Thursday, March 9, 2023

Copy editors see things many readers don't notice

We of the obscure craft see many things, large and small. Here is a recent sampling. 

Item: A flag flying half-mast. Uh-uh. A flag is only flying at half-mast if it is on a boat or ship. If it's on a flagpole on land, it is flying at half-staff.

Item: A reference to a city and a state lacking the second comma. When one writes about Baltimore, Maryland, the state name is treated as an appositive and is conventionally set off with commas. There is a parallel case with dates; a post written on March 9, 2023, needs that second comma after the year.

Item: Hyphens are cropping up in compounds with -ly adverbs. Adjective-noun compounds are hyphenated: free-range chicken. Compounds with an -ly adverb and a participial adjective are not: a fully fledged fowl

Item: At wit's end. No. You are at the end of your wits, so it should be the plural possessive, wits' end. A wit's end would be the death of Dorothy Parker. 

Item: A passage in a book: When Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in 1901, "the Supreme Court met in the old Senate Chamber in the Longworth House Office Building. That building was also infamously known for being the location where, in 1856, Preston Smith Brooks, a South Carolina planter, nearly beat abolitionist Charles Sumner to death." The Supreme Court met from 1810 to 1860 in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol. From 1860 to 1935, when it moved into its own building, the Court met in the Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol (which is where Brooks assaulted Sumner). The Longworth House Office Building was completed in 1933. I gave up on the book 89 pages in. 

Item: An article about an an organization that receives public funds in which the organization quotes studies indicating that its work is effective, without a single citation of a critic questioning those claims. I doubt that there is a publicly funded organization anywhere in the United States that has escaped criticism. 

Item: I note that the impulse to identify any and every thing as iconic has not been suppressed, most recently "the iconic sign for The Baltimore Sun" above the scoreboard at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. 

Plainly, not all of these items are of equal importance, but I'm here, and I'm noticing.