April 02, 2005

Ah, copyeditors

I will shortly post the text of a letter I just got published in the Register-Mail. But first, a letter I wrote to the editor (actually to the editor, not for publication) about their copyediting:

Generally, I'm happy to see letters go through a light editorial process, and I certainly won't object if typoes or other misspelled words are fixed. I don't even mind particularly when something gets edited to a different form with equivalent meaning, as long as it's grammatical.

But it's a little annoying when I see something that was grammatical in the original edited to an incorrect form. In my recent letter, I wrote

...teaching that in this country, our Fourth Amendment protects....

One could legitimately add a comma after "that", making "in this country" a parenthetical to the basic construction "teaching that our Fourth Amendment protects...." That would give you the also-grammatical

...teaching that, in this country, our Fourth Amendment protects....
What was actually printed was the ungrammatical
...teaching that, in this country our Fourth Amendment protects....
Removing the comma after "country" is incorrect; we would not usually write
In this country our Fourth Amendment protects....
without being accused of forgetting a comma. Adding a comma after "that" to introduce a subordinate clause is also incorrect, unless it's part of some parenthetical (as demonstrated above). We would not write
...teaching that, Washington was president.

So, um, here endeth the lesson. Sorry to get so pedantic, but it bugs me when someone else's errors are attributed to me.

Too over the top? Probably. But I'm acutely aware that reading prose with poor spelling and grammar causes one to downwardly revise opinions of the author's argument (not to mention his intelligence), it just drives me up a wall when it's someone else making me look illiterate.

Interestingly, though, one of the errors is just the same sort of weird added comma as noted in a recent Language Log post. A trend?

(PS: notice me not talking about the elephant in the corner. Maybe tomorrow.)

"We're spending resources pat-searching teenagers, ferociously guarding our sacred cracked gong and checking every last Timex on the Circle Line. We're rubbing the rabbit's foot of the magnetometer, hoping that playing at security will keep us safe." --Eric Zorn

Posted by blahedo at 4:50pm on 2 Apr 2005
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