Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Copyediting Challenges - 2

I hadn't yet found a photo for this week's blog when, lo and behold, my daughter tagged me on Facebook with this one. How incredibly appropriate for a blog on Copyediting! Poor pitcher, it's a wonder he didn't drown. I do hope that headline is not from my old favorite newspaper, The Boston Globe.

This week's Breaking News:
I understand Orlando's lost king cobra (NOT one of our home-grown threats) is already international news, but I thought editorial writer Scott Maxwell expressed the situation so well in The Orlando Sentinel that I am copying his words here.

   "Sometimes I wonder if God just likes messing with Florida.
   It's like he was looking down at us this week thinking: OK, alligators, sinkholes, hurricanes, spiders, brain-eating amoeba, tornadoes, lightning .... what else can I throw at those people?
   Ooh, I know—a king cobra!
   Yes, the latest only-in-Florida story has an Orlando man losing track of his deadly, fanged snake.
   Some people worry about snake bites. That's a valid fear ... especially if your kids attend one of the two nearby elementary schools.
   But my worries are bigger than that.
   I'm worred about breeding.
   I mean, it happened before with pythons. A few got loose, started making snake eyes with each other, popping out serpent babies and—voilĂ —no more rabbits in the Everglades.
   Even worse, what if our cobra has a snake sexcapade with one of those pythons?
   They'd breed something terrible and new—a cobrathon.
   The Syfy channel wouldn't need CGI to create its next mutant-creature film ... it could just head down to Apopka-Vineland Road [where the snake made its getaway].
   I know it sounds ridiculous. But ridiculous is this state's motto. We reel in it, elect it and generate news stories about it most every day.
   So come on, Orlando, let's catch this thing fast, before storm season hits ... and we have a cobracane on our hands."

Copyediting Challenges - Part 2

1.  Parenthetical clauses. 
I'm putting this at the top as it came up in a question after last week's list of copyediting problems. (Interestingly from someone in Greece.) Technically, parenthetical remarks should be offset by commas (a comma on either side), but actual practice varies, another one of those pesky subjective decisions a copy editor needs to make (unless you work exclusively for a publisher with a handy-dandy style sheet).

 The questioner had developed her own rule for compound sentences with parenthetical clauses. Her examples:  "He called my name and, well aware that everybody was staring, I turned to him." Or "I knew it was a stupid move but, so help me God, I ran after her." 
In the strict punctuation I was taught in school, the sentence should read: "He called my name, and, well aware that everybody was staring, I turned to him." but losing the first comma makes a "cleaner" and more readable sentence. Another alternative would be to use an M-dash:  "He called my name, and—well aware that everybody was staring—I turned to him." I'm inclined to believe, however, that the M-dash gives a bit too much emphasis to this rather innocuous parenthetical statement. Save its impact for more important moments.

I personally follow the example in The Chicago Manual of Style which eliminates the second comma around the conjunction, not the first, which makes our initial example read: "He called my name, and well aware that everybody was staring, I turned to him."

The important thing is to be aware that there can be more than one acceptable way to deal with parenthetical clauses. Whichever one you choose, stick with it. Do not toss in a comma here and there just because you feel like it. Know what you're doing.

2.  Adjectives preceding a noun.
I've run into copy editors who have no idea of this rule, which is well illustrated in The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition not 15th). Most of us are familiar with putting a comma between two adjectives before a noun.  Example: She has a challenging, difficult job.
But if the first adjective modifies the second, as well as the noun, then no comma is required. This rule was omitted in the next edition of the Manual, but I believe it still holds true.  For example: "tall blue spruce" and "traditional political institutions." Yet another subjective decision that has to be made by author and/or copy editor.  

3.  Direct Address.
There is no room for subjective decisions with this one. I include it simply because I see so many mistakes in the punctuation of Direct Address. The rules have always been clear. The name of the person being addressed - or phrases such as "Ladies and gentlemen," must be set off by commas on either side. The only exceptions, the beginning and end of a sentence, where only one comma is used. Examples:

a.  "Hey, Bill, where do you think you're going?"
b.  "Mary, are you driving into town today?" 
c.  "That's all, Folks."

Whether your characters are speaking directly to a friend, a gang, Mom, Grampa, a professor - to any single person or group of persons - the person(s) being addressed must be set off by commas.

 4. Introductory Word or Phrases.
 From The Chicago Manual of Style:
"An adverbial or participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually followed by a comma, especially if a slight pause is intended. A single word or a very short introductory phrase does not require a comma except to avoid misreading." Examples (also from CMS):

After reading the note, Henrietta turned pale.
On Tuesday he tried to see the mayor.
Before eating, the members of the committee met in the assembly rooms.

Grace notes:  
1.  That last sentence is a perfect example of an obligatory comma. If you don't put one there, wow!

2.  I tend to follow the general rule of thumb I read somewhere along the way: If an opening phrase is more than three words, follow it by a comma. I also tend to put a comma after opening phrases that indicate time or place, probably following a rule held over since schools days. For example:

Two days later, I went shopping.  
(See also #3 below.)
The above is a "subjective" comma, perhaps because I feel a pause there. But this one is definitely an author's or copy editor's choice.

3.  Somewhere out there, there are teachers instructing students to put commas after single introductory words like "So" and "But." Perhaps this is punctuation taught in Canada or Great Britain. It is not correct in the U.S.

~ * ~
 More examples next week.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.



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