Blessed Are teh Copy Editors.

I’m taking shameless advantage of my bully pulpit to post a plug for my profession, that of copyediting (or, if you or your style guides prefer, copy-editing or copy editing). Ben Yagoda at Lingua Franca writes about the lamentable decision by the New York Times to cut their copyediting staff in half and get rid of the so-called backfielders (“who come up with or approve the idea for an article, work with the reporter as the piece develops, then perform a big-picture edit”) and about the importance of copyediting in general. It begins:

In a recent Lingua Franca post, I had reason to mention Rogue Riderhood, a character from Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend. Even though I had just perused the relevant passages, I wrote the name as “Rough Riderhood.” The mistake did not appear in the published post. That’s because a copy editor, Heidi Landecker, caught it and fixed it.

It wasn’t a rare occurrence. Heidi and her colleagues Mitch Gerber, Sarah Henderson, Charles Huckabee, Andrew Mytelka, and Don Troop regularly find and correct dumb and/or thoughtless errors like that, and in general allow me and other Lingua Franca and Chronicle of Higher Education writers to seem at least moderately knowledgeable and competent.

I have complained about this stuff before (e.g., at the end of this 2012 post, which features an appearance by a defensive representative of the publisher concluding with the immor(t)al lines “Books always contain a few errors. No book I’ve read produced by any publisher is perfect”), and it just keeps getting worse. I have before me a headline from my local paper (the Hampshire Gazette, or as they might print it, the Hmapshire Gzette) that reads “Los Angles a likely host in ’24 or ’28” [sic]. Go read Yagoda’s piece, and if you feel like complaining to the Times, I won’t try to stop you.


  1. Ha! At the risk of self plugging – a local paper announced a talk I was giving on the Great Siege of Malta, which talk I generally preface with the Voltaire’s ironic comment that nothing is better known that siege – ironic because, in America at least, it’s not a household reference.

    Anyway, the paper headlined the book cite as “The Great Siege of Matla”.

    On the plus side, they got my name right.

    (BTW, I had a wonderful copy editor, and gave her a named shout-out in the acknowledgements.)

  2. I agree with you — but — I recently downgraded my print subscriptions to the NYT and WaPo to digital subscriptions on account of I am a financially constrained freelance writer and editor and the newspapers were getting steadily thinner and more expensive.

    So I lament the death spiral of print media while being part of it.

    I have no good ideas on how to solve the problem.

  3. J Sterling says:

    Non Angles, sed Angeles

  4. Today’s paper has a story datelined “HALDEY.” Last time I checked, the town I live in is Hadley.

  5. In the village of Pardeeville, Wisconsin (pop. 2115), there is a business called “Partyville Pet Clinic”. I can’t imagine that a veterinary establishment wants to associate itself with fun-loving twenty-somethings, so I would guess that the name of the village is changing informally, since the two forms are homophonous in AmE.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    Non Angles, sed Angeles

    Thread won.

  7. @John Cowan: There is a Pardeeville Veterinary Hospital in Pardeeville, Wisconsin. Same place or different, I wonder?

  8. Michael Eochaidh says:

    It looks like they have different addresses; this could be a way for one to distinguish itself from the other.

  9. Trond Engen says:

    The Part-Evil Veterinary Hospital went out of business,

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Non Angles, sed Angeles

    Wasn’t the Latin citation Non Angli, sed Angeli? English angel, French ange are from latin angelus, an adaptation from Greek angelos. Angeles is Spanish, as in the name of the California city.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    But perhaps someone has making a pun.

  12. Yes, it’s a riff on the mangled newspaper headline I cited above.

  13. marie-lucie says:


  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    A 2012 story datelined Pardeeville in the Portage Daily Register begins “Just call it Partyville.” I don’t think the actual name and jocular nickname need to be exact homophones – they just need to fall within some sort of close-enough-for-wordplay zone. (Pardeeville may not boast its own daily paper – it’s about 10 miles from Portage, which has approx 5x the population and is the county seat.)

    Perhaps relatedly, I distantly remember that the enthusiastic partiers of my teenage years never quite reached consensus on whether “party hearty!” or “party hardy!” should be the fixed-phrase injunction to party with enthusiasm for the enterprise. The google books n gram reader (which of course I couldn’t have consulted back in those days) consistently shows “hearty” as the majority variant but with “hardy” as a large enough minority you can’t really call it an error. I’m not sure if one is notably preferable to the other on compositional-semantics grounds?

  15. The U.S. National Spelling Bee was won one year because one of the last two competitors misspelled heritable as heridable, and I myself cannot spell Herodotus without thinking of the etymology ‘granted by Hera’ or else it invariably comes out Herotodus. Nonetheless, the written distinction is tolerably well maintained in most American English prose despite the complete merger in most AmE accents.

  16. That’s interesting. I wouldn’t distinguish between “heritable” and “heridable” if the latter were a word, but I do pronounce the <d> and <t> in “Herodotus” differently.

  17. SFReader says:

    Heridage and inheridance are great words too

  18. I like saying quickly “I edited it”, [aj ɛ̞ɾɨɾɨɾɪt̚].

  19. When I read Wells’s The Sleeper Awakes as a child, I was struck by the word sevendy, short for seven dozens or eighty-four, since to me seventy and sevendy would sound the same. I didn’t yet know that in BrE they were quite different. Here is a bit from the book:

    “But what was that you said—sixdoz?”

    “Yes. Six dozen, Sire [which he takes to be sir in a future accent]. Of course things, even these little things, have altered. You lived in the days of the decimal system, the Arab system — tens, and little hundreds and thousands. We have eleven numerals now. We have single figures for both ten and eleven, two figures for a dozen, and a dozen dozen makes a gross, a great hundred, you know, a dozen gross a dozand, and a dozand dozand a myriad. Very simple?”

    Besides sevendy there is also twaindy ‘twenty-four’ and sixdoz ‘seventy-two’.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think the actual name and jocular nickname need to be exact homophones – they just need to fall within some sort of close-enough-for-wordplay zone.

    Like the State of Misery.

  21. J. W. Brewer says:

    You would think that in a spelling-bee context the words would be read out to the competitors in a somewhat exaggerated and overarticulated fashion that would be likely to preserve phonetic distinctions often blurred/lost/elided/merged in ordinary speech. I’m thinking that “heridable” for “heritable” might be more attributable (for a competitor with the spelling of lots of words memorized and thus not going primarily by sound) to muddling the set of words that ultimately descend from Latin hereditare w/o having gone through French on their path into English with the separate set that descend from Old French enheriter, which is itself from hereditare (well, inhereditare to be precise) but with a vowel and consonant somehow mislaid along the way. That the legal lexicon of inheritance (from the French) has come to be used when discussing the biological concept of heredity (from Latin) means that we no longer have cues from separate contexts/domains as to which set “heri[t/d]able” falls into. Indeed a quick dip into google books shows recent uses of “heritable” when discussing genetic disorders mixed with 19th century uses in treatises about Scots property law.

  22. SFReader says:

    Inheridable would be a good name for a Grand Fleet dreadnought

  23. Крупный русский математик и инженер, основоположник теории автоматического регулирования, министр финансов И.А.Вышнеградский, когда был директором Петербургского технологического института, всячески поносил своих профессоров за обилие ошибок и опечаток в их литографированных лекциях. Когда же раскрыли его собственные литографированные лекции, то в их заголовке вместо «Теория живых сил» было написано «Теория сивых жил»…–num66

  24. Ha.

    A book on geology left the author’s hands saying “The plain was completely strewn with erratic blocks” (boulders that come from somewhere else and were dragged there by water or ice). Unfortunately, it appeared in print as “The plain was completely strewn with erotic blacks.”

  25. Sir Vincent Edwin Henry Corbett in 1927 wrote “That story is probably a myth,” and I find myself ready and willing to agree with him.

  26. Si non è vero, è ben trovato.

  27. From my copy of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Second Stain (Ballantine, 1975):

    As we left the house Lestrade remained in the front room, while the rependant constable opened the door to let us out.

    It’s a striking image.

  28. When I hear “pardy hardy” in US TV/cinema offerings, I have always interpreted it as “party hard-y” with a silly pleonastic -y to force a rhyme. It never occurred to me that the word might be “hearty” used as an adverb. I guess “hearty” sounds too learnèd for the fratboys and Valley Girls of my imaginary America.

  29. J. W. Brewer says:

    Doing a little internet poking around, there may be an AAVE-ish backstory to the party hearty/hardy fixed phrase. You can see it in R&B/soul/funk lyrics and song titles, running back through e.g. Slave’s 1977 “Party Hardy” to Act 1’s 1974 “Party Hardy People” to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1968 “Fun” (relevant lyric given in internet transcription as “When I party, I party hearty”). I don’t know if hearty and hardy are more or less likely to be exact homophones for black AmEng speakers than white AmEng speakers. I will say that even if the phrase first arose among black speakers, my own memories of peer-group usage in a racially-mixed public junior high school circa 1979 definitely have it down as white-kid jargon rather than black-kid jargon.

  30. AAVE may have differences of detail, but the general phenomenon of intervocalic /t/-flapping is pretty general in all of North America. WP says that AusE and NZE have it too, but doesn’t go into details.

  31. Y, do people flap /t/ in repentant (not that anyone actually uses rependant anyway)? For me /d/ and /t/ are distinct after /n/ (though I’m not sure what the /t/ is).

  32. I think the rependant typo was motivated by the written word word pendant, not by a detail of pronunciation. In any case, no, there’s no tap/flap there.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    AAVE may have differences of detail, but the general phenomenon of intervocalic /t/-flapping is pretty general in all of North America.

    Even Bernie Sanders has it.

  34. J. W. Brewer says:

    Are the [t/d] in hearty/hardy really intervocalic for rhotic speakers? If not, maybe flapping would be more common for non-rhotic speakers (including black ones)? The wiki article on flapping says rather inconclusively “It is also reported that tapping may occur after r, as in barter[citation needed] and sometimes after l, as in faculty[citation needed] (but not immediately after the stress: alter → [ɔːɫtəɹ], not [*ɔːɫɾəɹ]).”

  35. Eli Nelson says:

    For me, flapping/tapping is mandatory after rhotic vowels in the usual environments (something like, before an unstressed vowel, which does not include syllabic /n/ but does include other syllabic resonants).

  36. Yeah, in NAmEng, flapping is nearly as universal after rhotic sounds as after (other) vowels.

  37. dainichi says:

    > the two forms [Pardeeville and Partyville] are homophonous in AmE

    Everybody’s talking about tapping/flapping, but nobody’s discussed whether there’s any difference between the vowels of the second syllable. Surely “Pardee” and “party” aren’t homophonous (either a length difference or a secondary stress/unstressed difference, I guess, depending on the analysis), but maybe that difference gets neutralized when the “-ville” is added?

  38. No, I’d say they are homophonous. I’m not familiar with Pardee in particular, but I see there’s a commercial YouTube channel called Pardee Homes, pronounced like “party”; there’s also a fast food chain called Hardee’s, pronounced as if it were Hardy’s.

    (Well, not strictly homophonous for me, since I have Canadian raising: [ˈpʰɑːɹɾi], [ˈpʰʌɹɾi]. But if I didn’t, they would be.)

  39. For me, “repentant” is a very high register​ word, so it gets an exaggeratedly​ careful pronunciation; the sound is very fortis. Most similar words would get a flap though.

  40. Happy-tensing has seen to it that the final vowels of party and Pardee are the same. So yes, for me the words are absolutely homophonous: [pɑɹɾi] (with a retroflex flap, not a tap).

  41. My initial assumption on seeing the name Pardee would be that it would be accented like Dundee, with stress on the last syllable, or possibly equal stress on the two syllables. But that doesn’t seem to be the way people there say it.

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