Editors are not teachers. They might have been teachers prior to becoming editors. They might even teach on the side. But they will not teach writers English. That’s not what editing is.
That’s one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve encountered since I’ve been an editor. I taught English, sure. But I became an editor after that, and I’m an editor. Not a teacher. However, that doesn’t mean that in my work I don’t attempt to impart any useful information. I’d be a pretty awful editor if I didn’t try to explain why I made a certain change, or why I’m not making THIS one but perhaps the writer would like to because whatever. Continue reading “This editor talks about editing.”→
In the category of “things editors need to fact-check,” today we have “G-string.”
First, a bit of culture. Please enjoy this video of “Air on the G-string” by J. S. Bach, played on original instruments. I suspect that means “on instruments originally specified by the composer” as opposed to “instruments the original composer used in his own lifetime,” but I could be wrong. It happens.
When we write about strippers (see why I shared some classical culture first?), we probably write about what they wear. Those little bits of fabric that keep the dancers just on the proper side of the law (except where total nudity is legal, that is) are called “G-strings” with a capital G. According to Chambers, the original spelling was “gee-string” (1878), but by 1891 it had changed to “G-string.” It’s very possible that the term’s related to the string of a violin tuned to G. They’re both about the same width. ::cough:: I exaggerate, of course, but you get the point. Or the picture. Whatever. Also according to Chambers, the first recorded use of the term to refer to something a stripper wears dates to 1936, in Big Money by John Dos Passos.
By comparison, “g-force” is styled with a lower-case g because that’s how gravity is referenced in physics equations. It’s not an arbitrary editorial decision. We need to be aware of why terms are styled the way they are.
And now, I have to get back to this project with the G-string. Something about a demon dancer in a strip club. No Bach, I’m sure.
Pursuant to a discussion with Google+ user Fiber Babble about proofreaders and grammar checkers, I looked into Ginger Page, a free grammar and spelling checker (and supposedly much more) that I heard about on Twitter.
I just wrote a fairly long post at G+ in which I dissect an article from People Magazine. In it, the grammar checker Grammarly takes E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey to task.
To no one’s surprise, I hope, it fails miserably. Mechanical checkers cannot possibly parse the nuances of writing, grammar, usage, mechanics, and style. The proof’s right in the article, linked from my post there.
And I’m linking to that post from here, because writing it once was enough.
My current project uses APA (also called, colloquially, “science”) style. Now I’m a CMoS gal, and I know AP pretty well, but even when I had to write reference papers in APA style for my most recent degree work, I didn’t run up against this particular guideline that’s driving me bats.
Had you asked me a year ago what my focus was as an editor, I’d have said (almost without thinking) “grammar, usage, and mechanics.” I was sure I could label myself a copy editor; I was aware of all those nit-picky things that average folks either don’t see or aren’t bothered by. Not only was I bothered by them (and I still am, make no mistake), I would stop reading a book if there were too many errors (as I define “too many,” of course).
Dialogue gets a pass because, well, it’s dialogue, and characters talk like people, and most people just, y’know, talk. They don’t worry about correctness, they worry about making a point. Being understood. Whatever that takes, that’s what they do. But narrative . . . oh, lawdy, if there were too many errors in the narrative passages within the first chapter or so? I’d close the book and that was the end. It never got another chance with me, no sirree.
Time passes. ::insert .wmv of analog clock with swiftly-moving hands::
Now, I would still call myself a copy editor, but I’m sending out tentative tendrils into the realm of developmental editing. I think some of my clients would say I am a dev-editor based solely on the types of things I mark for them. I rewrite paragraphs to improve flow. I rewrite sentences to vary structure. Sometimes, if I feel the writer is capable (not all of them are, but a good number, I think), I’ll leave comments along the lines of “too many compound sentences here. Rework for more variety.” If they don’t understand, they ask me. That’s a good thing. I want to be able to teach them how to make their own improvements. Not to put myself out of a job, but to make mine easier by improving their skills. If all I have to do is check GUM issues, I can work quicker than if I have to rewrite paragraph after paragraph.
Then there are those very few who come to me with work at which I take one look and shake my head sadly. “This isn’t ready for me,” I have to tell them, and I send them off to find a developmental editor who will be patient and thoughtful, equal parts creative writing teacher and Miss Thistlebottom. If the writing’s at high-school level–I mean average high-school, not honors/AP level–it’s not ready for me. I don’t charge nearly enough to teach grammar. If you can’t construct a complete sentence and don’t know how to organize a paragraph, you’re not ready to work with me.
I need to learn more myself about narrative structure. About the flow of the story, whether it’s a short story or a 110,000-word novel. Right now I’m not competent to critique on that level. I can say “this paragraph makes no sense here,” but I’m not able to say “this entire chapter needs to move.” Not yet, but I’m getting there. I think.
See? I don’t always sit here grousing about how the language is dying because “selfie” is now in the dictionary, or about how a misplaced modifier makes my blood boil. (More often it makes me chuckle. Not always, but damn, some of them are pretty amusing.) Sometimes I sit here thinking about how I can improve my skills. Because there is always room for that.
I’ve said this a lot in the last couple of weeks, and I’m saying it again.
I’ve learned more about my craft and English in general after my formal education (I graduated from college in 1979) than I ever did during it.
While I was in school studying to become a teacher (which I actually did do, for a year), I believed that we had Rules and only Rules, no guidelines. Rules were made to be Followed, and if one did not Follow the Rules, one would be in Serious Trouble.
I was SO WRONG.
Anyway, before this turns into a wholly different type of post than I intend it to be, here are three books I bought this month and really should have bought long ago.
The Business of Editing by Richard H. Adin is a rather heavy read for me, but not unreadable by any stretch. I’ve skimmed the entire book and am now taking my time, forcing myself not to read only the chapters with interesting titles (like “The Elusive Editorial Higgs Boson”). By the time I’m done I’ll have gotten some validation, some thwacks on the knuckles, and a good deal of excellent advice. As with Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor, I’m finding that I’m already on the same page in many areas as the esteemed author. How I managed to do that with no formal training as an editor — only OTJ for me! — I have no idea. But I think as they do, when it comes to interacting with clients. That’s a big HOORAY for me.
Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business: Being interesting and discoverable by Louise Harnby is a handy little text, too. Most of us editorial types see “marketing” and freeze. That is NOT what we do. We’re not marketing people. But we must be. No one’s going to market for us, not even our happiest clients. Word of mouth goes only so far. Harnby’s book is filled with ideas to take and make one’s own, from cold-calling (UGH) to social media posting (YAY). Again, I’m glad to see that I’m getting some of it right all on my own. I can do more, though, and I will.
The third book, on the bottom in the photo, is (sorry, Mr. Adin and Ms. Harnby) the most invaluable of the three in my professional (I can say that!) opinion. Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications is proving just as useful to me, with my 20+ years of experience, as it would to someone just starting out. It is not a style guide. It’s a thorough discussion of the rules of copyediting. Quoting the back cover: “[This book] is a lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft.” There’s nothing for me to add, really. So far I have worked through three of the exercises (yes, it’s a workbook! With an answer key!) and scored 100% on each.
I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. And then the other one. (And probably a few more.)
Each of these books is available from Amazon.com. Even with the “we’re sorry, we’re not able to ship these together” emails, I still had all three texts within a week of ordering, and they came a day apart in two shipments. I can’t complain.
This post could be subtitled “Know your Latin phrases.”
The correct phrase is ex cathedra, literally “from the chair.” The pope is said to speak ex cathedra, meaning he speaks with authority vested in him by virtue of his office. The phrase can be used for others as well; anyone who speaks from an authoritative position can be said to speak ex cathedra (even copyeditors).
Seeing this spelled with an -l is jarring, to say the least. As someone said to me when I mentioned it, “That’d make a great caption for a photo of a pile of rubble.”
Unintentional humor has it place, but I’m pretty sure the writer of this particular work wasn’t looking for a laugh. Oops.
I’m being up front about this one, folks. I’m being pedantic and I know it.
Once again we’re looking at the difference between formal usage and informal, or so it seems from what I can gather. The words in question are partake and participate.
Strictly speaking (you’ll notice I said “strictly”), to partake in something is to take a share of it. It’s most often used when speaking of a meal, or of something in which those who participate literally take something. (There’s that other word . . .)
To participate in something means to take part in it (not take a part of it). We participate in social media conversations. We participate in intramural sports. We participate in choral singing. Nothing’s being taken; we’re taking part, we’re spending time and energy.
The Encarta World English Dictionary shows “participate” as the third (last) possible meaning for the word “partake.” That means it’s used in that manner, but it’s not the best meaning/usage. “Partake,” however, does not appear anywhere in the definitions for “participate.” “To take part in” does not necessarily equate to “to take part of.” (Pesky prepositions and their nuances . . .)
Strictly speaking, the title of this blog post should be “Participating in pedantry.” I’m not taking anything away. I’m taking time and energy to compose it, proofread it, and post it. I’m participating in an activity. And, were I to be copyediting someone’s work and find “partake” used where “participate” is the better choice, I would note it as such in a comment. It really can matter. Not always, but often.
Now, I’m off to plan dinner, of which my husband and I will partake later tonight. (We will participate in the act of dining, and partake of the meal.) Pedantry is optional, but available.