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

Friday, September 18, 2009

A copy editor's job description

My son, J.P., recounts that one of his high school classmates said of me that “he was the most intimidating of my friends’ parents, because his job was to know as much as possible.”

That is it: An effective editor can never know too much, and will never know enough.


  1. My parents often joke with me that my favorite job would be perpetual student because I'd get to learn all the time. Being an editor's not far from that ideal.

  2. And why should this not be the job, be it part time or after hours, of every person?

    Retired in Elkridge

  3. The actor who played Rossi on "Lou Grant" (Robert Walden, I think his name is) said he hung out with people to get a sense of their profession when he was playing a character who had a specified job. He hung out with doctors to play a doctor at a hospital. He concluded they were exhausted all the time, so he played his character that way. To prepare for playing a reporter, he hung out with reporters. He concluded they were people who never left school. They still turned in papers, they just got a paycheck instead of a grade. I always liked that comparison, and think it applies to editors, too.