« Aw, shucks | Main | Standing up for the semicolon »

Errors, emendations and apologies

The Augustinian view

Copy editors have a deeply Augustinian perspective on human experience: We know that everyone is fundamentally prone to error. That gives us a degree of confidence in our job security, but it also haunts us that we are as disposed to go astray as everyone else.

You may have noticed from comments on previous entries that readers of this blog are quick to spot slips or inconsistencies. (How kind.) Being corrected is humbling and salutary, and though I wince at the errors that my editor and I have allowed to get past us, I am touched that there are readers who care that much about getting things right.

Someone else’s words

For experienced writers and editors, words and phrases make up melodies that stick in their heads. (One reason that some students are surprised at being caught in plagiarism is that words and phrases do not echo in their heads.) The negative side to this verbal memory is that someone else’s words may well emerge from the subconscious as if they were your own.

I fell into this unconscious mimicry while searching for a title for this blog last December. "You don’t say" popped into my head and seemed just right. So I was mortified, on looking up something in the program for last year’s national conference of the American Copy Editors Society, to realize that "You Don’t Say" was the title Hank Glamann gave to his workshop on common errors in language. I knew that perfectly well; I had scheduled his session. But I had buried the title.

I’ve apologized to Hank, who, with his customary graciousness, says that no harm has been done.


Joey Harrison’s comment on "The wayward comma" entry that the musical analogy would more properly refer to eighth, quarter, half and whole rests rather than notes is well taken.

"Soupstained," replying to the "More in sorrow than in snarking" posting, suggested that I stretched a little too far in explaining the etymology of cachet. He (or she) may be right. I was extrapolating from the etymological information in the Oxford English Dictionary and may have wandered into ground on which I do not have solid footing.

A former colleague, on hearing the announcement of this blog, wrote, "That is going to lure all manner of nerds." You know who you are.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:59 PM | | Comments (1)


You say "nerds" like it's a bad thing ...

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected