The lighter side of editing

The lighter side of editing

Thursday, May 26, 2016

How to English, According to the Local Television News

Let me begin this brief post by saying that I respect our local television news, and my day feels incomplete if I miss the evening newscast. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can move on to my main point, which is that you can’t necessarily rely on your local newscast for beautiful—or even correct—use of the English language. Here are two recent examples:

A few weeks ago, our local news sent out this text alert:
No explosives found on woman who threatened Joint Base Andrews. Situation diffused.
Can you hear me sighing? If not, I can do it louder. Because the situation was defused (made “less dangerous, potent, or tense”), not diffused (made “widely perceptible, known, or familiar”). Yes, defuse/diffuse is one of my “things,” just like, you know, spelling stuff right.

More recently, one of the weekend anchors began a sentence like this:
The woman, named twenty-year-old Sue Smith…

I haven’t fact-checked it, but I doubt that the woman’s name was actually “Twenty-Year-Old Sue Smith.” I can tell you that her name was certainly not Sue Smith, because I made that part up to protect good ol’ Twenty-Year-Old’s true identity.

And then there are the dangling modifiers. But I’m not allowed to say anything about those because other people in my household are just sick of hearing about them. Some other time, perhaps.

Stock image by Kakigori Studio via Adobe Stock, with some modifications.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why Editors Should Always Proofread Their Comments to Authors

This post contains exactly one instance of profanity. If you don’t think you can handle that, please go read something else.

Editing is so much more than correcting spelling and inserting commas. Part of the job involves communicating with authors about changes you’re suggesting or questions you have, and that means writing effective comments and queries.

Fine…no problem. I enjoy commenting and querying, adding the occasional What if you…? Several clients have told me that my comments are right on target and offer insightful suggestions.

Great. Excellent. Fantastic.

But the most insightful query is just so much poo if it contains misspellings or other unintended things. Editors must take care when querying, because one sure way to turn a client off is to offer crappy or just plain mean comments. With this in mind, I try to be constructive and helpful, even when I’m offering criticism. Instead of writing, “What on earth is this supposed to mean?” when I come across a passage I just cannot decipher, I write, “I’m not quite sure of the intended meaning here. Can you clarify?” Or something like that.

That’s all well and good, but I have a problem: I can’t type worth a darn. I learned to type, more or less, on a manual typewriter back in the eighth grade, more oodles of years ago than I care to mention, and I can muddle my way through most things (with frequent use of the backspace key). Every once in a while, though, my fingers do something my conscious brain did not tell them to do. For example, I’ll think “ephemeral,” and my struggling little fingers will punch out “emphatic.” You get the idea.

Sometimes authors mention names or events or what have you that readers aren’t likely to be familiar with.  When I come across such an item, I usually mean to write, “Perhaps you could explain this a little further.” Every once in a while, though, my sneaky little fingers will type, “Perhaps you could explain shit a little further.”

And that is why editors should always proofread their comments to authors.