now is a good time to point out that the copyeditor’s credo was established long before the MTA inserted it into their subway ads: if you see something, say something.

 

John Waters: JEW

WatersSmiling

When John Waters signs his emails JW, his computer tends to auto-correct it to read JEW (yes, all caps). Sometimes he doesn’t catch it in time and it’s sent out this way. Oh, to receive an email like that:  Blah-blah-blah. Sincerely, JEW. Now that’s pride in one’s tribe.

Helvetica on Wheels

Helvetica CatAssociation can be deeply ingrained. Think corporate, think business, and if you’re design-oriented, you’ll see all kinds of words floating above your head, twirling on their axes in a simple, smooth font devoid of pizzazz or personality. What I tend to see are the actual words.

It’s clear that language is a living thing powerful enough to reshape how we speak, read, and write. I appreciate that and allow for some wiggle room. Although I refuse to use disrespect as a verb (we all have our standards), the words nauseated and nauseating are used interchangeably without any twitch of the eye, and that’s fine by me. Such judgment calls depend on how conservative you choose to be. Although irregardless is actually a word, if your aim is to be taken seriously, you cannot use it; people will question your integrity, your level of education, your hygiene, and the ability to maintain relationships.

But what slaps me in the ear canal is the repurposed terminology and cliches so common in business language, or tradespeak, specifically—the use of which forces my computer to underline it in red as if to say, “Really? C’mon.” Sometimes you just have to add-to-dictionary as you shake your head.

I wanted to do some 360-degree thinking, get all my ducks in a row, then loop back and touch base with you later so that we could take a cradle-to-grave approach to this question. In leveraging a few thoughts and cascading them through the group, I’m sure we can achieve a paradigm shift in our way of responding, especially since we are all team players in a global market of knowledge-based deliverables.

The “cradle-to-grave approach” just kills me! I had the same reaction one fine day when I gasped out loud in a meeting after someone used office as a verb, as in He offices in Singapore. The culprit smiled when he heard me, assuming I too wanted to office in Singapore. I preferred to meet him at high noon with a loaded pistol. Continue reading

I Still Love You, Mr. Vonnegut

BarbedWireHeartSemicolons get a bad rap. I’ve heard people say, point-blank, to avoid them like a disease; divide the sentence into two separate sentences if you need to.” Even more disheartening was this sass from my hero:

Don’t use semicolons. They stand for absolutely nothing. They are transvestites, hermaphrodites. They’re just a way of showing off, to show that you have been to college. 

                         —Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Albion College, January 1, 2002

Ouch. Do not empower those who judge harshly, I say. The semicolon seems pedantic why—because you’re unsure how to use one? It has the unique power to unite two complete sentences that could stand alone but are related in context, so why separate them? Why not welcome a tool such as this to join two independent clauses into one concise thought? It makes me wonder why the heart is the quintessential symbol of love. I semicolon you is perfectly romantic.

Yeah, Right

OwlEyes

Do you have a quick answer to this question? If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Here’s mine: Sidney Morgenbesser. Unfortunately, he is of the latter category. A revered philosophy professor at Columbia University for five decades, he was in the business of blowing minds. Noam Chomsky once stated that he was “one of the most knowledgeable and, in many ways, profound thinkers of the modern period.” He was “a philosopher in the old sense,” Dr. Chomsky explained. “Not so much what’s on the printed page but in debate and inspiring discussion.” Some have even likened him to a modern-day Socrates.

Those unfamiliar with the man may be thinking he was a crotchety, elbow-patched academic. I bear no evidence of his choice in outerwear, but he was widely known for his witticisms, often wrapped around a prickly sense of humor, which he used to provoke meaningful discussions. Open, generous, sensitive, and unpretentious, he was loved for the intensity of his engagement and his passion for relevant discourse. He’s been described as not so much an idea architect but a distiller of truths. In defending himself to those critical of his lack of published works, he quipped: “Moses published one book. What did he do after that?”

My favorite zinger illustrating the deftness he so naturally possessed came from a lecture he attended as an audience member. The speaker was fellow philosophy professor, at Oxford, J.L. Austin, who said, “In English, a double-negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double-negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double-positive can express a negative.”

In a dismissive voice from the back of the room came Morgenbesser’s reply: “Yeah, right.”