Category Archives: Our Work

The Perils of Improper Punctuation

Editing for a living is great for many reasons, one of which is that there is such rich comedic material seemingly everywhere we look because we can’t turn off our editorial propensities. Take this rest-area notice, for example, discovered along our recent travels:

Sign on a Pennsylvania rest-area door.

Okay, so this tragically punctuated sign is funny, but many might ask, “So what? Most people understand the idea, right? What’s the big deal?”

Fair enough, theoretically; not everyone cringes (or, in our case, laughs heartily) at poor punctuation, and not everyone even notices it.

But is $5 million a big deal?

Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash.

In this February 9, 2018, Boston Globe article, the importance of proper punctuation was underscored. Oakhurst Dairy recently paid out $5 million to drivers following an overtime pay dispute based, in essence, on the lack of the serial comma (also called the Oxford comma) in Maine state law.

That, friends, is a lot of milk and butter.

Photo by Jorge Lázaro on Unsplash.

If your curiosity is piqued, check out the article for the nitty-gritty. Suffice it to say that the three truck drivers who homed in on the lack of a serial comma in that particular section of Maine state law and subsequently won $5 million for their four years’ worth of denied overtime pay should make every English teacher—and every editor—proud.

For more Quill & Ink fun with examples of punctuational disasters, check out our article “Happy National Punctuation Day!” from September 2017 and our September 2016 article, “Huh?”

Grammar and punctuation . . . they matter! Ignore at your peril!

Dangling Modifiers

One of the blessings of editing for a living is the unintentional hilarity that is so often peppered throughout our workdays when we discover words and phrases used in ways the authors had not intended. Recall from our September 2016 article “Huh?” that when words are strung together without clear intention, the message conveyed to readers is often not at all what the author had in mind. One of the many perks of this career is finding amusement in those unintended messages.

One rich source of seemingly unceasing amusement is the dangling modifier.

What is a dangling modifier (also called a misplaced modifier)?

Well, let’s start by explaining what modifiers are: in essence, they are words (and sometimes phrases) that provide additional detail and description about something. The often amusing dangling modifier, however, is one that leaves unclear that which is being modified.

While of course we would never use our authors’ working drafts to illustrate our point, it is always fair game to point out other examples already available for public consumption. Consider, for instance, this jim-dandy, which was intended as instructions for bottle-feeding a baby:

Yikes!
Courtesy of http://badnewspaper.com/2017/07/06/writing-skills-101/.

See anything wrong with this phrasing? (We sure hope you do if you have anything at all to do with feeding babies!)

As we’ve mentioned, while dangling/misplaced modifiers are often confusing, for editors in particular, they are also often downright hilarious. Here are some fantastic examples provided by the University of Wisconsin–Madison:

  • Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed. (Why is this wrong? Because the deer was not the one driving.)
  • With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle around the arena. (The poodle held his tail high, not the father.)
  • I saw the dead dog driving down the interstate. (Dogs can’t drive, and especially not dead dogs.)
  • He wore a straw hat on his head, which was obviously too small. (His head was obviously too small? Oh, my!)

Or these, offered by Eddie Snipes:

  • The woman walked the dog in purple suede cowboy boots. (’Twas the woman, not the dog, who wore the purple suede cowboy boots. As written, though, it sounds as though ’twas, in fact, the dog.)
  • We saw several monkeys on vacation in Mexico. (The monkeys weren’t the ones vacationing.)
  • I glimpsed a rat sorting the recyclable materials. (The rat wasn’t the one sorting the recyclable materials.)
  • Tom comes across a turtle on his way home from spending four years in prison. (An incarcerated turtle? What on earth did it do to get four years in prison?)
  • Pygmies hunted elephants armed with spears. (The elephants are not the ones armed with spears.)

As we’ve mentioned before, a big part of our job is to focus on an author’s intent and try to assist in selecting the most appropriate words to convey an intended message. Please check out our June 2016 article “What We Mean and What We Say” for more about this. By working with writers to increase their work’s clarity, editors can help writers to present themselves and most accurately impart their message, as we explained in our July 2014 article “Can’t You Just Run a Spell Check?”

Any thoughts to share? Questions? Reach out to us!

Quill & Ink Fall 2017/ Winter 2018

Behold! The latest and greatest issue of Quill & Ink is now available! In this issue, we talk about our most recent travels and the people and creatures we’ve encountered there. There is plenty to read and enjoy, and also check out our new layout and let us know what you think!

(Please click the image to view the latest issue.)

Please enjoy, and drop us a line with any questions, comments, or suggestions!

Happy National Punctuation Day!

I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I’m drowning in ellipses.
—Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies

September 24 is National Punctuation Day, started in 2004 by Jeff Rubin.

We, of course, work with punctuation all day, every day, and we’ve laughed quite hard over countless linguistic mishaps resulting from the incorrect use or even the omission of necessary of punctuation. (Please feel free to check out past Quill & Ink articles discussing the intricacies of punctuation, including this one from 2016, this one from 2015, and this one from 2014.) Because we of course we would never underscore any examples of this from our own authors, consider taking a moment to reflect on these amusing examples already published for public consumption:

Posted here.


Woe, the lack of the almighty serial comma here!

While admittedly sources vary somewhat on the official number of punctuation marks in the English language, the following beautifully presented graphic is pretty representative of what we see in a typical day.

Courtesy of the Visual Communication Guy.

Go forth and punctuate!

Thirty Million (30,000,000!) Words! And 450 Books!

Today marks an exciting day here at ScriptAcuity Studio! We have officially surpassed the thirty million–word mark and have also received our 450th full-scale manuscript!

(While we technically have logged 687 unique manuscripts to date [with another one due to arrive imminently], some of them have been very short, such as children’s books or brief web-based educational content.)

Today’s 450th full-scale book also serves to push us solidly over thirty million words edited. This is of particular note given that we conduct multiple rounds of edits on every manuscript, meaning that those same thirty million words have all been edited multiple times.

We love what we do!

“Huh?”

Noted in a recent magazine article* was the following side blurb: “Four officials were suspended from their posts for allegedly mismanaging flood in China’s northern province of Hebei …”

In reading the phrase Four officials were suspended from their posts, one might (correctly, in this case) interpret it to mean “Four officials were halted from returning to the jobs to which they were assigned” or some variation thereof, but might one—particularly one for whom English is not a native language—also understand it to mean “Four officials were dangled from their stanchions”?

The culpability for such potential confusion cannot be placed solely at the feet of our poor friends the homonyms. Given the intricacies, subtleties, and complexities of language, it is little wonder that what a person often attempts to communicate to others is not necessarily interpreted as he or she intends by those on the receiving end. Such is a situation that occurs in all forms of communication—with sometimes hilarious or even tragic results—and it is certainly rampant in written communication, particularly with the still additional layer of complexities introduced by the vast universe of punctuation.

Consider, if you will, this second example, taken from The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition, section 6.29, concerning commas with compound predicates:

“She recognized the man who entered the room, and gasped.”

Do you see why the comma is necessary here?

If read without the comma, the reader may incorrectly infer that the person who gasped in this situation was the man who entered the room rather than the woman who recognized him.

Such a tiny piece of punctuation … so profound its impact on the intended message.

(Speaking of tiny pieces of punctuation with profound impacts on the intended message, we invite you to check out our November 2015 article “CMS Says …” for a brief, happy little chat about the hyphen versus the en dash versus the em dash. All distinct, all with a purpose.)

Tread carefully, friends.

In our work, we assiduously focus on an author’s intent and try to assist him or her in selecting the most appropriate words to convey his or her message, as we discussed in our June 2016 article “What We Mean and What We Say.” And by working with writers to increase their work’s clarity, editors can help writers to present themselves and most accurately impart their message, as we explained in our July 2014 article “Can’t You Just Run a Spell Check?”

Finally, we leave you with this bit of dialogue from a story familiar to many:

Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.

“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”

“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’”

“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like!’”

“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe!’”

—From Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

* “The World This Week: Politics,” The Economist, July 30, 2016.

The Many Cogs in the Manuscript-Publishing Machine

Josh Mitteldorf and Dorion Sagan‘s joint venture, Cracking the Aging Code, formally launched in June of this year. Similarly, author Serena Burdick’s debut novel, Girl in the Afternoon, officially launched in July. Dr. Mitteldorf and Mr. Sagan and Ms. Burdick were kind and thoughtful enough to acknowledge us in their books—and Ms. Burdick also tweeted her appreciation—for which we are truly very grateful.

Look closely at these two different pages of acknowledgments (above). There we are!
Look closely at these two different pages of acknowledgments (see above). There we are! Whee!

GirlInTheAfternoonTweet What a sweet tweet!

Such acknowledgment—in our case, it has happened only a handful of times over the years—is a rare treat for most editors. There are so many people involved in a book’s publication that it would be hopelessly impractical for authors to personally thank every single person for his or her involvement in the project (and that’s assuming the author even knew of everyone or even wanted to!).

There is the author, of course, and anyone with whom the author speaks about the manuscript—formally or informally—to discuss and solidify ideas, solicit feedback, read drafts … and the myriad of other ways authors’ friends, associates, and coaches assist with the creation and smoothing of a manuscript. Let’s not forget about anyone with whom the author interacts for research purposes in the course of writing and refining the manuscript and those from whom third-party permissions must be sought and obtained. Such processes alone can take years, and there are always unsung heroes involved.

Then, often, there are such players as literary agents and independent marketing professionals who assist with garnering interest in the manuscript.

Once the book is picked up by a publishing house—and let’s remember that there are contracts directors involved with the various legalities of the deal—there are seemingly countless professionals whose job it is to facilitate the process. Just among editors alone, there are a variety of types, all of whom have distinct (yet often overlapping) roles. Acquisitions editors, managing editors, developmental editors, copyeditors … they all play roles in the process.

Who designs the cover art? Who writes the jacket copy? Who on the publisher’s legal team reviews the content? Who indexes the manuscript if required? Who screens the revisions? Who typesets the book after its copyedit? Who proofreads the final proof before publication? What about the marketing and promotion team? Those involved in communicating and monitoring the production schedule? And the people who read advanced readers’ copies to provide feedback? What about the innumerable folks in various ostensibly unrelated-yet-still-mission-critical positions—administrative assistants, accounting professionals, interns charged with a variety of responsibilities? How many countless people work hard to manufacture and distribute that glorious hard copy that you lovingly hold in your hands?

And if the book is self-published, there are often entirely different processes and people to shepherd those processes along!

It is little surprise, then, that copyeditors’ names only very occasionally make it into the printed glory of the manuscript on which they so dedicatedly worked—check out the acknowledgments of the books you read and see for yourself—which is part of what makes receiving one such a distinct honor and privilege.

What We Mean and What We Say

When we’re working, we keep our dictionaries close at hand when we edit, and we do this for several reasons.

First, our clients’ preferences determine what our go-to reference will be and which resource gets the final say in case of disagreement. In some cases, the authors’ preferences—especially in the case of nontraditional spellings or made-up words—can trump all other resources. (It doesn’t matter if the author spelled XXXXXX like that, even though the dictionary prefers XXXXX, especially when it’s a sequel to a previously published work!)

Second, and we’re not ashamed to admit it, we don’t know every single word in the English language, and in some cases, some terms are very specific to certain industries or fields where we don’t have the same expertise-level knowledge as the author. (If we had doctorates in biology, physics, astrophysics, economics, American history, world history, chemistry, medicine, law, and philosophy, we probably wouldn’t have time for editing.)

When we read and edit, we try to pay attention to an author’s intent and try to assist him or her in selecting the most appropriate words. Notice that when we say most appropriate, we don’t always mean correct; this is especially true of fiction. In nonfiction, using an incorrect or inappropriate word can call an author’s credibility into question. If fiction, however, the incorrect word can be used as characterization. What does it say about a character who consistently uses the wrong word? What if a character uses the same fifty-cent word repeatedly, whenever he’s given the chance? What if a character uses an outdated term or one now considered offensive?

Word choice can be powerful when applied correctly, even when the word is used incorrectly.