Editor As Nerd

Linda LigonMaybe there’s something a little nutty about caring so much. Caring about commas, caring about split infinitives, caring about “I” before “e”, caring about dangling modifiers. Woops, I just wrote a big fat fragmentary sentence. Well, I don’t care so much about that.

But show me a series that omits the “Oxford” or “Harvard” comma and I fidget. Show me a sentence with a non-restrictive clause without a comma on both ends and I practically break out in hives. I used to have an obsessive preference for putting periods outside the quotation marks unless the period was part of the quote – as the British do, as The New Yorker does. Or did. This was so annoying to editors working in my company that a couple of very, very good ones offered to quit their jobs if I didn’t embrace the Chicago Manual of Style on this point.

Most of the world doesn’t care. I’m editing a manuscript about the Peruvian Highlands, and in one place a community name is spelled “Kular.” In another, “Cular” or even “Q’ular.” There’s no point in googling it, or even looking on maps. Either it’s not listed, or there’s no consistency. In the context of that place, it simply doesn’t matter. Q, C, K – they all sound pretty much the same so you choose the handy one, which might change from one page to the next.

For your typical editor, though, consistency is next to godliness, right up there with keeping clean. So you make arbitrary choices, and by golly you stick to them. I’m not sure when that attitude began to prevail. The famously weird Robert Ripley claims that William Shakespeare’s name has been spelled 106 different ways in various historical documents. I think he might have made that up. Now back to my manuscript.

—Linda Ligon

5 thoughts on “Editor As Nerd

  1. Carolyn Embach says:

    T.E. Lawrence wrote in his preface to one of the many editions of Seven Pillars of Wisdom: “Annotated: not very helpfully perhaps. Arabic names won’t go into English, exactly, for their consonants are not the same as ours, and their vowels, like ours, vary from district to district. There are some ‘scientific systems’ of transliteration, helpful to people who know enough Arabic not to need helping, but a washout for the world. I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the systems are.” And further, the editor’s comment was: “Slip 47. Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40.” And Lawrence replied “She was a splendid beast.”
    I share your annoyance at finding misspelled words, wrong words, and “bad grammar” in all that I read, e.g., menus, books, signs, newspapers, internet, greeting cards, etc. “Spellcheck” has not helped very much, because it does not know that just because a word exists, it may not belong in the text in a meaningful way. Cheers!

  2. Linda Cortright says:

    I know I’m supposed to care about commas, but truthfully, not so much. My fifth grade grammar teacher had several long hairs sticking out from a mole on her chin (true story), and seemed to command the majority of my attention during class.

    • Linda says:

      Well, chin hairs and commas have some things in common. Either they are easily overlooked, or they command an inordinate amount of attention.

  3. Marcy Moffet aka Habetrot says:

    You have many like-minded nerds among your readers, Linda, and we love you for yours. Oxford comma FTW!

  4. Sally LeClerc says:

    Your material is a treat to read. Always informative sprinkled with your signature humor. . . . Or . . . Always informative, sprinkled with your signature humor. 🙂

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