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Facebook and list mania

If you are on Facebook, you will almost certainly have friends who have completed the list of 25 random facts about themselves and invited you to do the same. It’s like a chain letter. *

Highly unlikely as it is that you have any interest in random personal facts about a paunchy drudge about to turn 58, I am offering you 25 facts about editing.

1. The project will require three times the planned time to achieve one-third of the desired result (McIntyre’s Ratio).

2. Writers will never straighten out it’s and its.

3. No matter how many times an article is edited or proofed, some reader will find a mistake in it.

4. To reporters, all deadlines are fungible.

5. Percentages will have been miscalculated 42 percent of the time.

6. Stories move to the copy desk early or on time only on the eve of a holiday, when the writers and assigning editors are eager to get out of the building.

7. The error no one spots will be in the big type.

8. The Associated Press Stylebook is a set of guidelines, not scripture.

9. The publisher is always right.

10. The statement of fact you don’t check will turn out to be wrong.

11. Whom is on the way out, but it’s not gone yet.

12. A thesaurus in a reporter’s hand is like a pistol in a toddler’s.

13. You can cut any text by 10 percent without anyone noticing.

14. You can cut any text by 25 percent and probably should.

15. A writer’s ego is like a Venetian blown-glass ball: huge, gorgeous and fragile.

16. No one outside a university philosophy department knows any longer what beg the question means.

17. Most of the errors in grammar and usage that readers complain of are not errors.

18. Over time, you will become acquainted with the limitations of all your fellow editors.

19. Over time, all your fellow editors will become acquainted with your limitations.

20. Most pairs of dashes could, and should, be replaced with commas.

21. There will never be enough time to do what ought to be done.

22. You are allowed three exclamation points in your entire career.

23. You will be hampered by idiosyncratic and idiotic decrees by long-gone managers.

24. Editing is just about the most fun you can have legally.

25. Don’t expect gratitude.


* As far as I can tell from the sampling among my own Facebook friends, it seems to attract, um, the mature. Perhaps they just have more to tell about themselves, having lived longer. But now that Facebook is being populated by codgers and coots like me, how long before the young people find somewhere else to go?



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:56 AM | | Comments (27)


Further to number 5:

90.1% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

To confirm number three, it has long been an axiom in Quality Assurance that even multiple sets of eyes will not find all the defects (e.g., numbers 1 (desried), 23 (lone-gone), and, possibly, 11 (it's, confirming 2)). Please note that I am neither an editor or grammarian, nor do I play one on TV.

Regarding #16:

Maybe only philosophers know the difference, but can't we all agree it's just a pretentious way of saying "raises the questions"?

Re: #22 -- I was indoctrinated into the John Kupetz school of thought here, which is that you get ONE exclamation point. Ever.

On #20: In eleventh grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Beverly Chappell, specifically called my writing out to the class as an example of using too many pairs of parentheses when a pair of commas will do. That was 35 years ago, and I use her real name because I forgive but I don't forget.

Very nice list. An addendum to No. 24 from the short time I was allowed to copy edit is that copy editing is also an aerobic exercise. If you don't stand up, pace and expend the negative energy brought about by bad copy, you're not doing it right.

#4--I love the word "fungible".

#24--If this doesn't spark contentious debate, the Sandbox is taking an extended nap.

"Beg the question" is not as limited as you suggest. It is, however, woefully misused.

I'm here Bucky.

That is what's fun about both the Sandbox and the Parlor. There is no editing of our posts (unless its unprintable or just mean) and topic drift, or topic lurch, is always interesting.

You would think lots would be commenting since they stayed home to avoid the ice.

Retired in Elkridge should try to stay that way. Two out of three ain't so good.

I recently weighed in on the invasion of Facebook by parents:

A slightly younger codger

I wonder if it's possible to use fungible and vexation in the same sentence.

Editing is just about the most fun you can have legally. polite is this society?

Ah, but as Meat Loaf famously said: "Two out of three ain't bad." And I did say possibly.

Eve asked polite is this society?

Speaking for myself, I assumed that when Prof. McIntyre used "legally" there was an implied, " and with your clothes on."

I could be wrong.

I offer this alternative to editing as "the most fun...":

A bottle of rum and a Jimmy Buffett concert.

some minor points and observations regarding:

#2: Well, thats they're problem.
#3: Fungibility, vexatiousness, [notice non-AP usage, please] and lubricity are all lovely words (and ideas), and should never be used in the same sentence.[I suppose this entry could apply to #8 and #12, too.]
#14: No need to pound that one in, Ezra.
#20: I would beg to differ. The M-dash is a beautiful thing--semi-colon, both right and left parentheses, even sort of a/kind of a colon or comma (in the hands of a master).

Yeah, the hands of a master. You get many of them out your way?

Solid gold: 12. A thesaurus in a reporter’s hand is like a pistol in a toddler’s.

do i dare mention 23 if no one else has?

Thanks for mentioning. It's fixed.

From Frolic:
"Regarding #16:
Maybe only philosophers know the difference, but can't we all agree it's just a pretentious way of saying "raises the questions"?"

No, we can't. Because it's not true. Kinda the point, I think.

Sorry, might not have been clear.

When used incorrectly by non-philosophers, it's just a pretentious way to say "raises the question." Ironically, writers use this fancy sounding phrase to make themselves look smart while leaving the opposite impression on anyone who has had a freshman philosophy course.

Number 20 makes me smile, mostly because nobody can agree on whether to use an em-dash, an en-dash or a double hyphen. Or, they can't agree on whether to include a space before and after the dashes.

I'm not sure I'm getting #4. All deadlines are functionally equivalent?

In the sense that one is as good as another.

Got it, thanks. one mentioned #15. My personal favorite, as I have both edited and been edited. Guess you could say I know that glass ball inside out. Well-stated, John (did I use the hyphen correctly?).

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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
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