John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, and now at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An editor's haiku

The coffee is hot,
my hands poised above the text,
its vitals exposed

Regard the comma,
apt with the compound sentence,
not with compound verbs

An expanse of white,
regular ranks of black type,
and slashes of red

The patient labor
of the lexicographer
embiggens our tongue

So sweeping the claims,
so erratic the result —

The writer who knows
how to use “comprise” rightly
will rise to heaven

Give up explaining
suspensive hyphenation;
insert as needed

A reporter’s hand
reaches for a thesaurus;
screams die in my throat

Too many “touches”
in processing the copy —
layoffs now impend

This writer’s in luck:
I have been turned down to serve
on a death panel

Too many hours
on a chair in the basement
perusing the Web

Previous efforts
emphasize the feebleness
of the work today


  1. You had me at "embiggens" ...

  2. Your poems touched me deeply. In this one, I love the part about the writer reaching for the thesaurus best. My heart leaped, remembering the same screams squeeze by. In your previous one, the part about having to simply spell-check and set crushed my heart: What is the correct spelling of a word that doesn't belong?

  3. Wholes comprise their parts.
    Don't tell me; I know I know.
    Parts compose the whole.

    Using "comprise" right
    leaves most readers thinking wrong.
    So says Confucius.

  4. "Your own custom code"
    "Please type a valid password"
    No editor here!

    Hey, we've got spell-check
    Besides, readers expect less
    (Or they will learn to)

    Words to give you fear ...
    Review time, boss starts meeting:
    "What is it you do?"

    Writer, editor
    Is there really a difference?
    Yes. (Says the latter.)

    No time to edit!
    Publish in haste, correct it
    At leisure. Again.

    Between you and I
    I could care alot less now
    So I tell myself

  5. A style guide, you say?
    I will add it to this shelf
    Of books I ignore.

    "Hey, you cramp my style!"
    Most frequently heard from those
    Writers with no style.

    Hey, everyone knows
    What that word means, editor.
    What are you, stupid?

    48 pages.
    When do you need this done by?
    We thought maybe ... noon?

    Thanks for editing.
    Now that you're done we just want
    To add two pages.

  6. A reader's pleasure,
    A writer's education —
    Kudos, Mr Mc.

  7. Someone, anyone, please, hire this man.

  8. ... and get me away from blogging?

  9. Patient, quick-witted
    righter of others' missteps
    He's really a JEM

  10. +1 to the anonymous comment at 10:56 AM. Well said.

  11. The thesaurus is
    not a helpful aid; rather
    it deadens the wit.

  12. "A reporter’s hand
    reaches for a thesaurus;
    screams die in my throat"

    Ha ha ha ha ha
    Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee
    Heh heh heh heh heh

  13. Love it... But why turned down for death panel? Perhaps because they only exist in the imagination?