Wednesday, February 13, 2008

copy editors as villains

I yearned to meet Times copy editors responsible for letting slip by punctuation—and sometimes grammar--errors. I thought were not sufficient copy-editors to catch all errors I see The Times’s pages. Now I discover that the place swarms with them: 150. After reading the punctuation lucubrations of the army of Times copy editors in this piece, I discover that the copy editors need copy editors.

All 150 are to see me in my office after class.

The copy editors’ main flaws are the ones I saw in freshman English classes before I retired: redundant commas and modifiers ensconced in wordiness. Too many commas come from these copy editors’ frail grasp of sentence structure and lagging understanding that we use fewer commas now than in the past. Wordiness comes from redundant modifiers, passive verbs, and indulgence in throat-clearing fillers.

Times copy editors should heed what Wilson Follett says on commas:

“One, the loose or open system, corresponds to the natural pauses in the voice in speaking or in reading aloud; it may be called the oratorical or even rhetorical principle…. The second code of punctuation is the tight, closed, and structural; it depends…on the grammatical--which is to say the logical—relation of the parts (page 417).

“The historical trend for the past three or four hundred years has been away from the rhetorical style of punctuation…. The drive toward lean punctuation is such that even if we still wrote the complex, periodic sentences of Johnson and Macaulay, we should punctuate them much less heavily (page 418).

I come to NY for the Met’s Kirov Ring Cycle in July. Are there tours of the newsroom to see the swarm of copy editors? I will swap a lecture on redundant commas for this treat for a citizen from the outback just agog at NY sophisticates—especially the sophisticated NYT copy editors.

Ms. Perlman: Please share this greeting to all 115 copy editors from a close reader in the provinces. I live on the Gulf of Mexico: it's Chekov's "Seventh Ward."

Lee Drury De Cesare

15316 Gulf Boulevard

Madeira Beach, FL 33708

Here follow my interpolations on NYT copy editors’ depredations:

But they also want to be sure that they, and thus you the reader, aren't left with a sense that they've come into the middle of a movie, or that they don't understand how something works, or that…

“The reader” is a nonrestrictive appositive: put a comma after “you.”The redundant comma after movie separates compound adjectival dependent clauses. to the Newsroom: Director
of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman
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