Learning Copy-editing: the Horror
Sometimes it’s clear as day: I’ve been a copy-editor far too long. It’s warped my poor brain. I’ve become a slave to words. Proofreading, copy-editing, teaching copy-editing, distance learning, seminars, revising, rewriting, ghost-writing. Journals, magazines, books, reports, theses, dissertations, biographies, autobiographies, fiction, non-fiction: this has been my life, my whole existence. Perhaps learning copy-editing was my nemesis, the worst day of my life.
At night when the house is quiet and in winter when the logs are settling to ash the inexorable march begins. There is no escape once the first steps are heard, when the footfall grows stronger and the first small words appear. Innocent strangers. Randomly they infiltrate the old editor’s mind. What will it be tonight? By, with, from, in or on? Sometimes the little ones are more pernicious. What do they mean? Define from! Scuttle to the Oxford English Dictionary. (Or Chambers, of course.) Meaningless word. Panic.
Edit for pleasure, proofread for profit; write for fame and fortune. But beware. Beware, beware the floating hair/hare/heir, the power of words, the clutch of a book, the gabble of language, the bedlam of definition and word choice.
Escape Routes for Editors
How to calm the noise of words in the night? How to quell the babble? What if an old friend, cloaked in innocence, should come knocking at my midnight window? What then? What if it’s enormity? All those friends who have changed their identity in my lifetime and now come disguised, camouflaged. The sin has gone from enormity, I tell myself. It simply relates to size now. No one thinks it refers to wickedness. And alibi though elsewhere is so much more. Just an excuse. How sad, but, of course inevitable.
Complete immersion is the only remedy. Surround myself with words. Take down Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Roget’s Thesaurus, the Oxford Style Manual, The Chicago Manual of Style… and threaten them with the dying embers. Squawking in fear they predictably retreat. Back to their shelves, silent and dormant.
A slug of single malt, and an editor may dreamlessly sleep. And tomorrow he will learn to copy-edit and proofread anew with a light heart. The life has its dangers, like the SAS or mountaineering, but someone has to keep the words safe.