Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
169

What It's Really Like To Be A Copy Editor

FINGER DASH BANG?The word is douche bag. Douche space bag. People will insist that it's one closed-up word-douchebag-but they are wrong. When you cite the dictionary as proof of the division, they will tell you that the entry refers to a product women use to clean themselves and not the guy who thinks it's impressive to drop $300 on a bottle of vodka. You will calmly point out that, actually, the definition in Merriam-Webster is "an unattractive or offensive person" and not a reference to Summer's Eve. They will then choose to ignore you and write it as one word anyway.

I know this because, during my three-plus years as a copy editor, I had this argument many, many times.

When I left to take a non-copyediting position at another company, I sent an e-mail to some of the editors telling them to spell it however they wanted going forward. I no longer cared. Which was kind of the case to begin with. I never had a personal investment in that space between the words, but as part of my job, it was my duty to point out that it should exist. It was a job that suited my tendency to worry about details, but one that also forced me to engage in unexpectedly absurd conversations.

I pretty much knew I wanted to go into journalism since I served as an editor on my high-school newspaper, the Three Penny Press, but what exactly I wanted to do changed throughout the years. Initially I thought I wanted to work for People, but then I realized that I am way too shy to approach famous people and ask them about their personal lives. Also, my desire to be their best friend would likely interfere with my ability to do objective reporting. Then I decided I wanted to work at a fashion magazine, a dream killed by The Devil Wears Prada, a friend's internships in the industry and the acknowledgment that I'm not very good at putting clothing combinations together. (I like dresses for a reason.) But starting at some point in college, I aspired to one day, fingers crossed, work at New York magazine. I was a faithful subscriber, despite living in Evanston, Illinois.

It was my one-day-if-I-work-really-hard goal, but when I did the requisite round of informational interviews for jobs in New York, I paid a visit there as well. I was introduced to the copy chief, who oversees fact-checking and copyediting, and I mentioned that I was far more interested in the latter. The former, with its inherent asking-questions-of-strangers, makes me incredibly uncomfortable, even when it's just "Are you still located at 123 Some Street?" Plus, I'd always had an eye for error: When one of my best friends in elementary school asked her mom what "f-u-k" meant because she'd seen it on the door to the bathroom stall, I helpfully jumped in: "I think you mean f-u-C-k." You're welcome, Friend's Mom.

All of this is to say that I never necessarily aspired to be a copy editor. I enjoyed the experience-seriously, your job is to sit and read articles-but when my day-camp counselor asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I did not tell her that I hoped one day to correct who-whom mix-ups or determine whether "faucetry" was a real, dictionary-approved word. I told her I wanted to be a princess.

The job has its perks-an accumulation of random knowledge, for instance-but it also has its side effects when you unintentionally drink the copy Kool-Aid. Once you train yourself to spot errors, you can't not spot them. You can't simply shut off the careful reading when you leave the office. You notice typos in novels, missing words in other magazines, incorrect punctuation on billboards. You have nightmares that your oversight turned Mayor Bloomberg into a "pubic" figure. You walk by a beauty salon the morning after you had sex for the first time with a guy you've been seeing and point out that there's no such thing as "lazer" hair removal, realizing that this may not be the best way to get to have sex with him again.

Another downside of the job is that only your mistakes are apparent. The catches are basically invisible. No one will look at an edited article and think, I am certain that, once upon a time, there was a double quote where there should have been a single, and a wise person fixed the issue for my benefit. But if you let a "their" slip through in the place of a "there," you are a complete moron. And if you are working online, commenters will let you know so. Then your boss will let you know that the commenters are saying so in case you didn't see it yourself. Also, people will want to talk to you-outside of work-about grammar. Aside from the guy who called me "awkward, in a cute way," I think the worst line I've heard was from the dude who asked my thoughts on the serial comma.

When you edit for the Web, you always feel like you're playing a frantic game of catch-up. Editors may schedule posts to publish at a certain time, and your goal is to give them a read-through before they go live. You don't leave your desk much. Once, however, we had a company-wide meeting, and I had to let things go unfinished. A co-worker could tell I was antsy about being away and taunted me that there might be typos on the Internet. This immediately struck us as funny because of course there were typos on the Internet-I just didn't want them on my Internet. It's also how I got the name of my future band, Typos on the Internet, for which he bought me a T-shirt (complete with a keyboard design) as a farewell present.

Still, despite all the rules, sometimes you get to make decisions regarding, um, unexplored territory: In February 2008, the New York Times ran an article on the cover of its "Arts & Leisure" section about a production of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart. The piece was accompanied by a huge picture of Stewart embracing his co-star, Kate Fleetwood, in a moment of rapture. Both have their eyes closed, her face is turned upward, and he has one hand on her back pulling her closer. Only a sliver of his other hand is visible, and it appears fairly low on the front of her body. It could be read as if the rest of it were occupied, and the editor of the culture blog was quick to see the humor. He was equally amused by the fact that, as a result, I would have to tell him the proper way to punctuate the verb "finger-blasting." Was it hyphenated? One word? Two? What would it be in noun form? After more discussion of the matter than is probably appropriate in a work setting, I made an executive decision that it should be hyphenated. This proved unexpectedly helpful for tagging posts when, months later, Don Draper finger-blasted Bobbie Barrett outside the powder room on Mad Men.

Not that pop culture didn't try again and again to subvert me. My head still hurts a little when I think back to an article I edited about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The writer was trying to describe the combination of physical appearance and actual age of Brad Pitt's character at various points in the movie. It took possibly as long as the movie itself to determine that the just-born Benjamin would be an old-man baby (that is, a baby who is like an old man) and the almost-dead Benjamin would be an old-baby man. I think? Honestly, I'm still not sure if this is right.

Thank God I was just a kid when Prince turned himself into a symbol, but musicians continue to think it's cute or edgy to defy convention with their names. The day Panic at the Disco (né Panic! at the Disco) dropped that stupid exclamation point was one of my happiest as a copy editor. I felt so undeservedly victorious that I wrote a blog post about it. It began like this:

Late last week, in a development sure to shake the rock-and-roll and copyediting worlds, the band Panic! At the Disco announced that it was dropping the exclamation point from its name. "At least for me, it got a little bit annoying to try to write that every time you're typing the name," guitarist Ryan Ross told one of MTV's two! reporters. "It was never part of the name to us." Wha? The punctuation didn't matter? "We wrote it that way once, when we first started the band, and then … people kept writing it that way, and it was a freakin' whirlwind," explained singer Brendon Urie. "We never made a big deal out of pulling it off the name. … I mean, every time I write [our name], I never put an exclamation point in there."

Not that they came up that often, really, but that random mark had always annoyed me. The fact that they never meant it to be there was infuriating. (By the way, that "wha?" is a joke, not a typo.) Nevertheless, I went on to commend them for this announcement, even forgiving them for calling their latest album the awkwardly punctuated Pretty. Odd., and to plead for other musicians to follow their lead:

We only pray will.i.am., moe., and !!! will follow suit.

It's like !!! never thought, Hey, what if someone wants to Google us!!! But they clearly didn't read my piece or rudely chose to ignore it, sending a message to people like Ke$ha that kreativity is kick-a$$. (Beyoncé, on the other hand, deserves praise for her grammatically correct "If I Were a Boy"-because she's not really a boy, you see? It's a statement contrary to fact.)

To be fair, it's not just famous people who are guilty of taking such liberties. In the past few years, my own university-educated sister has started spelling things semi-phonetically or with added letters for emphasis. She's not tired, she's tiyad, and sometimes even tiyadddddd. The word has appeared in text messages and e-mails so often that it's become a family joke. Like I will tell my mom that it's been a long week and I am very, very tiyad. I have also learned from my sister's e-mails that not only did my little cousin look "omggggg adorabull" in his baseball gear but the planned fried-chicken addition to a restaurant's menu sounded "yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm." She was both wrong and totally right on those.

I left the New York gig when the work started to feel routine. I still loved the publication and web site-Website?-but it was really only challenging in terms of how much content I had to go through in a short period of time, a fundamental conflict for the role. I feared my ability to do critical thinking was fading, so I got a job that required me to brainstorm ideas and figure out which stories to run rather than just clean things up in the end. I swore I wouldn't let errors slip by if I saw them, but I also wanted to move on from my former role. That this plan failed is evidenced by the fact that my team now refers to a particular headline structure as the Lori Rule, as in "I think that breaks the Lori Rule…" They also IM me to ask how to spell things, even though all I'm going to do is look them up in the online dictionary. Of course, when a co-worker recently wrote me to say she had a copy question, I hastily responded with, "That's what I'm hear for." Sigh.

I know it's all a little once-a-copy-editor-always-a-copy-editor, but I can't help it if I think unnecessary quotes are funny, as if signs are trying to be ironic. Or if I'm turned off by guys who spell it "definately." I don't sit around and diagram sentences for fun or keep a dog-eared copy of Strunk & White on my nightstand. But I continue to empathize with other copy editors when I spot typos in their publications because I've definitely been there. Except when the New Yorker didn't catch "Chris Mathews." That was funny.

And, yes, I realize that writing a whole essay on copyediting is basically setting myself up to be called out because there is likely an error in here somewhere. You know what? It happens. If you want to tell me about it, I'm all ears. Just don't be a douche bag.




Lori Fradkin is an editor at AOL. She lives in New York and worked previously at New York magazine.

168 Comments / Post A Comment

I love and relate to this whole article so much. SO MUCH.

And it has inspired me to ask a question that I have been meaning to put forth for some time! Namely, is "New York magazine" a redundant construction if the name of the publication is in italics? Why the added "magazine" at the end there? It doesn't get appended for, say, Sports Illustrated, or People. (For example, there is a book called People that is important enough to have a James Earl Jones-assisted audiobook edition, so it can't be merely a matter of disambiguation!)

KarenUhOh (#19)

Is it the New Yorker? Or The New Yorker?

And while we're talking about editing, when will we each be turned loose as our own little copy editors, to avoid them horrificating gaffes one tends to make on here in moments of haste?

Pop Socket (#187)

You have to be able differentiate the magazine from the city. They are easy to confuse.

Mmm, HOUSE STYLES. This here article came in with "New York 'Times'" because that is our dear copyediting friend's favored and accustomed usage. And I was like "I see the beauty in that.. BUT NOT HERE."

I hate seeing "'New York' Magazine" or "'New York Magazine'" used elsewhere. Its name is 'New York'! And it's fine to say "'New York' magazine" to make it clear you don't mean, like, the state. But why "Magazine"? And so on.

Um I should probably go eat something.

conklin (#364)

Choire, a pitch: Coöperation between Reënactors

It's about War of Northern Aggression buffs.

limeonaire (#1,011)

The "magazine" on the end is for when whoever uploads your Web content forgets to add the italics-which happens all. the. time.

Alex Balk (#4)

Excellent piece, but it is "douchebag." See also "blowjob."

conklin (#364)

Don't be an ass hole.

"a asshole."

conklin (#364)

Too shay.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Balk, one is inclined to presume your spelling choices reflect your patience in other areas, as well.

uws_annajane (#6,186)

Here, here.

barnhouse (#1,326)

TRUTH.

Loved the piece though.

I see my previous plea has not moved you.

The space, darling. The brief pause, please heed it. It's a Zen thang.

@Eamon Doyle@facebook
wat

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Editor at AOL? Masochistic copy editor?

cherrispryte (#444)

All copy editors are masochists, one way or another.

Nobody tell Lori YouTube is hiring. (I enjoyed this)

NinetyNine (#98)

Now will Choire quit treating me like crank for asking for something other than default paragraph tags and line spacing? Much of the writing on the Internet is okay, considering the conditions under which it is produced. That so many website fail typographically (from a visual perspective) relative to 'traditional' media — and something that doesn't require on the fly day-to-day management — is a mystery to me, and an insult to designers.

Patrick M (#404)

Just FYI: Merriam-Webster also has "Ninety Nine" as two words.

Designers deserve to be paid for their work.

I'll deal further with typography when I got the money to throw at 'em!

NinetyNine (#98)

Dude, it's not about money. You just need to add to your div tag some px/em values — there are four: top right bottom left. You can assign them to the div, or spec at the p tag (sorry, not using carets so I don't gum up the comment) a dependency on the div (div name then dot then 'p'). Every block/paragraph of text is assigned a p tag by WordPress. If you have a div for posts, add a couple lines to the style sheet for the p inside the body div. That will stop browsers from assigning the default spacing, which is basically a double space after a para. It's way worse than 'douchebag' or whatever snit you had with the Paris Review. It requires almost no design knowledge. Hell, you could do it inline when posting. I'm not talking about hiring Kevin Kearney. I've had people snark at me about typos in a comment system where there's no edit button — why are text defaults that in the most charitable of reads date to 2002 still so prevalent?

dollywould (#3,120)

I loved this and can relate. I only have one question, though… So, how *do* you feel about the serial comma?

deepomega (#1,720)

SURRIOUSLY. I have extremely detailed thoughts and I am on TEN. TER. HOOKS to hear what you think!

Re: serial comma: opposed.

refractor (#3,009)

That is exactly the question I wanted to ask, too! I can't make up my mind what I think about them!

dollywould (#3,120)

I am so not a fan of the serial comma. Oh, and I also wanted to ask if you found yourself loving Never Been Kissed as much as I did. Copy editing jokes galore!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

There's still a debate about serial commas? They need to be used! Although I guess my usual "Because I'm a copy editor and I know" explanation for this probably won't fly here.

garge (#736)

My brain used to be so tightly wound that I experienced the world through the serial comma, and I would get a tightness in my chest in its absence. Thanks to bikram yoga and daily alcohol consumption, I have broken through that atmosphere and have happily given up the ghost, and never include a serial comma anymore.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Garge, not you too! This thread is making me feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

garge (#736)

boyofdestiny, fear not, you definitely have a people! For me, it was an unhealthy disorder that had to be overcome. My survivor's tale–if it's any consolation, I inappropriately and overuse the em dash.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Also, I know I wrote below that I'm a "live-and-let-live copy decriptivist", but we all draw the line somewhere. My line is the serial comma.

And garge, there's no such thing as overusing the em.

dollywould (#3,120)

AP advises against it, though. Do you follow Chicago?

Garge, I have a sick obsession with the em dash.

That dude was obviously trying so hard.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@dolly: Yeah, I'm a Chicago guy. I actually never realized AP was a non-serial comma outfit. I feel a little better that at least there's an ethos behind this thing. I'd take a bullet for the serial comma, though.

NominaStultorum (#1,638)

CTRL + ALT + NUMBER PAD MINUS for life

Limaceous (#2,392)

As long as no one calls it the Oxford comma, I think we're OK.

(Although I do prefer the serial comma, years of editing AP style have forced me to give it up, and I no longer miss the commas.)

ejcsanfran (#489)

Sadly (or not?), my OKCupid profile actually mentions that I am opposed to the use of the serial comma. I don't go on many dates, obv…

I also have a hated-by-many love of ellipses… I suppose it comes from growing up reading Herb Caen.

ejcsanfran (#489)

By which I mean "a love of the hated-by-many ellipses…"

mirnanda (#6,192)

I heard once (and it could be a post-explanation that isn't real anyway) that many AP style rules went to the side of transmitting fewer characters. Hence the lack of serial comma. That doesn't explain the awful, awkward, recently departed "Web site" over "website," though.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@ejc: Incidentally, my OKCupid profile conspicuously mentions my love my for the serial comma. It's a dealbreaker!

I prefer an en dash bracketed by spaces myself.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@boyofdestiny: My profile is comprised entirely of deal-breakers…

*crosses off ecjsanfran*

Annie K. (#3,563)

Nobody here needs another comment, but by golly I feel so strongly about serial commas being the Lord's work here on earth, I just have to say so. Also m dashes set off by spaces on either side.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@Annie: An em dash AND two spaces? That's bold! I bet your college essays were 50 pages apiece.

joshc (#442)

The serial comma should not be optional. There is no shortage of ink or pixels.

Annie K. (#3,563)

Boldness and generosity with spaces are in my very nature.

Thanks, Refresh, for eating my comment!

1) I think serial comma is slightly clearer.
2) I think style guides are criminal bullshit.

vespavirgin (#1,422)

Right?? This is important! I was so happy when Colbert took Vampire Weekend to task about their lyric, "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma." Geek out, grammarians! Also, I'd be thrilled if someone asked my opinion on the serial comma as a pick up line, as opposed to, say, "I wanna climb all over dat ass."

Mount_Prion (#290)

And videogame.

Mount_Prion (#290)

That would have gone to Balk if it didn't make me sign back into wordpress a million times first.

Chris (#5,644)

I wish this was longer.

garge (#736)

Mee too!

conklin (#364)

I wish this would be more longer.

roboloki (#1,724)

#th

roboloki (#1,724)

SONOFAWHORE. i'll try that lame joke again.

roboloki (#1,724)

#thingsshesaid

Chris (#5,644)

HERE ARE SEVEN MORE WORDS ABOUT WORDS.

KarenUhOh (#19)

You missed a comma.

KarenUhOh (#19)

You're mean. This was an enjoyable piece.

Besides, it was a semi-colon.

carpetblogger (#306)

This is great.

elegantfaker (#1,646)

Yay! This made my inevitable return to a screen full of dreadful, hobbled text a little more bearable.

beaverhat (#6,184)

I still loved the publication and web site-Website?-but it was really only challenging …

It's usually "website" or "Web site."

Peter Feld (#79)

right – the older version, which I (and the NYT) still cling to, is "Web site: (as in, a site on the World Wide Web) while people younger than me who think they're making a point claim "website" should be preferred.

Limaceous (#2,392)

It was a really big deal, with meetings and e-mail arguments, when we shifted from Web site to website in, oh, 2007.

Aileen Gallagher (#4,450)

Lori Fradkin, all the douchebags at NYM miss you!

Uncle Grambo (#579)

I used to get in so many fights with Lori about the dumbest things. However, I can no longer remember what any of them were. I miss her, though.

Great piece, Lori!

dikwad (#2,308)

Good piece. But I thought it was "finger-banging" rather than "finger-blasting." Or maybe I'm just old. Back in my day, we finger-banged.

I agree. Besides, "blasting" is far too intense for what usually occurs.

awlsome (#706)

fingerfucking, thank you very much.

awlsome (#706)

pardon me, finger-fucking.

Heavy petting.

Glorious Noise (#6,224)

Third base.

sigerson (#179)

Diddling.

vespavirgin (#1,422)

Thank you. I have no idea what "finger-blasting" is, but it sounds incredibly painful. I'm not letting any douche bag do that to me.

@dikwad I agree. "Finger-banging" or "finger-fucking." I was assuming that the "blasting" was some sort of Midwest derivation.

hman (#53)

Trying to catch "Underserved communities"/"Undeserved communities" every time made my first job miserable. This was great!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Excellent piece! It really gets to the heart of the angst of the copy editor. There really is no telling from a finished product just how bad of shape a piece of content was when it first came in. Heaven forfend a human miss one typo or misplaced bit of punctuation.

In my own experience, I've trained myself to be something of a live-and-let-live copy decriptivist. Consistency is king. So as long as that salon isn't offering lazer hair removal one day and laser hair removal another, I'm content.

Sakurambobomb (#1,722)

What is your opinion vis-à-vis "chomping at the bit" and "champing at the bit"? I am resigned to think "chomping" is becoming the standard, even though I really appreciate the anachronistic tenor of "champing".

mirnanda (#6,192)

Someone nearly quit at my last job over this very thing.

joeclark (#651)

It's called a fossilized form and of course people will overregularize it to "chomping."

Crantastical (#4,127)

I worked at a newspaper several years ago where they debated eliminating the word "pubic" because pubic affairs had run several times in print as a typo (to my delight). Ultimately, pubic triumphed.

Christina Cheng (#6,262)

While working at a newspaper, I used to live in abject fear of missing this typo (pubic instead of public). Then I started editing erotic novels and the fear remained, but it was the other way around. You just can't win, it seems.

catucci (#6,181)

I guess "mix tape" wasn't as vivid an example.

We miss you, Lori.

Also, in the same way Beyonce deserves credit for "If I Were A Boy," Alicia Keys deserves to be stoned for her needless and grammatically incorrect remake of "If I Were Your Woman."
#STILLBITTER

rajma (#2,918)

But Alicia COULD be your woman, whereas it is actually impossible for Beyonce to be a boy, if "boy" is interpreted as a specifically underage male. I thought the was/were distinction was based on the possibility of the supposition becoming fact. Am I wrong?

I have no idea what the post was about as I am enthralled by the pic of Capt. Picard successfully applying the high degree of difficulty "Don Draper Vagina-Lock."

doubled277 (#2,783)

This was great

"The word is douche bag." "Douche bag" is two words. Try this on for size: "The term is douche bag." Just part of why editors are the servants of language and writers are its masters.

But seriously, good stuff.

ejcsanfran (#489)

What a douche…

There – problem solved!

i dun luvs me a perseptiv womens

katiechasm (#163)

No! A "douche bag" is a type of bag; a "douchebag" is a person. See also "big foot"/"Bigfoot", or, as you would spell it according to your logic, "Big Foot".

NinetyNine (#98)

I had a comment mid-type, but the page refreshed. So if we are having a conversation about technical propriety, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE PAGE REFRESH HERE?

What browser are you using? Recently, something must have changed in the code because mine now keeps the comment when it refreshes. Very convenient. I'm using Firefox 3.6.7 if that helps at all.

We can't, we can't, we can't.

Well you and I can. DM ME ON THIS THING. (Doesn't The Awl have a direct messaging system yet?)

NinetyNine (#98)

I use the latest (I think) build of Chrome. It used to be that I could just hit the back button, and that would recover (most) of the text, but if it's a comment in new tab, there's no history. The problem was I opened the tab and left it there a while, so by the time I got around to typing, I bumped up against the refresh cycle.

I enforce Chicago and Webster's 11th with shock and awe, though I am flexible and respectful of variance and alternatives, as long as they are consistent.

Aka I swing both ways with a definite preference.

roboloki (#1,724)

bitextual?

iplaudius (#1,066)

Enforcing spelling rules on colloquial compound words is one way to spend your time!

Amdesi (#1,934)

I think I love you. And so I will point out that if Ben Button was born an old-man baby then he would die an old baby-man.

delrayser (#319)

I'm a lawyer at a government agency so I don't have a copyeditor. Instead, our office's head secretary checks everything I write to make sure it complies with our mandated style. I fight with her over "double spaces after periods" ALL THE TIME.

John Mitchell (#6,221)

I love this! I'm a copy editor for PopEater — heck, you're probably one of the many who waltz past my lil desk to hit the meeting room beside me every day — and I relate to this SO much. When I get upset about missing something, I always have to reassure myself about all the stuff I did catch! It's a position that gets overlooked unless something incorrect turns up, but it's the secret engine that keeps things moving along so smoothly the rest of the time too. This is great (and makes me hopeful I'll get to turn my brain back on sooner rather than later and move into something that uses more of what I know than one specific thing I can do fairly well sometimes). Best!

Dave Bry (#422)

Man, I'm late to this. But I did want to say that I loved it and related to it very much. The unorthodox punctuations and capitalizations, etc. of rappers' names and band names (often designed, just to do this, I'm sure) will haunt me forever.

karenbowness (#6,226)

I was sure I wasn't going to be the one to break the news, but it looks like I am: the exclamation mark is back in Panic! at the Disco. I'm sorry?

Kimberly Parker (#6,233)

Totally enjoyed reading this piece and the insight into your world. Thanks!

Garrett Neese (#6,237)

Even the AP finally surrendered in April: http://mashable.com/2010/04/16/ap-stylebook-website/

Dan Kennedy (#6,239)

copy editing, not copyediting

5bells (#231,975)

@Dan Kennedy wrong. even if copyediting were two separate words, it would be hyphenated: copy-editing.

sigerson (#179)

Can someone please explain the New Yorker's practice of inserting an umlaut over the second vowel in any word in which a syllable breaks between identical vowels? Coordinate and preexisting, for example, always get that freaking umlaut.

And what about "focussed"? Why the double "s"??

Why is the New Yorker so G.D. special???

They are diphthongs. I really wish people would use them if they persist in using "noone."

Naive still gets this treatment in less hoary style-books.

Sorry, wikipedia says it's a hiatus, not a diphthong. I really wanted a legitimate reason to use diphthong.

Diphthong.

NinetyNine (#98)

It's a diaeresis (or diacritic mark). So all you people who complain about Chloe Sevigny using an umlat? Yeah. That.

No, it's a dieresis, a more specific form of hiatus that has its own diacritic, also called dieresis. I find it comforting. But at the same time alien. English doesn't need no stinking diacritics.

Sorry, that's at Butterscotch Stalin.

NinetyNine (#98)

Oops. I'm so used to correcting this, I stopped as soon as I saw the error. Sorry!

Alicia Kennedy (#6,257)

Not according to Merriam-Webster, fellow Kennedy. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/copyedit

hapax (#6,251)

Am I really the first person here to note that Panic[!] At The Disco is not the first band to experience The Great Exclamation Point Shift? Godspeed You Black Emperor! was punctuated thus from about 1994 to about 2000, at which point they changed their name to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, apparently because that was a more faithful translation of the title of a cult Japanese movie they liked. (The movie has a Wikipedia entry under the name God Speed You! Black Emperor.)

Needless to say, there were a couple of years there where hipsters spent a lot of energy arguing about whether the band was "really" called GYBE! or GY!BE.

apb (#9,461)

@hapax Indeed, GY!BE fans will always find something to be insufferable about (about which to be insufferable).
I remember thinking that when Man…Or Astro-Man? killed the ellipsis in their name, it was the first step on their path to selling out. Now band names have triangles in them and shit. (But at least Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! never became popular.)

Andy Hollandbeck (#6,264)

Dear Lori,

Will you marry me?

It's refreshing and exciting and somewhat arousing to find a loquacious woman who shares so much the same outlook and sensibilities as I. Most women just think I'm weird. We would totally get each other. Thanks for making me less alone in this world.

BTW: What IS Patrick Stewart doing with his right hand? Should the title "Something Wicked This Way Comes" be accompanied by the sound of a zipper being pulled down?

Kevin Terpstra (#6,268)

No one can ever explain to me why "Ms." has a period. It's not an abbreviation of anything. It's an invented word.

ShanghaiLil (#260)

Must we explain the human reproductive cycle to you?

erikonymous (#3,231)

I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and also declare my love for you.

Incidentally, I was in a similar situation at my last job. As the assistant manager of the proofreading team at a major house of educational publishing here in NYC, I had to review the work of the entire proofreading/copy editing team for errors. My boss, the manager, didn't actually do anything. So I was the only one, the final pair of eyes, really, for ensuring consistency and accuracy across all documents routing through the Education Department. It was a lot of pressure, I thought, for a contract employee that received no benefits and a meager salary. Such is publishing, I guess.

Michelle Buzgon (#6,278)

The article is dead on. And I'm so happy to say this WAS my life. I left the copy editing/news editing biz when I finally got tired of criticizing people's work all day. But it's true that it's next to impossible NOT to see errors, though I no longer feel compelled to correct them when it doesn't serve.

So it's with a pained expression on my face that I gently point out the inconsistency in the two times you used the Panic! band name with the exclamation point. The first time "at" is lowercase (né Panic! at the Disco) and in the blog excerpt "At" is uppercase. I only mention it since you are specifically talking about the style of the band's name.

apb (#9,461)

@Michelle Buzgon This speaks to the most infuriating editing issue I have had in my years of record label drone-ship: all words in band names (and album names!) should be capitalized, while song titles take standard title case format. Though I am pretty sure that throughout history, no musician has ever gotten this right, ever, nor assented to corrections of same without argument. The inconsistency re this is one (of many) reasons that looking at iTunes drives me crazy.

TJY (#6,284)

Excellent article; I am now inspired to seek employment as a copy editor. To demonstrate my worthiness, I'll point out that, in the antepenultimate paragraph, ". . . it was really only challenging in terms of how much content . . ." should read ". . . it was really challenging only in terms of how much content . . ."

terrycollman (#6,287)

TJY, was the word order Lori used in any way ambiguous? No, you and we knew exactly what she meant. So STFU and go and pick another nit somewhere else.

Gene (#1,580)

Lori, can you believe that the Awl refuses to add an apostrophe and an S to make the possessive form of words ending in S, so that they publish atrocities like "the Boss' Yankees" and "Nicole Krauss' blurb"? It's unbelievable! But it's true.

Marten Dollinger (#6,293)

can I be in your band?

Cathy Oliva (#6,295)

Funny, cute and definitely struck a cord especially the bit about immediately struck us as funny because of course there were typos on the Internet-I just didn't want them on my Internet. I

Cathy Oliva (#6,295)

Editing on ipad isn't so hot.
Funny, cute and definitely struck a cord especially the bit about " of course there were typos on the Internet-I just didn't want them on my Internet. "

What a pleasure to read your post. Long after I left the editing world to become a minister, it's nearly impossible for me not to edit everything I see. Thanks for the (very well written) trip down memory lane!

joeclark (#651)

So if I understand this thread properly, the lead claim is indisputably wrong ("douchebag," like "cocksucker" and "shithead," is one word), and a blog that uses neutral quotation marks but, bizarrely, nospace-emdash-nospace thinks "design" has to wait for funding.

Why am I a fan again?

Scodtt (#6,302)

Great piece!

Helps give color to my favorite copy editor joke:

What does a copy editor use for birth control?

His personality.

(I think that joke works only with the "His" because female copy editors, as your article proves, are much more humane.)

jcharles (#6,303)

Based on what usually goes on in these comment sections, you will be prone to take this question as a joke or as snark. Honestly, I'm coming palms up (palms-up?) with a grammar question. You wrote:

It was my one-day-if-I-work-really-hard goal, but when I did the requisite round of informational interviews for jobs in New York, I paid a visit there as well. I was introduced to the copy chief, who oversees fact-checking and copyediting, and I mentioned that I was far more interested in the latter. The former, with its inherent asking-questions-of-strangers, makes me incredibly uncomfortable, even when it's just "Are you still located at 123 Some Street?"

First of all, I noted that you correctly hyphenate fact-checking and correctly abstained from hyphenating copyediting. My question is this: Do you think it's incorrect to switch verb tenses in the middle of the paragraph. You go from past (for example, "paid" "was introduced" ) to the present ("makes") Obviously, you were trying to say it still makes you uncomfortable. But there are those who would say this is not a good enough reason to switch verb tenses in the same paragraph. What do you think? (I loved your piece.)

jcharles (#6,303)

Of course, I'm aware that I switched verb tenses as well in my comment. Now I have mistakes on my tiny plot of internet.

Richard Tipton (#6,311)

with the possible exception of leaving no space before and after the em dash, the only error in this article is referencing will.i.am as an "artist"
… or is it omitting the double quotes before and after the word "artist" when classifying will.i.am as such?
(i am soooo tiyad of his "music)

Victoria Welch (#6,315)

I would like to humbly request to join Typos on the Internet as its air keytarist. It would make this copy editor's day to be granted this wish.

tempo dulu (#6,317)

Call artical. Luv it too bits!

Julie Gridley (#6,318)

Loved this article. I too cannot "unsee" the typos in books or on signs, and I don't even work in the publishing field. Maybe I should try it.

Christopher Ave (#6,319)

Thanks for this! Here's my ode to copy editors (and commentary on the news biz): http://bit.ly/6WIeJl

Lane Greene (#6,321)

This is enjoyably written, but the attitude towards writing isn't one I love, or share…

http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/07/copy-editing

This could have be written by me. Thank you so much for sharing with the world the pain I and others like us have gone through for years, like when I rant for an hour to my husband about a car dealer whose sign says "Your welcome here!"

Curmudge On (#6,345)

I think I get that a copy editor copyedits. But what ever happened to copy-editing?

I have copyedited just enough to appreciate every word in this piece. It's like being a pretty good minor league catcher, but knowing you'll never make it to the bigs. And your knees are killing you.

My favourite [I'm in Canada, which makes everything more complicated] quote is from the Canadian Press Stylebook: "If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad."

Greg Mayer (#6,347)

"Once you train yourself to spot errors, you can't not spot them."

I, too, suffer from the same disease. I believe that it is incurable. I'd say the entire article struck a chord, but that would picking nits with earlier commenters…

weewitch (#6,346)

Heaving a grand sigh of satisfaction, I read your description of my 30-plus years as a copywriter (copy writer?) and editor. For the first time, I realize that I was neither insane nor existing in an alter world…just a little OCD about the difference between "farther" and "further," or longing for an intergalactic sabre when The Weather Channel uses "impact" as a verb. When I grow up, I want to be just like you/me all over again.

Curmudge On (#6,345)

Weewitch, I hate to tell you this, but "impact" was once a perfectly good verb and probably is once again, despite the period when Miss Thistlebottom exiled it to the dentist's office.

Angela West (#6,371)

Awesome – but was this an Easter egg for other editors? "get to have sex with him again." I know my prize is to just be annoying. Loved the article.

Joey_Large (#6,392)

It may have changed, but in my day AP said "Web site." And yes, I was the unofficial copy editor at Santa Barbara City College's student newspaper. I hear ya!!!!! So, about those serial commas…

Peter McLaughlin (#6,401)

You had me at "douche bag." If it doesn't work out with fellow commenter Andy, let me know. I'd love to take you out for dinner sometime!

Suzie Eisfelder (#6,411)

I love this article. It's something I can relate to and I'm so pedantic I've passed it onto my kids, their grammar is better than mine; we pass time pointing out typos and making fun of them.

Ilka Hanselmann (#6,757)

I personally take issue with the use of the semi-colon to connect two complete sentences when a period and capital letter will do just as nicely.

Loved this article. You should consider a career in education. :)

Great article! I didn't think I'd finish it but I did. :) I've great respect for copy editors. I'm studying journalism and I've edited a number of articles before so I can totally relate. Kudos to all copy editors out there!

rizla croix (#7,150)

why don't you all just remove "pubic" from your spellchecker dictionary?

will alert you any time and you can then decide whether it's the real thing or not.

Leah M. (#7,570)

I love this very, very much. (Although I DO diagram sentences for fun.)

Two more things:

1. I heard Chicago 16 says "website" is okay now!

2. See this article for dealing with stupid punctuation and symbols in proper nouns. It will save your life: http://bit.ly/ygQr

mokkos (#21,833)

Thank you Lori! fap turbo

Sally Hanan@twitter (#226,712)

Loved it all. How about an article on knowing where to put spaces with —the em dash—(in CMOS)or — the em dash — (in AP)?

Lush Acres (#245,074)

Several buses are available near Lush Acres EC along with shopping centers and restaurants. Lush Acres EC is also near Waterway Point, the shopping, dining and entertainment hub which is scheduled to open in 2 years time in Sengkang. Also, it is right beside Fernvale Link. Entertainment for your loved ones and friends are therefore at your fingertips with the full condo facilities as well as the amenities near Lush Acres EC.
Lush Acres Eligibility

Emily Flanery (#245,916)

Hello, I am 17 years old and love to read; what courses would I have to take, in college, to become an editor? Thank you!

Michele Yu@facebook (#246,935)

Sooooo did no one else catch the three different spellings of that-band-with-the-maddening-name's name?

Panic! at the Disco
Panic! At the Disco
Panic at the Disco

At or at? Hmm.

If you are indeed a copy editor, then surely you've heard of the em dash?

It makes me so angry when editors look down their noses at other folks, saying, "Do not try this at home. *I* am a publishing house professional," and then make mistakes like this.

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