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 jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Somebody loves copy editors

At last, somebody understands us.

Of course, it would be The Intern.

The Intern got her manuscript back from the copy editor, and, well, it didn’t look good:

The copy editor had caught so many silly mistakes, pointed out places where a topic mentioned in an introduction was never addressed in the chapter, and even raised questions about the political correctness of some of INTERN's word choices. “Oh man!” thought INTERN. “Copy Editor must think INTERN is a fool! Copy Editor must be wondering what Publisher was thinking when they offered to publish such a cretinous and unworthy INTERN!”

The following passage from The Intern’s blog shows why The Unpaid Intern is not yet a Seasoned Wordsmith. Instead of railing against Copy Editor’s obsession with minutiae and failure to honor Her Writer’s Voice, she offers a short panegyric to our whole tribe:

Copy editing is not for sissies. A good copy editor does not humor you. A good copy editor does not chuckle warmly at your tendency to misspell the names of foreign dignitaries or diseases and let it stand ’cause it’s cute. A good copy editor will kindly but firmly tell you that your phrasing is unclear, your language offensive, and your punctuation laughable. These people are frighteningly smart and thorough and have your manuscript’s best interests at heart and deserve all the love and respect in the universe.

Well, The Intern gets the copy desk’s love and respect, however fleetingly, and its encouragement to potential employers to have a look at her Web site and think about offering her a job. Someone who recognizes and accepts correction is probably the kind of employee you need.

Thank you, @EditorMark, for the citation.

Dork, dork, geek

The terms dweeb, dork, geek, and nerd tend to be flung about carelessly, with very little discrimination about shades of meaning. Happily, an attempt has been made to settle this nice point of taxonomy by classifying the four types by combinations of three variables: intelligence, obsession, and social ineptitude.

Geek: intelligence + obsession
Dork: obsession + social ineptitude
Dweeb: intelligence + social ineptitude
Nerd: all three

The distinctions can be displayed visually in a Venn diagram posted by Scott Beale in September, from which I have gratefully derived this post.

I leave it to you to determine which category is most appropriate for grammarians and usage mavens.

Three volleys and a bugle call

With an additional 30,000 U.S. troops heading for Afghanistan, reporters should school themselves to write more passages like this one from today’s Baltimore Sun:

The perfect rows of marble headstones stretching as far as the eye could see. The three rifle volleys followed by a somber rendition of "Taps." The flags, folded tight and handed with care to the parents and sister. ...

Full marks to the writer for saying “three rifle volleys.” The three-volley salute with rifles is a feature of military funerals. The “21-gun salute,” with which it is frequently confused in news reports, is performed with artillery, not rifles, and is typically reserved for heads of state.

Unfortunately, taps is not a song but a bugle call, like reveille, and therefore is not capitalized or italicized or written with quotation marks. Not to be picky — too late? — but calling it “somber” is more than is required. When was it not?