When I left the copy desk and set up shop in the guest bedroom, Twitter became my virtual office. I’m never a few clicks from my copyediting cohort on Twitter. It provides ongoing education in writing, word usage, and the craft of copyediting. And whiskey.
When dictionaries, lexicographers and others announce the words that defined 2013, most celebrants consider the twerks, selfies and Thanksgivukkahs—the words that were coined in 2013 or at least rose to prominence in the past year.
Some time ago, I was asked which word was preferred as an adjective, optimum or optimal. Optimal seemed to my ear a slightly pretentious variant, but history and usage refused to bear me out on this.
Optimum did come first. It’s a Latin word, but it doesn’t show up in literature until the 19th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED’s first reference is 1848, but a search of Google Books yields several early 19th century examples in scientific publications.
“You have spelled practise inconsistently.” It’s a comment I see from at least one technical reviewer on every textbook I edit.
While it’s not inconsistent, I agree that the Canadian/British distinction between practice and practise is a needless layer of complexity. And, it’s a distinction I need to check every time. I’ve memorized the difference between affect and effect — being primarily a science editor, this comes up a lot — but for practi(c/s)e, I rely on a sticky note on my monitor.
Writers are attracted to foreign words on the assumption that they bring a certain cachet to a piece of writing, but using obscure words with unfamiliar orthography can lead to trouble.
Cache is French in origin but it’s been a part of English since the 18th century. Its origin leads us to mistakenly assume it’s pronounced with two syllables rather one, rhyming with cash or stash. That leads to confusion with cachet, which means prestige, status, gravitas.
No matter who pays for copyediting services, the best copyeditor works on behalf of the reader, and that’s the best arrangement for everybody.
I don’t define myself as a copyeditor through my ability to fix spelling and syntax; I define myself as a copyeditor through my ability to help the reader understand the author’s ideas. When we understand each other, we’re better able to get things done.
In the news this week is a case of a toy manufacturer using a song in their ad without permission. They argue that the use is a parody, one of the exceptions permissible under copyright law. It certainly is a bit of a parody — and several factors of awesome better than the toy itself — however, the Beastie Boys who created the song point out that the use is very clearly promoting a product.*
We can be forgiven for confusing discrete and discreet., but they're two words that should always make us pause and think if we're copyediting a document. Both derive from a Latin word, discretus, which means separate. The discrete spelling keeps that sense; the discreet spelling means quiet and cautious.
I keep them straight in my mind by remembering that the island of Crete is a discrete part of Greece.
I’ve been a judge for the American Copy Editors Society scholarship competitions for the past three years, and I’m always amazed at the experience and knowledge of some of the applicants. The scholarships reward and encourage young people pursuing a career in copyediting. That’s not a career I was considering at that point. I didn’t apply for my first copy desk job until I was 29.