When we went around the table on Thanksgiving Day to list the things we are thankful for, I should have mentioned the copy editor who had gone over my manuscript with a fine tooth comb. I had spent most of the week reading through that reader’s notes and queries. “Is this brother four up from Deborah or five?” and “Is this name correct?”
That particular brother is five up, not four as I’d carelessly written. And no, the niece’s name is not Annie Ruth, but Annie Sue. The brain thinks one thing; the fingers type another and proofing my own words is maddeningly difficult. Because I know what I meant to write, my eye passes right over what I actually did write.
It takes a fresh pair of eyes to question the color of a character’s car if it changes halfway through the book, to notice that I’ve used the same word three times in two consecutive sentences, and to add the closing quotation marks that I forgot.
Over the years, I’ve been very lucky with my copy editors, but even Atlas will occasionally shrug. Errors do slip in. That’s when my readers tactfully point out that the boy who was 13 in the last book is now only 11 in the next one. Or that, no, that particular handgun does not have a safety.
A computer’s spell-check will catch misspelled words, but what if the offending word isn’t misspelled? It takes a copy editor to notice that racked with pain should be wracked with pain.
The lack of a good copy editor is particularly noticeable in today’s newspapers. That’s where you’ll find antidote when the writer clearly meant anecdote, or wondered in instead of wandered in.
A reader in Virginia (thanks, Ann!) recently sent me a list of some malapropisms she had found in recent books and newspapers: wreckless driving, flaunt the law, wreck havoc, and instances where site, cite, and sight were confused.
Others brought to my attention are youth in Asia (euthanasia), mental telegraphy, surrogated spoons, per capitol, and wrapped attention.
My husband's pet peeve is reading "they garnished his wages" (put parsley and paprika on it?) instead of garnisheed. Often, though, such slips provide moments of delight. Our morning coffee was enhanced last month by a syndicated columnist who ranted against the pubic option. In commenting on the gate crashers at the White House, another one wrote “I cannot phantom how they got past security.”
A good copy editor would have caught that.
So yes, I’m thankful for mine!