Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Who Copyedits The Copy Editors?

Copy editors: so important yet too often overlooked and unthanked. Be meticulous and exacting at your job day after day, and when will you finally receive recognition? Only when a front-page headline gets botched or an error like "Department of Pubic Works" creeps into a story. Imagine, then, the pressure that must be felt by the editors of Copyediting, a bimonthly trade newsletter for copy editors. The strain of achieving perfection for an eagle-eyed audience of one's peers must be enormous. After all, what excuse can there be for a misspelled word or misplaced apostrophe when you run a publication called Copyediting? Yet, as terrible as it is, there's something ridiculously satisfying about spotting a typo in an article devoted to the most efficient ways to catch typos. Let's indulge together.

Here are ten nitpicks taken from the last three issues of the newsletter.

(In this case, the question being quoted was submitted via LinkedIn, but what, no [sic]?)

(Buffett is spelled with two t's.)

(In this list, the word "and" should not be italicized since it's not part of the "objectionable entries.")

Related: What It's Really Like To Be A Copy Editor

Doug Campbell has worked for newspapers and magazines in Syracuse and New York City. He's moving to Chapel Hill in June, where he will probably be blacklisted from every copyediting gig ever. Find him on Twitter.

23 Comments / Post A Comment

Moff (#28)

The Buffett one stings. Something every copy editor should have engraved on their brain. (Applies to Jimmy too!)

@Moff Man, the Warren Buffet is pretty sumptuous though. Three kinds of pie. Grilled cheese made with brioche.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston: And you only have to tip 14%!

Moff (#28)

@Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston: He is a SIMPLE MAN who lives in Omaha, with the SIMPLE PEOPLE.

Revenege. Sweat, swaet revenege!

@Noah J Nelson@twitter This is my favorite comment, because I didn't want this to be a mean thing. I wanted it to be more like "life is funny and unexpected and wacky! All our love to the fine people at Copyediting!

Leon Tchotchke (#14,331)

I read Bright Lights, Big City recently, and I started having like stress flashbacks during the parts where he's trying and failing to finish going over a really rough article in time and fretting about what stuff he's still missing, and whether whatever it is will be bad enough to get him fired. I actually had to stop reading it for a couple days.

Assistant editor job, I do not miss you.

jho (#233,350)

Is this a contest for their readership? Catch the Typo! So embarrassing.

I used to write for this newsletter, back when it was called Copy Editor and was run by Barbara Wallraff, who never, ever would've let any of those slip through. I still get queasy whenever I spot a typo in The New Yorker.

The worst part is the fact that most of these would have been caught by spell check.

Aunty Christ (#233,354)

@jen325 We (at the Star Tribune) don't use spell check because it creates a false sense of security.

cecil hungry (#233,355)

@jen325 I don't know about anywhere else, but where I work (as a copy editor) once things go into layout/design, spell check no longer works, so any last minute additions or changes are up to the human eye to catch. And sometimes things get through (and each one feels like a black mark on my soul/resume).

@Aunty Christ I don't like spell check for that reason. And besides, I'm a good speller so I would rather check it by reading because I usually catch the errors.

@cecil hungry Yeah, I can recall some programs forcing you to run spell check on each text box rather than the entire document, which is very annoying and time-consuming.

What I hate most about it is that it takes forever because I have to keep hitting "skip/ignore" on all the proper names, web/email addresses, and jargon.

Moff (#28)

This is all sorts of insane. Spell check creates a false sense of security? No, on a Word doc it's an extra few minutes at the end of your edit that catches shit it's super-easy for even a highly trained eye to miss: duplicate articles, Eastern European names missing a single z in one instance, the second m in "accommodate." It isn't any kind of replacement for a skilled human being, but it's an invaluable tool that has caught plenty of errors when I'm churning through thousands of words of copy.

On InDesign it's pretty goddamn annoying, but it serves the same purpose. I honestly think not using it is as unprofessional as depending primarily on it would be.

tibia (#233,353)

The extra "w" in the letter might be an InDesign (and therefore graphic designer) error — hitting "w" allows you to preview the page without guides or grid lines (etc), but if you hit it when you're in a text box you end up with Stylew.

@tibia You're probably right. I do that all the time, but fortunately I always catch it when it happens.

pepper (#676)

Aren't most of those proofreading errors as opposed to copy-editing errors? I am perhaps showing my age.

Erin Brenner (#233,362)

Thank you, Doug, for reading our newsletter so closely. All of the typos you point out are embarrassing, of course. “Copyediting” is fortunate to have two rounds of copyediting with two editors, plus me, looking at each issue. Yet we still miss things. Usually we miss little things, but occasionally we miss bigger things.

The only error I can defend is the fourth: “Chicago Manual of Stylew.” The author was quoting a posting and left all of the poster’s errors as they were to make a point. The rest were silly, embarrassing mistakes. The first (“member”) is from our privacy policy and was caught by one of our copyeditors in the review for the upcoming June-July issue.

No text will ever be perfect because humans aren’t perfect. We’ll never catch all the errors, but the Copyediting staff, contractors, and contributors strive for the cleanest-possible copy because that’s what we value.

Readers are always welcome to contact “Copyediting” about errors they’ve found. The contact information is in every issue and is available on our website ( and

You can reach me directly at

Erin Brenner
Editor, “Copyediting” newsletter

Grace O'Malley (#233,498)

@Erin Brenner As a fellow editor of a publication for editors, I feel your pain. Remember, it's always Muphry's fault!

alicia (#233,372)

I spent 90% of my childhood desperately wanting to be a copy editor, having become infamous for catching typos in any and every medium. Can anyone help me achieve my dream? What is the quickest/easiest path to copyediting?

Moff (#28)

@alicia: What's your midi-chlorian count?

@alicia: You may find this blog post helpful: "How to Transition to Copyediting From Another Career"

joeclark (#651)

The hardest errors to spot are your own. Across the board.

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