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The things editors see

On the first day in my editing course at Loyola, I give my students a short text copied years ago from an announcement on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. They mark or question what they see, and then I show them what I see. And thus they have a foretaste of the appalling tedium that they will experience over the following fourteen weeks.

See what you make of it.

The edited version with commentary will follow, but don’t peek.

The New ASSISTING BISHOP has arrived!!

Our new Assisting Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Donald P. Hart and his wife Elizabeth have arrived. Bishop Hart joins us after serving in several climatic extremes. He served in Alaska as Priest-in-charge, Diocesan staff and Rector, then moved to warmer climes as Bishop of Hawaii from 1986-94. He has also served in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. The move to Maryland puts the Hart’s within a close commuting distance to their children and granddaughter in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Hart enjoys the prospect of another assistant bishop position “because it lives out the hart of all ministry, which I believe rests in dynamic partnership between ourselves and the Lord, between all of us, lay and ordained.” He began Diocesan duties on October 15th [superscript in original] and will begin visitations in the near future.

Please welcome the Hart’s into our Diocesan family.


I told you not to peek.

Changes and comments are bracketed and boldfaced.


The New ASSISTING BISHOP has arrived!! [Get rid of both exclamation points. If the news is not exciting, you can’t make it so with punctuation. And there’s no reason to for the all-caps.]

Our new Assisting Bishop, [Not a point of grammar or usage but of style. Generally today, titles are not capitalized unless they immediately precede a name.] the Rt. Rev. Donald P. Hart [Comma here; it's an appositive.] and his wife Elizabeth [“Elizabeth” is an appositive. Set it off with commas unless you wish to suggest that he harbors multiple wives.] have arrived. Bishop Hart joins us after serving in several climatic extremes.[“Climatic extremes” is pointless gussying-up. We’re about to see Alaska and Hawaii mentioned, and even the dimmer reader knows that the one is cold and the other warm.] He served in Alaska as Priest-in-charge, Diocesan staff and Rector, [Again with the needless capitalization. And he was probably a member of diocesan staff rather than the entire staff.] then moved to warmer climes [Ah, the echo of “climatic extremes,” in case you should have forgotten the distinction between warm and cold.] as Bishop [Lowercase.] of Hawaii from 1986-94. [“from 1986 to 1994” ] He has also served in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. [Doesn’t say how he served there. This will become material later.] The move to Maryland puts the Hart’s [“Harts.” Making names plural with apostrophes is a mark of incomplete mastery of the conventions of standard written English.] within a close commuting distance to [“of” would be idiomatic.] their children and granddaughter in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Hart enjoys the prospect of another assistant bishop position [Another? We haven’t said where he was assisting previously. Perhaps Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut?] “because it lives out the hart [A misspelling that the spell-check won’t, and didn’t, catch.] of all ministry, which I believe rests in dynamic partnership between ourselves and the Lord, between all of us, lay and ordained.” He began Diocesan [If you’re not going to capitalize the noun, you’re surely not going to capitalize the adjective.] duties on October 15th [Superscript unnecessary; delete.] and will begin visitations in the near future.

Please welcome the Hart’s [So it’s ignorance, not a typo.] into our Diocesan [Lowercase.] family.



Posted by John McIntyre at 3:17 PM | | Comments (18)


I would have put in the serial comma [...Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.]

The Gentle Reader may recall that I am involved in a mixed relationship, viz., I am pro-serial comma, and she, alas, is not. We are making it work, however, and we will mark our first year together soon. I will repeat the dedication in a book that convinces just about everyone that the serial comma is a good idea. "I dedicate this book to my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

If you are using AP style it should read Oct.15, just nit-picking..

It's not "his wife Elizabeth" that's an appositive, but "the Rt. Rev. Donald P. Hart" that stands in apposition to "Our new Assisting Bishop", and therefore needs commas on both sides. So the correction is right but the explanation is wrong.

I caught all the errors you complain of except "distance of" and the business about where he was an assistant bishop before. Is it really likely that "assisting bishop" and "assistant bishop" are both in use in the same hierarchy, though?

Presumably the Loyola course catalog makes the class sound more enticing than "14 weeks of appalling tedium."

" ... Within a close commuting distance to children and grandchildren" is awkward at best and perhaps confusing.

Prof. McI.,

Pray tell, why did your article header, "The things editors see", almost immediately conjure up, for me, visions of that very scared young tyke in the film, "The Sixth Sense", when he delivered that memorable, and haunting revelation, "I see people." I guess it's just me.

So the precocious clairvoyant (played so convincingly by young Haley Joel Osment), allegedly saw ghosts (dead folks), while you, Prof. McI., as you've stated earlier, see "things"---------namely, glaring grammatical flubs like misplaced modifiers, 'widows', dangling participles, superfluous exclamation points, run-on sentences, serial commas, improperly used appositives, and sundry additional grammatical 'horrors'. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Curious, not unlike the kid in the movie, "The Sixth Sense", does the ambient room temperature seem to get considerably colder when you sense a rash of grammatical 'horrors' about to ambush you, while dutifully slogging through all those Loyola undergraduate papers toward the end of each semester?

One would think that those pesky grammatical miscues could have a most chilling effect on even the a 'mildest of prescriptivist' like yourself?


P.S.: ---My girlfriend is an adjunct prof in Human Geography at one of our fine California
State Universities, and could totally relate to the (sometime) drudgery, frustration, and disappointment of slogging through the sea of mediocrity exhibited in the lions-share of student term papers. On rare occasions, a handful of grammatically sound, bordering on brilliant, coherent, literary gems will emerge from the pack of the mundane, which is usually a cause for major personal jubilation. Such are the vagaries, burdens and joys of academe.

Actually, John, I'm sticking with his wife, Elizabeth, though I know people who dispute that that is necessary. But I had left out the comma after Hart, so thanks for pointing it out.

Kem, "fourteen weeks of appalling tedium" is not in the Loyola course catalog, which is why I have to explain that on the first day of class. I never

Is he an assisting bishop or an assistant bishop, or does the distinction not matter (I'm not an Episcopalian)? He's called both.

Haha, to me the commas around "Elizabeth" would give the impression that that is not her real name which must remain unknown for some reason. But that's how it would work out following Dutch rules.

What, in the name of all that's holy, is Human Geography? And perhaps the Episcopal Church, in submitting the material in a press release, can't edit properly either. Either way, it looks like a minefield of errors.

@ Brian - yes, I wondered about 'assistant'/'assisting' : that feels like something you need to know Episcopalian terminology rather than general English to be sure of. '... will begin visitations' is something I also wouldn't feel comfortable letting pass without checking on the specific usage if possible; it reads oddly to an outsider, but sometimes that doesn't mean it's not fine for the intended audience.

I'd strike the 'a' from 'within a close commuting distance' too - that might be a US/UK thing. The 'a' doesn't feel outright and indefensibly wrong, admittedly, but 'within close commuting distance of' is more idiomatic for me.

John, I agree that 'climatic extremes' is pointless gussying-up, but I'm curious as to what you'd actually do with that sentence if you were editing it: return it to the writer with the comment as you have it here, leaving it up to them to make it better? Or emend by...doing what? Deleting the whole sentence and altering the beginning of the next so we just have '... have arrived. Bishop Hart served in Alaska...'? Or changing 'climatic extremes' to 'places' or something similarly anodyne? How much is it your job to say, "You need to make this better," and how much to make it better for them?

Heavens, Emma, even I was taught human geography, and that was a thousand years ago. Or, perhaps, Miss Terse, I was taught human geography, it must have been before your time.

Any road up, it's about geography with humans in it: ports, towns, railways, fields, agriculture, forestry, that sort of stuff. As opposed to physical geography: the pretty bits.

peekay: thank you for asking that. After altogether too long I'm still not sure about how American copy editors go about their business. They often talk about what they say to writers about their work, in situations where it seems to me a British sub would simply do what he thought right, and the reporter go gang. Can you advise, Mr McI?

Go gang? Oh, hang it!

"Assistant Bishop" is probably the correct title not "Assisting Bishop." Assistant Bishops are appointed by the diocesan bishop. (Bishop suffragans, another type of assistant bishop in Episcopal dioceses, are elected.) I'm surprised the DOM blurb got the title wrong. Parishes and dioceses can have "assisting clergy" but my experience is these folks are retired or semi-retired priests who occasionally fill-in with Sunday services and perform other light pastoral duties. I wouldn't think the arrival of assisting clergy requires exclamation points.

Episcopal bishops are required to attend worship in all the parishes of their diocese once every few years. In church jargon, these are called visitations. We just had ours in February.

And I'm guessing that should be "bishops suffragan."

Patricia the Terse,

Since I was the one who brought up the academic discipline of "human geography", (hardly "in the name of all that's holy" HA!), I'll just amplify, a tad, on what Picky has added to the subject.

Indeed, human geography, in the most simplistic terms involves most aspects of culture, society, and space, and is a distinct, rather broadly inclusive, multi-disciplined field of inquiry quite removed from that totally separate branch of geography, namely physical geography. (Apparently there's been an enduring kind of mutual snobbery, yet not quite escalating to an outright antipathy, between students of 'human', versus 'physical' geography. Kind of like chiropractors v.s. medical doctors. HA!)

Physical geography encompasses many sub-categories of study, that include such areas as Geomorphology, Hydrology, Glaciology, Meteorology, Climatology, Biodiversity, Geology, and Landscape Ecology, to name some of the more prominent sub-fields.

On the other hand, human geography includes such fields of intellectual inquiry as Geography of Language, Geography of Religion, Political Geography (Geopolitics), Urban Geography, Social Geography, Geography of Language, Medical Geography, and Behavioral Geography.

Clearly human geography (also termed anthropogeography) covers many aspects of human endeavor, w/ consideration of the relevant physical landscape never too far from most areas of inquiry.

This succinct Wiki-definition I found seems to define human geography in a nut shell: "A political/ cultural branch of geography concerned w/ the social science aspect of how the world is physically arranged." Not bad.

Hope you're having a great week, thus far, Patricia.

Great to have Picky back on board. A man who rarely suffers fools gladly, but is gentle in his occasional reproaches. A gentle man, indeed. A right good bloke, all round, I'd say.

What would we do without him? (Not a cheery thought.)


No, it's suffragan bishops. The noun gets the plural form, as in attorneys general. As for Human Geography, I promise you all that until now, I've never heard the term. On the other paw, my major was Musicology: we debated how many angels can dance on the head of an upper-partial, a hot topic I can assure you.

I love this kind of worked example to grammar and usage in context; for me, your 14 weeks would fly by. Surely, however, "close commuting distance" should be "short commuting distance", "easy commuting distance", or similar. Two places can be close; a distance is short.

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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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