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What the Old Editor says

For the past several days I’ve been tweeting the aphorisms of The Old Editor, some of them my own, some of them adapted from my own Old Editors. I’ve gathered them here for you, with some additions.

The Old Editor says:

When you have to trim an article to fit, take out the dumbest stuff first.

The people kvetching about the new editing software never mastered the old editing software either.

The more a page looks like a dog's breakfast, the more it will attract praise for innovative design.

Can't be cut? Son, I could cut the Lord's Prayer.

If you write "in the wake of" something, that something had better be a boat.

Before you heave that goat-choker over the fence, check to see if there's a page that can accommodate it.

I don't buy on spec.

Giving a reporter a thesaurus is like giving a toddler a loaded handgun.

"Said" suffices.

Whenever you see a percentage, fire up your calculator.

Why do I still have to remind you? If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

The next time you use "to die for" in copy, we can make that happen.

Dammit, if you think you're a professional, you should know that a hyphen isn't the same as a dash.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." 10-word lead. What've you got that needs more?

The AP Stylebook is a set of guidelines, not Heilige Schrift or a substitute for editorial judgment.

If you are your own editor, you’re working without a net.

Mistakes will lurk in the big type.

If you can’t tell me in one sentence what your story says, you don’t know what your story says.

The reader doesn’t care how hard you worked on that story.

Be suspicious of all one-sentence injunctions about writing and editing.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:29 PM | | Comments (10)



Prof. McI.,

I particularly gnash my pearly whites (well, more like off-whites), when, post-game, I hear some winded, sweat-drenched, interviewed victorious pro athlete claiming he "gave it 110% out there today", when even the most mathematically challenged among us know darn well that 100% effort is pretty much the max in giving it one's all.

Now judging by the tenor of some particularly lamely written articles I've stumbled upon over the years, even in the pages of widely esteemed publications, if an editor were to extract, as you put it, "the dumbest stuff', from said articles, there wouldn't be much of a piece left to read. Just sayin'.

Hmm......... does the phrase "on the heals of" something, or other, have the same taint of a cliche as your quoted, "in the wake of'? Me thinks it's about a wash.

Boy, this vaunted AP Stylebook you and your editing peers keep alluding to w/ such reserved reverence, sounds almost as sacrosanct as the Old Testament's Ten Commandments; all-be-it in the realm of prescribed, and proper journalistic editing, versus righteous human conduct......... w/ much more dire consequences for breaking the Biblical rules.

In my view, no single official style guide should hold such seeming universal sway, although it is heartening to know that some professional copy editors out there, do opt, on occasion, for honed personal "editorial judgment", rather than adhering slavishly to some quasi-sanctified style guide.

But alas, I do not, nor never have, toiled in the ofttimes treacherous, and fuzzy mine-fields of journalistic reportage, or commentary, so I can see where some who make there living in said domain might well take umbrage w/ my treading and opining, perhaps at tad glibly, on what for me is admitted unfamiliar territory.

Further, I would think one of the secrets of good news writing/ reporting is consistently penning stories that on-the-face-of-it appear unlabored, engaging, offering a clear and coherent simply articulated narrative thread. Yet reaching this lofty benchmark in tight and seemingly breezy writing might, I would submit, often requires real hard work----hours of blood, sweat and tears. But bottom-line----the ultimate deadline----rules, and the piece better sink, or swim on its own merits---- good, bad, or indifferent.

I would surmise that "Indifferent" never quite cuts it in big league journalism, even if the scribe might defensively claims to have given it 150-percent. Talk about an over-achiever. HA!


I believe some guy called Luke set the precedent when it comes to cutting the Lord's Prayer... :-)

Good stuff. Good stuff.

This is great! My favorite: "Said" suffices.

(You would have more comments if you got rid of the horrible captcha thing.)

Alex McCrae ... take a pill, Sir!

110% percent can be percentage of rated performance instead of maximum performance (e.g., when limbs tear off). Case in point: Space Shuttle engines running at 104% during first acceleration.

Engineer Stratos has SPOKEN! *Awe*

Efstratios Psarianos,

Hmm........ frankly, all that high-fallutin' aerospace technical stuff is totally Greek to me......... and judging by your blog moniker, w/ its distinctive Hellenistic flair, it could well be Greek to you, as well? Or maybe not.

But seriously, I willingly defer to your alleged engineering expertise in regards to the validity of percentages calculated beyond 100%. Who knew? I respectfully stand corrected.

Maybe my "O" rings are a tad too tight and brittle, and as you've suggested some kind of (water) "pill' might clear up some of my flaccid, fuzzy thinking. Wouldn't want to blow a gasket now, would we?

I'm curious, are you part of that formidable tag-team duo, "Shock and *Awe*"? That would be totally AWESOME, dude.


P.S.: -------Perhaps you could offer some of your obvious engineering savvy to the floundering Greek government about now. Couldn't hurt. I don't believe prime minister George Papandreous is giving it his 150%........... slacker. Just sayin'.

@Alex, you edit that all by yourself?


Answering your query-----no I do not, as you put it, "edit that all by (myself)* ". I actually employ a little Mensa-level, prescriptivist gremlin/ copy editor who is always perched upon my right shoulder, who's constantly whispering sweet editing tips into my unreceptive right ear. Half the time his editing suggestions don't even register, as evidenced by my ofttimes dodgy commentaries.

But on a more serious note, your intimated sarcasm (if I've read you correctly) is only exceeded by your economy of words in your last post, addressed to yours truly.

Just as I lament the irresponsible actions of most hit-and-run drivers, i regard hit-and-run bloggers w/ similar disdain. (Of course, the dire implications and consequences of hit-and-run driving are far more egregious in the grander scheme of things.)

Frankly, I would be the first to admit that much of my commentary on this site over the past year, or so, could well use considerable expert editing, and perhaps some judicious paring of excess. But despite my occasional lengthly ramblings, and awkward stumbles, I feel I generally DO get my point(s) across, and moreover, when warranted, try to infuse a little levity into the discussion at hand.

Sadly, the arena of lexicography, word usage, punctuation, and grammar can, at times, be a rather tedious, stuffy, pedantic, and humorless domain.

Thankfully our blogmeister, Prof. McIntyre possesses wit, civility, erudition and wisdom, virtually in spades, keeping this online forum, for the most part, a most lively, fresh, fun, and educative enterprise.

But thanks for the veiled insult, Drew. It's not my first, and I dare say it shall likely not be my last.

I'll tell my wise little editor-gremlin you wish him well, by the way.

*I replaced "yourself" w/ "myself" in my quote from your post.


P.S.: ----- If, perchance, your inquiry re/ my editing all my stuff was sincere, then I sincerely apologize, in advance, if I took your remark as an offhand negative slight............ and just take what I wrote, earlier, w/ a grain of salt. You must admit you didn't give me much commentary to go on?

@Alex McCrae,

I think that the issue of whether your ramblings could use some paring is perhaps less relevant when you're commenting than it would be if you were publishing articles.

As it is, your enthusiasm and love of the English language - with all its quirks, foibles, and local idiosyncracies - shines clearly through your writing. Keep doing what you do, and keep enjoying it!

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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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