John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Friday, July 3, 2009

Murder must wait

The editing function does not shut off easily.

Cruising through yesterday’s front-porch reading, Susan Hill’s The Pure in Heart, I stopped short at a reference to a doctor who was to fill in for another doctor about to give birth as a “temporary locum.”

British writers and readers are more enamored of Latinisms than American, and locum tenens, familiarly shortened to locum, is one that crops up regularly. A locum tenens locum, place; tenens, holding — is most commonly a priest or physician who is holding another’s place, filling in, substituting. So being a locum is inherently a short-term arrangement; “temporary locum” is redundant.

And now, back to our story.


  1. "An unfortunate side effect of editing is that you'll find it difficult to simply _read_ ever again." -- Judith A. Tarutz


  2. Perhaps a temporary locum is only filling in for a day or so? My notion of a locum is that it's usually for a fairly extended period of time? But then, I'm not British, just a reader of British mysteries...

  3. I ran across that term in a "Dr. Thorndyke" mystery on my Kindle--and looked it up using the built-in dictionary! Way cool, and now I feel EXTRA smart, because I actually used that info again.

    I was going to say I'd blogged about it, but I realized it's in the comments.
    Tuesday, May 19, 2009
    Dictionary Diving (Or, Words I've Had to Look Up Lately)

  4. Patricia the TerseJuly 11, 2009 at 2:39 AM

    I edit as I read all the time: most distressing. P.D.James, splendid though she is, insists on using "orientated" instead of "oriented." I doubt Adam Dalgleish worries about turning towards the east,especially when the body is in the opposite direction..