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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Don't Propagate False Grammar Rules and I Name Today as Be Kind to Your Copy Editor Day

I'm a professional (and highly competent) copy editor. This makes me the queen of grammar and spelling aka the spelling and grammar police. Even so, I've been told one time too many some version of the "everyone knows the rule is ... " about something. Which, of course, turns out to not be a valid rule and yet was spoken by a person who considers himself/herself as a grammar expert. No, the US grammar expert in those cases would be me.

Anytime someone tells you the "rule is," ask them for the following:

  1. the name of the publication that they are using as a reference guide;
  2. the year of publication of such guide (hopefully within this century);
  3. if the publication is widely accepted within the States (or the appropriate reference guide for whatever country you find yourself living in and publishing in);
  4. the rule number or the page number of such "rule"; and
  5. a Xerox or scanned copy of same from that person's hard copy book that they've read and keep handy to consult with often, or a screenshot from any online version or from an e-book.

Bet they can't provide any of the above. Because it's a false rule. Yet I can give you the exact 16CMS rules for my edits (including screenshots or copies of said 16CMS rules, as needed) and can point you to the Web11 (or give a screenshot for the truly lazy among us, to settle any dispute) for the preferred spelling usages. Both these guides are American mainstays for fiction and nonfiction alike, both published this century, with 16CMS in 2010 and Web11 in 2007.

Granted, if you write articles for a US newspaper/magazine, you probably go by the AP rules here in the States. For medical white papers, the AMA. For Christian works, the Christian Writer's Manual of Style. And so on and so forth.

I'm reminded of NCIS where Gibbs tells his people to double-check everything. Take nothing at face value. Don't believe anything people tell you until you've confirmed it. Applies perfectly here.

Just within the last three days, I've heard two such fallacies. One was about how supposedly there are no spaces before and after an ellipsis. Wrong. See 16CMS 13.48 and 13.51. The other was the stupidest fake grammar rule I've ever heard (to date anyway): how there should be two periods at the end of a sentence that ends in a word with a period (like "etc.") or with a person's initials (like, instead of Charles Daniel spelled out, using his initials, "C.D."). OMG. Wrong again.

A WRONG Example: Here are my copies of the 16CMS, Web11, the manuscript, etc..

See 16CMS 6.117 and 10.12. And that last one comes from an otherwise gifted storyteller who got hit by a ginormous stupid stick the day she adamantly stated this two-period "rule," like some valid grammar rule to follow instead of the 16CMS rule I explained. Not the first time for her to conjure up these aberrations either.

So, Indie authors, to protect yourself from these misguided people who purport to be grammar experts, ask them for the five items listed above. And for you guys spewing this dung, who are too quick to hand out these supposed "rules," please, please, please don't pollute the waters with this misinformation anymore. Go check it out yourself, for God's sake. Consult 16CMS, Web11, even Google.

If you are a US author and don't own a physical copy of 16CMS and Web11, both reference guides have online resources available (some for free). Even the first full page of a Google search will tell you not to ever end a sentence with two periods. Duh! It doesn't hurt to double-check yourself, as we are all human, subject to misinterpretations or giving someone too much credence.

I'm begging you to not make our self-published authors look stupid by giving them these made-up rules that were pulled out of someone's a**.

Plus do not insult your professional copy editor by espousing one of these inane rules as the gospel truth, who (if any good at being a copy editor) knows ten times more than you combined with your ten best writing buddies who just think they know about English grammar rules. Your copy editor is there to make your books shine, not to make you look like an idiot by applying these pseudorules. If you have a question, ask me. I'll gladly discuss it with you.

So don't mistreat/abuse/bully/delay paying your copy editor (or, worse, Reject her grammatically correct edits within your Track Changes doc on a whim or merely thinking how much smarter you are than your copy editor). Meanwhile your copy editor remains the consummate professional, doing her usual outstanding work in spite of your shortcomings. Because her work (as originally completed, not as adulterated by some grammar-challenged author) is her trademark. Her work is her brand. Her work speaks for her integrity, for her skill. If your copy editor is competent, worth every penny (and more) that you pay for such services, treat said copy editor like the gold that he or she represents.

I shouldn't have to tell intelligent adults any of this. Yet here I am. Because obviously growing up physically is no guaranteed marker of growing up mentally or morally or socially. Or grammatically.

While I'm on my soapbox, if you have a disdain for the US grammar rules, don't hire me to be your copy editor. I won't speak for the other copy editors. You can check with the rest of them on this issue as needed. I'll repeat what I said in my opening: I'm a copy editor. This makes me the queen of grammar and spelling aka the spelling and grammar police.

So, if you have no intention of following the grammar rules or the spelling guidelines, don't even want to be bothered with my notations of them within Track Changes comments to explain the reason for my edits, then please reciprocate. If I can't share with you the 16CMS rules, then don't begin to proffer your imaginary ones, like they have merit or something.

Save your money and my time, and go hire instead your gardener, your dry cleaner, your yoga instructor, your favorite niece or that writing partner who agrees with you about everything. No fact-checking needed. No exceptions to the exceptions within the grammar rules to cull through. No use for a dictionary as you'll just spell stuff phonetically, right? The spell-checker catches all that, I hear a naysayer retort. Nope. Even with a version of Microsoft Word that lets you choose your default dictionary (always go with Web11 for US texts), a human eye is still needed for those pesky homonyms, for context problems, for missing words, for one-letter words that should be two-letter words, even for some instances of ALL CAPS, etc.

Let me make myself clear. I'm not belittling any of the professions listed herein. I'm just pointing out that, given the choice of a copy editor or a gardener or your dry cleaner or your yoga instructor or your favorite niece or your (very gifted) writing partner, if you are looking for the expert on grammar rules simply by these individual descriptions alone, go with the copy editor. Again I say, Duh! This should be a given. I'm shaking my head still at how this is not understood by enough people. Are we humans, as a group, getting stupider as time keeps ticking away?

You should respect the copy editor you work with (or get one you do respect), giving him/her the appropriate dues for reading the 16CMS alone. You go read it. Time yourself for ten minutes and see how many pages you have read and understood. I double-dog dare you. It is 860 pages of mind-numbing text (not counting the appendixes in the back matter), each page therein with probably an average of at least 10 rules per page. The 16CMS contains so much data that your mind shuts down pretty quickly, so this would never be a quick one-sitting read.

In all likelihood ~8,600 rules are in the one volume. The first part deals with fiction, and the last part deals more with nonfiction. And I've read over 90 percent of it (all the sections dealing with fiction writings), checking more nonfiction-related rules as needed. And, of course, I search it often to confirm how to treat certain anomalies that arise within myriad sentence constructions.

What are my qualifications to be a grammar expert? Honors English classes in high school. Decades of working with attorneys, honing my attention-to-detail skills. It's amazing how my innate gifts for clear and concise communication, plus a curious nature to go to the source and to read the rules (TRCP), which all made me a great legal assistant, are the same traits that make me a brilliant copy editor. Then there are the 8.5 years and counting where I've been a paid professional copy editor, first for Harlequin for 5.5 years, overlapping with the four or so years I've devoted myself to Indie authors. Plus my reading of the 16CMS gives me a definitive edge over all the posers. And I like to think my 150 IQ and my 80 percent eidetic memory don't hurt me either.

So I deem today as Be Kind to Your Copy Editor Day. Or maybe it should be a weeklong reminder. Go forth, and send your appreciation and thanks to people you may not have told yet.

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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