Ornery Copy Editors – A Plea

By March 21, 2015 January 21st, 2017 Writing

Copy editors can be an awfully ornery lot. They love correct grammar and punctuation so much, they are willing to make writers feel bad in order to get them to fall in line with their style guide standards of perfection. While I can never condone imperfect copy, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about perfecting the world.

And I quote (from Twitter posts):

Jerry Tarkanian hospitalized after a WHAT? Why Sports Illustrated needs a copy editor.

Just saw an Edwardian corset cover described as “Islet” – really, people, you need a little textile knowledge, and a good copy editor…

Copy-editor fail: “It’s a viscous rumor.”

some many typos on it. Do you need a copy editor, Mr. Professional Journalist? “its diversity andbreadth of experience”

Well, they could do with a decent copy-editor for one thing; the whole thing is RIDDLED with typos!

A vandal corrects the grammar mistake in this ...

A vandal corrects the grammar mistake in this sign at Leeds City station by crossing out the extraneous apostrophe.

I will refrain from pointing out the obvious errors on the copy editors’ parts.

The thing is, sometimes people ask for our opinion and sometimes they don’t. As copy editors, we usually never ask for an opinion, and if an ornery copy editor tries to criticize my editing, I will be just as ornery in return (see related post below for evidence, haha). If, however, the chief editor of the CMOS pointed out an error, I would have nothing but nice things to say in response. I can already imagine my “Thank you for taking the time out of your royal duties to stoop to my level and further my career” style of reply.

One girl said, “My copy editor … seems to enjoy pointing out how silly I am.” Yuck! I hate to have that implied because my pride tells me I am good at my job. I dislike (intensely) having someone point out things I missed while neglecting to highlight the good job I did on everything else … but … I am a fallible copy editor, and I need to be gracious when corrected. How else will I remain on the path to perfection?

I could change things. I could say nice things when I notice other writers’ mistakes, such as: “I noticed something you must have overlooked,” or “Not sure if you caught this. ” When (not if) I’m corrected, I could thank the person who took the time to let me know my mistakes instead of getting all riled up and blasting back. I’m probably only writing this to myself because you’re all so perfect, but humor me while I write this last statement to myself.

Ornery never won anyone over.

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About Inksnatcher


  • Hi Sally: As you know, most of my CE work has been on medical research papers, and they are submitted from all over the world. When I was trained–besides the Golden Rule of Do No Harm–being polite when writing queries to the authors was paramount.

    As an author, I’ve been asked to look over many manuscripts and have been appalled at the atrocious grammer many authors use, seemingly without even attempting to do it right. I think you mentioned in your article the other day about “it looking right.” I’ll work with any author who is trying their best but have no patience whatsoever with someone who just throws something together and expects me to fix it.
    My purpose in sending tweets re proper use, etc, is to reach those writers who are really trying and bring to their attention some common errors that evidently some don’t know are errors. Just trying to give back a little and have fun doing it.

    Best wishes in your endeavors,

  • admin says:

    I HOPE you didn’t think this was calling YOU ornery — that wasn’t my intention at all. I just noticed that I get rankled many times over with bad copy and have upset writers in the process … but then I can’t handle my own medicine. I was trying to take a good-humored look at myself and all copy editors with me. 🙂


  • Miles says:

    Perhaps Mr. Addington won’t my pointing out that the word “grammar” does not have an “e” in it.


    (This particular blog and and its comments were the last place I expected to find errors.)

    I once worked for a VP whose written grammar was almost incomprehensible. Two of us would read his proposals, rewrite them, and send him new versions. He would rewrite them, *using the original, atrocious sentences*– without notes.

    Tom and I finally convinced him we were correct, but we spent several hours over the course of a week diagramming sentences on a whiteboard to do this. Yes, we used that skill in real life, and were extremely grateful we had it (the skill, but “real life” works well as “it”, too.)

  • how right u are, miles. i suppose u’ve already spotted ur own error, so thanks again for pointing out mine.

  • Hi Sally: i must admit to thinking that at first but, after rereading, understood your viewpoint. Thank you for being sensitive to my feelings: says a lot about you as a person.


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