About Editing (Pseudo-blog page)

The inconsistencies outlined within the box below is part of why it is so difficult to keep all the rules of the English language straight. Even editors need an editor; I don’t know any who would send a document to print without at least one other person taking a close look at it. The way the human mind fills in what it does not see is an amazing phenomenon, and editors’ minds are subject to the same influences (though not to quite the same extent, given our training).

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes, but the plural of ox became oxen, not oxes. One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should never be meese. You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice; yet the plural of house is houses, not hice … We speak of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we never say methren. Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him; but imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim.

And on and on it goes... the actual piece is pages long, listing all the strange and quirky aspects that make our language more difficult than many to learn, and that make editing services even more useful.

If you’ve read Lynne Truss’ popular book about editing, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, you already know something of what editors do.  Here is one of the standard examples Lynne uses to illustrate what a difference punctuation can make (and, of course, it’s been on the Internet for so long that we no longer know where it originated, though it is rumoured to have been a teaching aid originally).

  • A woman: without her, man is nothing.
  • A woman, without her man, is nothing. 1

The Internet is a great resource for the finer points of copy editing–weighty editorial matters such as when to use the definite versus the indefinite article before 'H's, as in:

"An heir is an honest and an honourable man, and he’ll be back in an hour."

Those are the ONLY H-words you put "an" in front of in written materials. The rules for speech are different; they revolve around the vowel sound of the first letter(s) of the word that follows. In writing, however, the mnemonic above is the rule editors and writers use. Why is a different matter altogether...

And speaking of whys, rules are our guidelines, but experienced editors know that “it just sounds better that way” can be a justifiable reason for making a change, depending on the nature of the guideline broken and the document's purpose.

Some rules never were rules at all, like not beginning a sentence with 'and' or 'but', or splitting the infinitive. But how could we not allow Captain Kirk "To boldly go”, or Dolly Parton not to declare that "I will always love you"?2 

Consider, also, Winston Churchill’s infamous repudiation of the preposition rule; “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which we will not put.”

Then there are less weighty matters, for example, placing two spaces between sentences. We all learned to do that, but it’s no longer necessary. Why? Because we use proportional fonts and the proper kerning (spacing) for each character, including periods, is built into them. One of the first things an editor does is a "search and replace" for double spaces – it only takes a minute, but I mention it to illustrate how neither the language nor the technology remains static, thus changing how we use and apply it.

I could go on, as the subject holds much fascination for me, but I must wrap up this segment with a recent punctuation error/horror story.

“A grammatical blunder may force Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13 million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in a contract permitted the deal's cancellation. The controversial comma sent lawyers and telecommunications regulators scrambling for their English textbooks in a bitter 18-month dispute that serves as an expensive reminder of the importance of punctuation.”

This all too common mistake cost Rogers Communication over $2 million in 2006, thus emphasizing the importance of copy editing. The entire story is available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060806.wr-Rogers07/EmailBNStory/Business/home.

The kind of error this article describes is thankfully rare, but similar errors are commonplace; the type that embarrasses a company or that causes potential customers/clients, among others, to think about the structure instead of the message, or to question whether the individual or company that allows careless errors in advertisements, instruction manuals, website materials, etc., to go unchecked might also be more likely to neglect more significant issues, thus raising doubts about your professionalism. Whether mistakes involve the extra expense incurred when a glaring error is not noticed until after the document has been printed or the unknowable cost of customers lost by making a poor first impression, they can be prevented by hiring a professional editor.

1. Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Profile Books, 2003), p. 9.
2. In these examples, the formerly proper structure would have been, To go boldly and I always will love you or I will love you always. "Formerly completely proscribed, a split infinitive is now regarded as permissible if clearness, smoothness, or force would be lost in avoiding the split." Marjorie Skillin and Robert Gay (Words into Type, 3rd ed., Prentice Hall, 1974), p. 69.