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Monday, January 7, 2013

A Little Copy Editor Humor for the Afternoon

Posted by on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 12:35 PM

From the Onion: 4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.”

Two things: One, we are Chicago Manual all the way, and we regularly graffiti other newspapers' alleyways with snide comments about the Oxford comma. Two, that "4" should really have been spelled out (i.e., "four"), both because it's less than 10 and because it is the first word of a headline. Or is that part of the joke, Onion? To torture the copy editors who read the article?

 

Comments (19) RSS

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19
@14 Agreed, serial comma only when needed for absolute clarity.
But I do have to point out that wife's parents (plural) plus Tom and Nancy (other people) is four, not three.
Yep, I'm a usage nerd and a math nerd. Pity me.
Posted by fruitbat on January 7, 2013 at 11:41 PM · Report this
18
@14 - Yeah, I would likely reorder the sentence. There's no reason in my mind why my wife's parents need to necessarily be emphasized over Tom and Nancy.

But as you said, I and most fellow writers will use it to alleviate ambiguity—if needed. And it's needed less often than most people think.

I do however bristle at people who feel the absolute necessity to insert one. Worse, they'll usually use some sort of ridiculously-constructed sentence involving strippers and dead heads of state to try to prove their point.
Posted by c on January 7, 2013 at 9:47 PM · Report this
17
The AP actually considers it acceptable to use numerals below 10 in headlines, even at the start of headlines. See, for example, the AP website.
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/fronts/HOME
http://cl.ly/image/173v3c0D2H3U
Posted by GJW on January 7, 2013 at 9:43 PM · Report this
long-time reader 16
The Oxford comma eliminates ambiguity. Inasmuch as we endeavor to be explicitly understood, we should use it.
Posted by long-time reader on January 7, 2013 at 8:56 PM · Report this
15
The problem with discussions of the serial comma, or any other single aspect of Chicago, is not entirely the guidelines in the book but also the slavish obedience to its dictates that often results in editors recasting sentences into entirely different meanings because they've constricted their own comprehension. I'm not the only one in my circle of friends who's encountered a copy editor who tried to eliminate all verbs conjugated with "was" because s/he thought it made the voice passive.
Posted by Calpete on January 7, 2013 at 8:42 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 14
@12 - How about this: "I had dinner with my wife's parents, Tom and Nancy." Is there enough context to reveal the writer is speaking of three people rather than simply revealing the parents' names?

And sure, they could rearrange the sentence to accommodate this weird insistence on not using a serial comma ever: e.g., "...with Tom, Nancy and my wife's parents," but not a without skewing relative emphasis on one guest over another.

That said, most forgoing of the serial comma results in no ambiguity. It's funny that everyone seems to be all-or-nothing on this issue, rather than - say - using the serial comma only when it removes ambiguity or helps to isolate a single item like "red beans and rice" from the rest of the list.
Posted by Free Lunch on January 7, 2013 at 8:21 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 13
Two spaces forever! Never trust a font to do a typist's job!
Posted by Dr_Awesome on January 7, 2013 at 3:06 PM · Report this
12
@9
I would use my context clues to determine that you were inviting strippers named JFK and Stalin. Because the actual JFK and Stalin are both dead, thus unlikely to attend your function.
Serial commas are dumb.
Posted by c on January 7, 2013 at 2:56 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 11
Officially, we use AP at my place of business. Unofficially, Chicago decides the overwhelming majority of style questions, not least because the AP has virtually no guidelines to speak of. I mean, seriously. The AP's punctuation guide is 12 pages long.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 7, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
10
@Everybody: This is my favorite Slog comment thread ever. I can't believe people are seriously debating style guides, talking about commas, and recommending DFW essays, all in less than 10 comments. Love you! (Also, I don't think the numeral is a style guide thing; they also capitalize "in" in the headline. Boo!)
Posted by Anna Minard on January 7, 2013 at 1:40 PM · Report this
9
A visual demonstration of why the serial comma is important:

http://www.verbicidemagazine.com/wp-cont…
Posted by bassplayerguy on January 7, 2013 at 1:39 PM · Report this
8
This is what David Foster Wallace referred to as "seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography" back in 2001

Did you know that U.S. lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?

Refer to: http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/DF…
for a hardly legible and heavily edited copy from the Harper's Archive. The whole essay "Authority and American Usage" is, counter-intuitively, great fun and can be found in the book Consider the Lobster.
Posted by jnonymous on January 7, 2013 at 1:07 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
I think they meant Copy Edit Her.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 7, 2013 at 1:05 PM · Report this
--MC 6
Damn it Minard, you set off my Vampire Weekend earworm.
Posted by --MC on January 7, 2013 at 1:03 PM · Report this
Pick1 5
@2 even numbers under 10 that start the headline

That's incredibly retarded. I would think I'm reading a list and go "Where the fuck is 1-3?"
Posted by Pick1 on January 7, 2013 at 12:50 PM · Report this
lostboy 4
The Oxford comma, one more reason I'm a fan of Chicago.
Posted by lostboy http://plus.google.com/104883658551712008719 on January 7, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Report this
3
I'm laughing bitterly because my editors and I are fighting over whether Chicago is appropriate with no deviation for fiction or only for its original intended use, as a guide for scholarly nonfiction. A certain tension has developed over the use of ellipses.
Posted by Calpete on January 7, 2013 at 12:45 PM · Report this
2
Ah, but it depends on the paper's style. I'm a copy editor and my paper requires all numbers in headlines to be numerals, even numbers under 10 that start the headline. Drives me crazy. But it's the reason this one didn't bother me.
Posted by J from Oregon on January 7, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Report this
1
haha i really hope that 4 is a subtle troll and not a mistake
Posted by Swearengen on January 7, 2013 at 12:36 PM · Report this

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