Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Moments in Copy Editing


The park’s four-acre Conifer Forest will turn into a primeval habitat, crawling with life-like robotic dinosaurs that roamed the earth 65 to 150 million years ago.

I changed to:

... life-like robotic dinosaurs like the ones that roamed the earth 65 to 150 million years ago.

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17 comments:

Jenn said...

Stuff like this makes me giggle. I'm suddenly imagining robotics wandering the world amongst the dinosaurs, the stegosaurus looking over and saying, "Dude! That's totally rad! How do you work?"

Thanks for giving me my grammar/word fix every day.

June Casagrande said...

Exactly. I love these. I want to write, "Oh, my god, isn't that golden? Don't you love that? Ha!"

But the examples have more impact when they stand alone, without my peanut gallery hooting. Still, way fun stuff, huh?

Thanks for reading!

Joel said...

Yay. Jenn found June. Hee. Sweet. You should read Jennifer's blog, June, about bending truth; I didn't even realize she was blogging about potatoes as well. Jennifer is like my other daughter. I like to hope I played some part in bringing the two of you together (as in, "You should read June's blog. She's brilliant."). My giddiness is probably just weird to everyone but me. But we're used to that by now.

And, um, June, the correction still sounds to me like the planet was crawling with robots 65 million years ago. I think it needs more distance. I guess it's at least clear that these aren't the same life-like robots that once roamed the earth. But still. Or maybe it's just me.

8'FED said...

Speaking of dinosaurs, a while ago I spotted the following sentence (from here) and found it grammatically amusing: "Lambeosaurs had hollow bony crests on their heads, the function of which was a subject of debate."

The use of the simple past tense for both clauses makes me imagine the lambeosaurs themselves (or their contemporaries) debating the function of their crests.

I think replacing "was" with "has been" would improve the grammar, clarifying that the two clauses refer to totally different pasts. But then, that wouldn't be as much fun.

Blackwell said...

Totally awesome! Maybe that would support some folks' theories about an alien race bringing life to Earth...

June Casagrande said...

Ah, so she's your Jenn!

: )

Funny how, out here in the blogsophere, one doesn't know when one has been found or by whom. Nice to learn about the connection.

Re the rewrite: In those situations, I always feel like I have just two choices: either a minimalist fix that changes only enough to remove the error, or a full-on "I'll take it from here" rewrite that leaves the original writer in the dust. (The person who wrote this, by the way, is actually good. She was just having a bad moment. I didn't want to bulldoze her.)

June Casagrande said...

8'FED: A great example of the power of verb tenses. I like that a lot. We could even add to it.

"Lambeosaurs had hollow bony crests on their heads, the function of which was to scare off predators and a subject of debate."

(Not sure what my point was there. I just enjoyed the idea of writing an even more logically challenged sentence.)

June Casagrande said...

Blackwell: By "some folks," I'm going to assume you mean the ones who are buying up Old Town real estate faster than yogurt shops can vacate it ...

: )

June Casagrande said...

Joel: On second thought, you're right. Here's what I should have done (worded by a reader named Dennis):

" ... crawling with life-like robotic replicas of dinosaurs that roamed the earth 65 to 150 million years ago."

Yeah, that's the ticket ...

8'FED said...

I would have mentioned the lambeosaur sentence back when I first saw it, but I couldn't find a way to make it relevant to any of your posts at the time. If only you'd written something, anything, about tense, I could have made it fit.

Incidentally, I notice you've filed this post under "mofidiers", which would seem to be an unorthodox spelling.

Joel said...

I should clarify that, technically, Jennifer isn't my daughter and she has two lovely parents. Not that I wouldn't claim her as my own--indeed, we informally adopted her when she was our actual daughter's best friend in high school. The daughter to whom I've made a chromosomal contribution is Christine. I think she likes your writing (what I've read to her) but I don't know if she's discovered the blog yet, however much I might bug her about it.

Plus, I'm not sure that Jenn found you because of me, though I definitely told her about you. Really, June, I should be getting some kind of fee for how much press I give you. ;-)

Seriously, I don't know if you realize what it means to some of us that you are grammatically wise, egalitarian (a linguistic progressive, so to speak) and a genuine smart ass. Sure, others have sometimes managed to be merely witty in discussing grammar, but they've generally promoted a kind of linguistic oligarchy and phariseeism based on arbitrary and authoritarian edicts, obfuscation and fear. And what's not to love about the Simpsons references. It might be more obvious that folks who used to hate grammar appreciate you (because you've freed them from their overlords and accusers). But there is clearly a significant contingent of us who have long loved grammar but been more than a little self-conscious about how she's been used as a tool of oppression.

Holy smokes. It always surprises me how passionate I feel about this stuff when I actually put my thoughts up on the screen. Yeah, so promotion fees are unnecessary; I'll continue to evangelize.

Oh, and I like your re-rewrite. It sounds way better than anything I came up with. And, yeah, when I couldn't come up with anything better, my instinct was to tear the whole thing apart and take it over, which would indeed have been wrong--speaking of the devil inside.

June Casagrande said...

Mofidiers! If only I weren't too tired to go in and change that ...

: )

June Casagrande said...

Joel: Thank you!!

8'FED said...

A couple of things to add.

1. Regarding verb tenses, I read this article and found it interesting. Haven't seen the research discussed on any of the linguistics blogs I read as yet, but I'll keep an eye out.

2. I had to do a sort of copy-editing job myself this week. Actually a graphic design job, laying out a brochure, but the source text was riddled with grammatical errors. I asked the supervisor what I should do with them and was told I could correct them as I see them. Which is fine. I won't quote the text in public, but it definitely needed work.

June Casagrande said...

8'FED: Thanks so much for passing along that link. The book I'm working on is going to contain a chapter to help writers make good choices about tense and aspect, so I'll definitely reflect on those insights heading in. Thank you!

Re copy editing: It can be really satisfying, huh? Catching a "pallet" in place of "palate" or "palette" is like nailing a mosquito that's been buzzing around you and licking its chops. ("Got you, you little f-er!") On the other hand, some stuff is irksome. For example, I just finished an article with a restaurant roundup in which the writer wanted to capitalize the name of every dish, "Lobster Tacos." Newspaper style is to interpret such "names" as generics whenever possible. But when, after lowercasing "lobster tacos" and "steak and cheddar sandwich" you come across "Hamburger Pepe" and "Enchiladas Espanol," you suddenly don't know whether to leave just the proper names within the dish names uppercase or to use the the proper names within as an excuse to treat the entire dish name as a proper name: "endive enchiladas" and "Enchiladas Espanol."

Bet that's more whining about my day than you were bargaining for, huh?

: )

8'FED said...

Some examples of the errors I was talking about (leaving out the boring ones such as misplaced punctuation):

(1) "Secure Data Destruction is carried out on all computers collected and then assessed to determine the best environmental approach" -- I don't think it's actually the destruction that's assessed.

(2) Users run a risk of breaching "guidelines that compromise user privacy" -- This is an odd thing for a guideline to do.

I admire your ability to respond to all the comments that we post. You always seem to be able to come up with something to say in reply, which is definitely a talent. Following your example I'm trying to respond more to comments on my blog this year, but I could never do so as consistently as you.

June Casagrande said...

Oh, my god! It's totally coincidental that the one time it takes me days and days to post and respond to your comment is the time you congratulate me for how I handle these things. I'm a horrible, horrible person. Seriously, sorry 'bout that.

That said, I really love the examples you gave. That's the kind of stuff I spend all day catching (or trying to). In the new book, I'm trying to help writers avoid these types of flubs, but it's hard. To avoid accidentally making references to "assessing destruction," the biggest trick is to simply pay attention to one's own words. So I haven't found much more to say than, "Yo. People. Pay attention to your own words." (I call that helping.)

: )

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