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?
The following observations took place over the course of a very busy day.
Morning You don’t really know yourself until you drink a liter of Stumptown and beat an egg. [Neighbors should be calling the cops by now.]
Afternoon My seventeen-year-old microwave has lasted five times longer than my MacBook or iPhone.
Evening I read an article that said a pentobarbital manufacturer is adamant in its opposition to Florida using it for executions since it may cause suffering. Then I thought: Why would Adam Ant care?
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.)
I’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
Some 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
The last time I wrote you a letter, you ignored me. Why was a swimming pool full of plastic balls out of the question? It was only a little bigger than Chuck E. Cheese’s. I guess I should have just asked for a Blondie concert in our backyard. Anyway, I thought I would try again, this time with an adult list of commands. See to it, or I will tell everyone that you’re a fraud. They will believe me because they know that I know things.
Sincerely and all that,
In 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.
Association 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
Semicolons 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.
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.”