Friday, April 10, 2015

All hail the Comma Queen!

When a copy editor of the Salon e-zine chats up the copy editor of New Yorker magazine who also happens to have published a book about her profession, what results is an interview that puts the spotlight on a vital job: editing.

Here is a sample Q&A: 

Q: Schools are teaching grammar a lot less and relying on technology and word processing programmes to “teach” it by default, pointing out grammar mistakes. Do you think this, not to mention texting and tweeting, will have a significant effect on the grammar and spelling of future adults? 

A: That’s not a very nice way to learn, just by having your mistakes pointed out. But there are fun ways to do it: “Schoolhouse Rock,” for instance, and pop music. Lately, Weird Al Yankovic has been singing about grammar and usage. Texting and tweeting shouldn’t really affect grammar, though spell-check programmes and autocorrect will have an effect on spelling. I believe that the only way to learn English grammar is to study a foreign language.


Q: Your profanity chapter is full of hilarious examples of language writers are competing to get into the magazine. One piece by Ben McGrath debuted “bros before hos” in the New Yorker, creating a spelling dilemma with “hos”—hmm, I see that Webster’s gives the plural of “ho” as either “hos” or “hoes.” Where do you turn if it’s not in the dictionaries of record? 

A: When a word is not in Webster’s or Random House, I will look online. There are many dictionaries of slang, but you have to choose your source carefully. One of our sources is the New York Times, but of course it’s no good for profanity! One feels so silly looking up “jism,” say (though there are variant spellings), and even sillier querying it. You try to find a respectable source for the profanity, and it is a bit of a challenge. Rap lyrics, especially.

Read this fascinating feature in its entirety here: New Yorker copyeditor dishes on the wacky side of her (quite dignified) job: “One feels so silly looking up [profanity]” 

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