Trained copyeditors know that when you repeatedly come across a phrase used to mean something different than you know it to mean, it’s time to do some research. Perhaps there’s a new meaning gaining ground or a meaning you were unaware of.
A student of mine recently asked me about doing that kind of research, and I decided to share my advice here.
One of my Copyediting III students asked a particularly useful question on our forum last week. In a couple of manuscripts, she had come across on the other side used to mean “on the other hand.” How could she determine if on the other side was becoming acceptable way to identify an alternative?
I’ve long espoused the utility of the singular they as a handy pronoun for when the sex of the subject is hypothetical or unknown. But as a copyeditor, I’m beholden to convention—it’s not for me to tell an author they should use a form that some people consider ungrammatical. My job is to provide clarity and avoid bumps along the way.