Editors spend a lot of time making decisions related to hyphens. That’s because hyphenation depends not only on accepted usage but also on context—and sometimes on both.
If the first rule of copyediting is “Do no harm,” the second would be “When in doubt, look it up.” This month’s workout focuses on some commonly confused homophones and uncommon variant spellings that can slip by unnoticed if you let your focus lapse.
Before a book is printed, while the text is still in manuscript form, editors at publishing houses speak in terms of word count, not page count. An appropriate word count for a project depends on the kind of book.
Like many copyeditors, I sometimes find myself enforcing rules I don’t fully agree with. For one thing, I wouldn’t want anyone who might know the applicable rule to think I’ve made a mistake.
Editors are trained not only to look for errors but also to account for contextual nuances and stylistic preferences. We impose consistency and clarify ambiguous prose, and we know when and where to look things up. To make sure we haven’t missed anything, we make use of spelling and grammar checkers.
An epigraph is a brief quotation placed at the beginning of a book or at the head of a chapter, article, story, or other work. Most epigraphs are ornamental, helping to set the tone or mood of a work but going unmentioned in the text.
Recently, I was listening to the audiobook of James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, and at some point it struck me that we’d been in the middle of a sentence for quite a while. But it wasn’t just long—it was lyrical and purposeful. Pretty early on in the sentence, I began to realize it wasn’t primarily about an annual infestation of ants.
If you’re a copyeditor like me, you probably rely on the ability to track your changes, not only so others can see precisely what you’ve changed, but so you can keep track of where you’ve been.
A prefix is a partial word that joins to the front of another word (and sometimes a phrase) to create a new word with a different meaning. The pre- in prefix is a prefix, for example.
If you work with words, you’re probably familiar with the related but supposedly antithetical concepts known as prescriptivism and descriptivism. And people take sides. Either you’re a stickler (you’re a prescriptivist) or you go with the flow (you’re a descriptivist).