The smiley face in the margin

To my delight, after another long radio silence since Riverhead officially accepted my manuscript as finished, I just heard from my copy editor. I don’t yet know who that is, although I intend to find out.

I now have a fancy new Word file that contains the entire manuscript, with all the proper formatting. Our only remaining job now is to tidy up typos and such. We’re approaching the very end, in other words.

So it is wonderful, thrilling, relieving to find that this copy editor, whoever he or she is, is a language lover as I am.

Have a look at the little screen shot above.

Did you catch it?

Three friends (Paul Cezanne, Emile Zola and Baptistin Baille) were reading poetry and the classics

to each other.

Well, no, they couldn’t have been doing that. Since there were three of them, they were reading poetry and the classics

to one another.

That’s what I want in a copy editor. Whoever you are, you get that smiley face from me (“Author”) in the margin above. And once I find you, I’ll say Thank You properly.

30 thoughts on “The smiley face in the margin

  1. Such precision is encouraging to us lovers of language. Thanks for sharing this bit.
    Appears your book is at the make-up artist’s, getting ready for showtime.

  2. I like that I am not the only one who appreciates near flawless editing. I am not a writer but I read and I am sensitive to grammar errors (though I know I make them also) in books that I think should be better scrutinized for such errors. To be completely honest, I would have not caught that one.

  3. Why would you say you are not a writer when you’ve done an amazing thing in getting your ms. to this point? You ARE a writer. Congratulations on your soon-to-be released book. And I wish I could see the smile on your face when you hold the first copy, which will come by Fedex.

  4. Cezanne, Zola and Baille were known (or so I’ve heard) as “les trois inseparables”. These threesomes are such a grammatical and emotional nightmare. One is always worrying that poetry and the classics are secretly being read to ‘each other’ rather than ‘to one another’.

    • “…..there should have been a comma after Zola……”

      I disagree.

      It is common practice, when listing three or more names, not to have a comma in front of the “and” which precedes the last name of the list.

    • @Philippe: Not sure what you mean by “common practice.” The Chicago Manual of Style calls for a serial comma before a conjunction that introduces the final item in a series, while AP allows for its omission. I’m with Chicago on this one, as it precludes the mac and cheese problem.

      @Andreas: I see you’ve narrowed down the gender (sex?) of your anonymous copy-editor.

    • @Phillipe, you said:

      It is common practice, when listing three or more names, not to have a comma in front of the “and” which precedes the last name of the list.

      It may, indeed, be “common practice” but that does not mean it is correct. I tend to agree with the following that leaving the comma before the “and” makes the last two in the list seem as one. In Andreas’ example, the three friends might turn it into an awkward triangle.

      “Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. “He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.” You may have learned that the comma before the “and” is unnecessary, which is fine if you’re in control of things. However, there are situations in which, if you don’t use this comma (especially when the list is complex or lengthy), these last two items in the list will try to glom together (like macaroni and cheese). Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem. This last comma—the one between the word “and” and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose.”

  5. Unrelated to the thread:

    I have noticed that

    a) SPAM volumes have dropped in my regular email, perhaps thanks to the arrest of that Russian kingpin the other day, but

    b) that comment SPAM here on WordPress has shot through the roof during that very same time period. My WordPress spam filter had hundreds of spam comments in it when I checked just now, after being offline for a few days. A couple of real comments were unfortunately caught in there with the Viagra and mortgages…

    Anybody else noticed that? Perhaps the spammers have diverted from the old medium to the newer ones.

  6. Here’s an example of what I alluded to in my previous comment. It’s from *this piece* from today’s Guardian (UK).

    “It’s been one long job of explaining, illustrating, discussing and suggesting but at the heart of it is a longing to educate”.

    Note that there was no comma after “suggesting”.

    I, of course, do realise that “explaining”, illustrating”, “discussing” and “suggesting” are not proper nouns. But I think the same punctuation rules would apply to them (verbs) as a listing, as the rules would apply to proper nouns as a listing.

    If any of you feel that the Guardian was wrong in approving this piece as punctuated, then you owe it to English-language lovers everywhere, and especially to Guardian readers, to e-mail the Guardian’s copy-editor forthwith, to apprise him of this punctuation error in the above-mentioned piece.

    • We know you’re an internationalist, but this is America. From the Chicago Manual of Style:

      When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma—known as the serial or series comma or the Oxford comma—should appear before the conjunction. Chicago strongly recommends this widely practiced usage, blessed by Fowler and other authorities, since it prevents ambiguity.

      If you feel that the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style were wrong in approving this passage in their Manual, then you owe it to English-language lovers everywhere, and especially to Chicago Manual of Style adherents, to e-mail the Chicago Manual of Style’s copy-editor forthwith, to apprise him of the misguided recommendation in the above-mentioned piece.

      In addition, here’s a screenshot ofBill Cosby’s latest Facebook status update from about 15 minutes ago.


    • “….this is America…..”

      Sadly it is.

      Even the lands outside America are now America, as the unfortunate owner of Wikileaks is now discovering.

    • Philippe, so… should we all spell color as colour and honor as honour (as the Guardian does)?

      I am not sad that this is America nor am I unwilling to be corrected but I am unhappy that someone wishes to impose the wishes and habits of an old colonial empire on me and denigrate my country in the process.

      Just because a newspaper does it one way does not make it correct. As my reference clearly stated.

    • To be fair, the AP Stylebook says: not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.”

      So this isn’t just an old colonial empire talking. As is the case in many other issues, the United States aren’t as united as the name suggests.

    • “…..the United States aren’t as united as the name suggests…….”

      The United States “aren’t“?

      These United States “aren’t”, I can understand. But the United States “aren’t”?

      I’ll have to check this with the Guardian.

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