Adam Langer, journalist, author, playwright, and filmmaker, has a series of articles in The Book Standard under the general rubric “Enough About Me”; #8, “In Which the Author Hands in His Copyedited Manuscript and Pays Tribute to the Most Unheralded Job in Publishing,” contains a number of exchanges with six copy editors, members of a profession Mr. Langer rightly admires:

That’s the way it goes with copyeditors. They perform one of the most important jobs on manuscripts, saving authors from their misspellings, their grammatical errors, their logical and stylistic flaws, and yet, their efforts remain largely anonymous. As for me, I was always a terrible copyeditor. An attention-span problem, I guess. I’m still not sure if “copyeditor” is one word or two… [It’s two in Merriam-Webster—LH]

At any rate, I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the most unheralded jobs in publishing by providing this conversation with five highly reputed copyeditors. Their remarks have been edited for continuity; hopefully, somebody else has copyedited them.

The five are Judit Z. Bodnar, Courtney Denney, Dorian Hastings, Steve Lamont, and Betsy Uhrig, and in a postscript he asks the same questions of Jude Grant. Some of the questions are a little silly (“What if you have to copyedit a book that you hate? Can you distance yourself?”), but the answers are usually enjoyable, and I loved the descriptions of each editor’s “weapons”—Ms. Bodnar’s for example, are:

Style manuals: Chicago, ALA, Words into Type, Recipes into Type. Dictionaries: Webster’s Unabridged, Biographical, and Geographical. Synonyms and Antonyms (not all that useful, sad to say). Several foreign dictionaries. Dorland’s Medical. Bartlett’s and other quotation sources, including biblical. Several editions of Roget’s. Several world atlases and a few road atlases. Complete Shakespeare and Milton, the King James Bible and Pruden’s Concordance, plots of the great operas, Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. A number of books each on when and how things were invented. A branch of NYC Public Library a couple of blocks away.


  1. Copyediting Wm. Burroughs had to have been a challenge. But maybe it was during his late “intelligible” period.

  2. dungbeattle says


  3. Jeez, these people aren’t using Oxford?

  4. If you mean the OED, it’s the best dictionary in the world, but it’s not nearly as useful for copyediting as Merriam-Webster.

  5. Merriam-Webster does have “copy editor” as two words, but it was one word in the house style of the place where I used to be one. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been parallel with “proofreader”, and we wouldn’t have known how to spell the verb “copyedit”. I remember one person complaining that it looked like “cop yeditor”, but I don’t think he had the same problem with “pol yester”.

  6. I would imagine that the enormous number of rare and obsolete meanings, which is what we love the OED for, would be a terrible nuisance for a copyeditor.

  7. There is something about the title of this post that reminds me of “Dances with Wolves.”
    It’s a good name, actually. Talks with Copy Editors, tribal leader of the Southern Manhattoes.

  8. And here sit I, E-Mails with Copy Editors, exiled amidst the distant Pontoosucks…

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