If you’re a copyeditor, you probably use Microsoft Word, a desktop program introduced in the 1980s. Or maybe you use Google Docs, a browser-based application that debuted in 2006.
William Germano is professor of English at Cooper Union in New York. He’s also had a long career in publishing and brings some of that experience to his work as a teacher, in seminars and workshops worldwide and in the college classroom.
The comma between city and state—or, following the same principle, between city and province or city and country—is so thoroughly inscribed in the written record that most editors don’t give it a second thought.
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.
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.
Interruptions happen all the time in real life. People talk over each other and past each other; words collide and overlap. Sometimes an action or a thought rather than a person intrudes, causing a speaker to stop abruptly or, less dramatically, to trail off midsentence.
Editors spend a lot of time attending to the smallest of details. And though many of us also take care of the bigger stuff—rewriting for clarity, checking facts, formatting for different media, and so on—the little things will always be there, in every document, to keep us busy.
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.
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).
We learn from CMOS 6.23 that “a comma is not normally used to separate a two-part compound predicate joined by a coordinating conjunction.” In other words, when the subject isn’t repeated after a word like “and” or “but” in a compound sentence, a comma is usually omitted.