Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Copy editing for fun

It's my birthday!

As for Digimodernism the book, I've been through the process of copy editing. This was slightly odd. We're going with American spelling and usage as the book will probably sell primarily in the US, and some of the alterations the copy editor insisted on were to bring it into line with American habits, such as a distinction between "which" and "that" as relative pronouns which (?) is lost on the average Briton but crucial on the other side of the Atlantic. Fair enough. And there were other questions - where to put commas in phrases in inverted commas - which relate to publishing conventions. Couldn't argue there either.

But I couldn't understand some of the issues. For instance, I was asked to make my use of synonyms like "the United States" and "the US" consistent throughout - i.e. stick to the same one every time. Why? How many times have you thrown a book to one side in irritation crying "for pete's sake, he's said UK, but he said United Kingdom in the last chapter!". When did you last get annoyed because on one page it's World War II and on another it's the Second World War? My rule of thumb is not to repeat words or expressions more than is absolutely necessary, and this rule is, I would argue, why God invented the synonym.

Still, I have a lot of respect now for copy editors. They do a very hard and thankless job with great diligence - it's one of those roles that no one notices except when it's carried out badly. And all that worrying about detail does do your head in - it's a short step from the comma to the coma.

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