Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Your My Won, True Love

by Laura Mahal

Like most writers, I derive great joy from the written word. I’m happy to be home in my pajamas, creating new worlds (or sending super long emails. Some of my emails might contain entire universes.) When I’m working on my own stuff, I digress down rabbit paths. I saunter into lyricism and venture onto uncharted literary terrain. 


Then the other side of my brain kicks in to save the day. 

Editors are worth their weight in gold, platinum, and Supreme sweatshirts. 

All of us need an editor from time to time. Whether this be a developmental editor or a copy editor depends on where an author is in the process. [Note. That last sentence needs work. Go back and revise it later.] [Okay, that last sentence also needs work. It’s kind of redundant.] 

Our first drafts are messy. Full of creative ideas and characters starting to come together . . . A plot that might be eighty-five-percent ready, at best. 

[Wait—Is eighty-five-percent hyphenated? Did I use that ellipsis appropriately? Is that comma really necessary?] 

Copy editors are a go-to resource for answering obscure questions that require hours of research in a little tome called The Chicago Manual of Style. I mean, if you think its great fun to thumb through an odd and possibly archaic numbering system in search of Grammar, Word Usage, Military Terms, and Languages Usually Transliterated (or Romanized), then you should definitely rush out to buy the CMS.  It weighs in at a respectable four pounds and may earn you back your purchasing price in short order. 

I love copyediting. Give me a messy manuscript, or a poorly constructed blog post, and let me fix them. Please. 

[This is so confusing. So, copy editor is two words, but copyediting is all one word?] So, aah, about that. Yeah. There’s this other guidebook. It’s called The Associated Press Stylebook. Whereas the CMS is primarily used for fiction and nonfiction, the AP is the preferred reference tool for journalism. These manuals don’t always agree. They flat out don’t agree. They actually like to dual in bars on trivia nights. 

Copyeditor or copy editor, which is correct? Umm, they both are. It depends on whom you are referencing as your source. 

Let’s talk about dictionaries. 

If you live in London, then you aren’t too far from OXFORD, but the towns of Merriam and Webster are light-years away. The UK gold standard is the Oxford English Dictionary, which celebrated its ninetieth birthday in 2018. 

In the U.S., Merriam and Webster are your good friends and Trivia Night partners. Not sure whether a word is hyphenated? Check Merriam-Webster. If you choose to flat-out thumb your nose at their recommendations, then here’s a useful takeaway: If you’re going to “go with your gut,” then be consistent about it. (Consistency is key.) 

By the way—that dictionary programmed into your computer? It’s only as reliable as the person who programmed it AND it maybe a nefarious plot to offer you poor advice. It will say “hyphenate here!” and will do so with such cheer and colorful squiggly lines that you might be tempted. Lucky for you, the CMS has a ten-page handy dandy chart you can easily refer to when you want to know whether or not you should hyphenate “poorly-written blog post.” You are correct. This blog post is poorly written. But you do not want to hyphenate adverbs ending in -ly. 

"Won, true love"

If a second grader sends a Valentine, scrawled with the message: “Your my won, true love,” by golly, that’s cute. If any of you does it, err, then you would probably benefit from hiring someone to proofread your writing. 

Reward: The first person who points out at least fifty percent of my mistakes will earn a free hour of copyediting. Or a long email—you’re choice.


Unknown said...

Not sure if this is where I should do this, but here's what I found (and I hope my format makes sense). Note: I am a terrible editor...

You’re my one, true love.


Whether it be a

Eighty-five percent ready

If you think it’s great

Give me a messy manuscript or a poorly

It depends on what you are ae referencing

If any of you do it, err, then

One, true love

You’re my one, true love.

Or a long email—your choice

Laura Mahal said...

Great job! You got quite a few of them.

Send me an email at You've earned a free hour of copyediting. :)

For the person who identifies the last few errors, I'll throw in a full hour for you, as well.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Yat-Yee said...

Punctuation inside or outside parentheses is one question that gives me cold sweat so I won't comment on those. I noticed you flat-out thumbed your nose but the two reference standards flat out disagree. I believe it's flat-out.

Yat-Yee said...


Yat-Yee said...

Why is Oxford in all caps?

Yat-Yee said...

It may be a nefarious plot

Deborah Nielsen said...

Another stylebook that I like is Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style." Short and concise without having to wade through all the minutae in the CMS. (As a journalism student in college, I'm much more familiar with the AP Stylebook.)

You didn't touch on one of my pet peeves, spell check. 'Your my won true love' would spell check just fine. Though as a copy editor, myself, it gives me fits.

Thanks for an entertaining post!

Renee Cohn Jones said...

You crack me up! You’re blog-post was fun to read... and that last sentence was hard for me to type!! Thanks 😜

Unknown said...

Holy cow, really?!? Thanks! Email coming your way shortly.

Laura Mahal said...

Thanks for the warm response!

I've received several emails and we have three winners. Congratulations on your outstanding copyediting, copy editors!

A few notes:

I would advise you to remove the comma from "You're my one, true love." A brief explanation: if the adjectives are similar enough to pair naturally, such as "ancient" and "torn," then you would use a comma between these. "I carefully pulled the ancient, torn manuscript from the shelf." A comma is not needed between "one" and "true." The sentence makes perfect sense without it: "You're my one true love."

The asterisk is a tricky little bit of punctuation. I'll quickly address some of the comments I've received. 1.) One does not use an asterisk in journalism, per guidance of the AP Stylebook. 2.) An asterisk generally follows a word, if the asterisk indicates that additional (clarifying) information will be found at the bottom of the page. 3.) In linguistics, an asterisk is used at the start of a sentence to reflect an ungrammatical structure.

Cough* may be a better choice than *cough. That said, because I write and edit Young Adult manuscripts, it is important to factor in cultural shifts. An asterisk is used in informal settings, such as texting, to indicate that a word has previously been misspelled. Teenagers are as likely to place the asterisk before the word as after. Editing, as an art form, is relative. One factors in every consideration before making a final decision. (Sigh.)

Good job catching the "its [it's] great fun," "dual [duel] in bars," and "maybe [may be] a nefarious plot." I can't sneak anything passed, I mean, past you people. :)

In terms of flat out / flat-out, well, this is another tricky scenario. (I apologize. I was really testing boundaries, wasn't I?) This word is almost always hyphenated when used as an adverb, and it is always hyphenated in its adjective form. The adverb "flat out" is less common. There is no way to know these things for sure unless one checks a reference tool, such as Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary. Unless you are a genius. A genius did email me. I admit that I was terribly intimidated. Geniuses do not need to use reference tools.

There is no need to put "OXFORD" in all caps. Some people like to use all caps. They INSIST upon using all caps. Some people might need to drink less coffee. I'm just saying . . . (Full disclosure: I like coffee. I drink more ounces per day than I ought to . . .) Note: do not overuse ellipses.

As to Strunk and White, yes. I should have mentioned them. They've written a truly lovely little book. One can read it in a sitting. Since I'm capped at five- to six-hundred words per blog post (did I just stress you out?), I left off The Elements of Style. (That ought to be italicized. I cannot italicize within the comments section of Blogger.) By all means, pick up this book. It's a classic.

Oh, spell-check. (Spellcheck and spell check are also correct, by the way, per M-W.) Be leery of this tool. It may lull you into a sense of unassailable confidence. That suck-up, spell-check, will convince you your writing is flawless. I'm not paranoid, but I am a believer in nefarious plots. I like to write nefarious plots. I do not trust when a computer insists it knows better than I [do] -- hmm, "better than me"? -- I believe in my own intelligence. Additionally, I place trust in my favorite editors. The nebulous "spell check" is not amongst that list. (Among, amongst, now I'm just being fancy.)

You're all winners! Congratulations and thanks for playing.

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