Linguist, lexicographer, writer, editor, broadcaster

Ridiculous queries from a copy editor

I have just finished going through a copy editor’s queries on the manuscript of my upcoming book, The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English. I am late in returning the MS pages, but that’s because someone brilliantly decided to deliver them immediately before the holidays, when I was headed to Missouri for nine days and when, upon my return to New York City, I was off to Albuquerque for five more.

That’s not the sole reason the pages are late. Part of it is that it pains me to go through these queries because too many are, by and large, ridiculous. Some real errors have been caught and I am glad of that, and I appreciate the “better safe than sorry” ethos, but really.

Across the whole publication, because the copy editor failed to read the front matter—all dictionary editors know that nobody reads the front matter, which is why they can get away with recycling the same few articles in every edition, but you’d expect your copy editor to read it, particularly since it was part of the author’s instructions—there’s a proofing mark on asterisks in front of dozens of dates, as if they are wrong, when, in fact, as the front matter explains, the asterisks indicate that the date is uncertain.

Many of the queries have double question marks after them. Despite common practice, I don’t believe there’s a magnifying or doubling effect in using multiples of punctuation at the end of a sentence. It doesn’t make it seem like more of a question: not a better question nor a more revealing question nor a more serious question nor a more dramatic question. It just comes off like the inarticulate “WTF?!!!?” outrage of a 14-year-old.

On the entry for Trashcanistan the query says “This last example refers to Soviet Union/Europe, yet definition says Middle East countries only. OK?” Not OK. In fact, the definition says, “Afghanistan; any poor Middle Eastern country or central Asian republic.” Who said the former Soviet Union was exclusively in Europe? And why didn’t the copy editor see that part about central Asian republics?

At the entry for merk, there’s a direct quote from lyrics by Nas, “His moms had a stare I wouldn’t dare second look when I merk.” The copy editor wrote next to it, “Should ‘moms’ here be singular?” What kind of lily-white hole do you have to have been living in to not recognize that particular element of Black English?

At metric buttload, there’s a citation that reads, in part, “The Spanish have a ton of street cred.” The copy editor marked, “Is cred here OK?” It’s another one of those things I guess you wouldn’t ever learn until you reached your majority and your dad finally unsealed the fallout shelter so you could see what had become of the world.

There are more but the point has been made.

author avatar
Grant Barrett