« The lifelong craft | Main | All the noise »

Avast, Matey, heave to

Given the rate at which print and electronic publications and publishing houses have been discarding their copy editors, it seemed only a matter of time until the last of us, stuffed and mounted, or perhaps mummified, would be put on display at the Smithsonian, along with Martha, the last passenger pigeon.

But walking around Fells Point’s Privateer Day with my daughter this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of a possible future for us.

In the 18th century (good times), nations that came up short on naval resources resorted to privateers, essentially pirates who were licensed to plunder and, at least officially, limited in their targets. For our beached copy editors, the role of privateer could open up fresh possibilities for employment.

Some official organization — a logical one being the American Copy Editors Society, perhaps at its forthcoming national conference in Minneapolis — would issue letters of marque authorizing copy-editing privateers to board offending publications, seize texts and deal with them appropriately.

Some technical details — the precise wording of the letter of marque, the design of the flag under which copy-editing privateers would operate — remain to be worked out. But a fleet could be operational in comparatively short order.

For those of you who imagine that your writing is pristine and that readers will long for unmediated contact with you: Heave to and prepare to be boarded.



Posted by John McIntyre at 7:57 PM | | Comments (13)


Three questions:
1. Do we get to elect our own captains?
2. How will the plundered comma splices be divided up?
3. Can I have a hat? A big one?

Three answers:
1. Yes.
2. Proportionately. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels are thorough on the subject of prize money.
3. Captains and lieutenants will wear bicorns, but lieutenants will have to wear them front-to-back.

For inspirational purposes, look at the Monty Python short, The Crimson Permanent Assurance from The Meaning of Life:

Then I'm in. I'll have to borrow my wife's cutlass, though.

The Aubrey-Maturin novels are great. I need to get back to reading that series. I think I have gotten through the first six.

Does this mean we should start calling you "Admiral McIntyre"?

Belay that.

Should #2 be "proportionally" rather than "proportionately"? How are the two words used differently, if at all?

Somehow "proportionately" seems like it would be correct when referring to one of the shares ("her share was proportionate to her effort"), but in aggregate, they'd be assigned proportionally.

But I have no idea where or how I got that idea.

I can see it now —

Emblazoned on the oriflamme banner:
The memento mori of our Jolie Roget;
The blood-curdling words of this motto:

The pen/is mightier than the sword.

Jon Awbrey, M&C (ret.)

Re: "Captains and lieutenants will wear bicorns, but lieutenants will have to wear them front-to-back."

Will we be pronouncing it "leftenant"?

Here is a rough sketch for a flag design, intended more for getting the ball rolling than as a potential finalist. I really hope we'll see alternative and better designs from other YDS readers.

Will you be training up a parrot? One of my grandsons has an excellent pirate book, Stinky Pete I think it's called, should you need a training manual.

Will you be boarding technical manuals too?

JEM: You wish.

Yes, I do wish. It would make my job easier.

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