Questions for a Scholarly Editor and Linguist: Jonathon Owen
Jonathon Owen has been editing and typesetting for about 11 years, mostly while working on a bachelor’s degree and, now, a master’s degree in linguistics. He is currently a student editor and book designer at Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center.
How did you get into editing, Jonathon?
I got into editing when I got a job as an instructional designer’s assistant for BYU’s Independent Study program. After a few months I transitioned into copyediting new course manuals, and I loved it and have stuck with it ever since.
How has your pursuit of a master’s degree in linguistics affected your editing? Has it changed your perspective? Are there editing matters that you handle differently now?
Definitely. It’s taught me to think more critically about rules and to investigate things for myself. It’s introduced me to research and scholarship on topics like Standard English and reader perception of and reaction to error. Overall, it’s made me lighten up on a lot of points of usage. We editors tend to be perfectionists, but I think we can easily get carried away fixing things that aren’t actually problems.
What do you find satisfying about scholarly editing?
I love getting to read things that are interesting. My last job was editing day planners, so it’s nice being able to edit something a little more intellectually stimulating.
What resources do you use practically every day?
I use the website for The Chicago Manual of Style constantly. Editing scholarly articles requires a pretty thorough knowledge of citation styles, and it’s nice to be able to find answers quickly when I’m feeling a little fuzzy on the difference between a series and a multivolume work.
Do you ever collect examples of really tortured writing? Snippets of mangled text you’ve encountered? Any you’d like to share?
I have enough to fill a scrapbook or two. My all-time favorite: “Perpetrating males perpetrate males less often than they do perpetrating females.” I still don’t know what it means, so don’t ask. [Updated to add:] That whole book was so bad that we decided it wasn't salvageable and paid the author a kill fee. It's the only time I've ever seen that happen. Let that be a warning to writers.
Probably graphic design. I seriously considered majoring in art, but I eventually settled on English language. But I get to do some book design and layout at work, which satisfies some of that creative urge.
In the Hollywood adaptation of your story, who plays Jonathon, and who writes the score?
I’ve been told I look like Justin Timberlake, but I don’t know how well he’d do playing an awkward nerd. I’d love for Hans Zimmer to do the soundtrack.