The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

Theory and practice of editing

I was the chief copy editor for my college paper. This involved a lot of people yelling my name all the time. "Eyeteeth, how do you spell temperamental?" "Eyeteeth, how many pounds are in one stone?" "Eyeteeth, you have to come referee our slap-boxing match" and so on. Our office was very large and had few barriers, so yelling was the most efficient and least time-consuming means of getting someone's attention. The PA system was generally used only when someone wanted to embarrass someone else, as when Dan, our editor in chief, caught a lowly journalist making a long-distance phone call on the company's dime. "Jonah, stop abusing your phone privileges. Stop ABUSING your PHONE PRIVILEGES, Jonah."

As far as I was concerned, my position gave me carte blanche to insult authors both personally and professionally. "Is this author a native English speaker?" I would write tidily in the margin, or "I have no idea what the hell this means." In time, I decided that I could increase the efficacy of my abuse if I consolidated it into a style guide addressing the errors that came my way most frequently. The result of this decision was "Eyeteeth's Spiffy Style Guide," which I patterned loosely after Wolcott Gibbs' "Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles." It is too long to reproduce here in its entirety, but there are parts of it I would like to share (and that Artemis said she would like to see):

Adjectives: Say what you will about English being a living, evolving language, I'm having none of it, and the misappropriation of hopefully and similar adjectives is still a colloquialism that should be avoided. A sentence like this:

"Hopefully, they will raise fifty thousand dollars by next week,"

is not synonymous with a sentence like this:

"It is to be hoped that they will raise fifty thousand dollars by next week."

The first sentence has hopefully modifying the wrong thing: it says, literally, that a bunch of hopeful people will raise fifty thousand dollars by next week. What it is meant to say (presumably) is that it would be good if they raised fifty thousand dollars. Rephrase offending sentences with something like

"If all goes well, they will have raised fifty thousand dollars by next week."
"They hope to raise fifty thousand dollars by next week."

Thankfully, also commonly seen, can be dealt with using similar measures.


Comparing people to Hitler is a vice peculiar to Opinion writers. It is never appropriate. Even in the rare event that someone is comparable to Hitler, it's so hackneyed that it should be avoided.

This is only the most common of a whole raft of similarly insensitive comparisons that should not be drawn under ordinary circumstances. Except in quotes, be suspicious of comparing people or things to slavery, Nazis, rape, lynch mobs, the Holocaust, et cetera. It trivializes the suffering of large groups of people and makes us sound like assholes.


Dangling comparatives are a fairly common problem. The dangling comparative looks a lot like a misused so (q.v.). Fortunately, dangling so-clauses don't pop up that often in newspaper articles. But there are lots of comparatives, all of them prone to dangle, especially when statistics are involved. Here I'm talking about sentences like

"It's more difficult now to find an apartment."

Well, more difficult than what? More difficult now than it was three weeks ago? More difficult than it is to find a Hindu Love Gods CD? It is important to specify what the comparative is comparing. This seems elementary, and indeed it is, when you consider it in the cold light of day, but it comes our way (as so many simple problems do) with baffling frequency.


Résumé, without the accents, becomes the verb to resume, and no one wants that.

God, that job was fun. I don't imagine I'll ever enjoy another job so thoroughly. Also, the paper is where I met Judas, which just makes it that much harder to measure up to.

Total word count: 50,378
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