Words in Progress.

Benjamin Dreyer writes for Kirkus Reviews about his editing career, and it’s a good read:

I can’t say that I recall the particulars of my first day as a production editor—a supervisor of copy editors and copyediting, proofreaders and proofreading—at Random House, some 30 years and a scant handful of months ago. Perhaps along with the key to my office I was handed a reminder of our departmental precepts:

Don’t impose the subjunctive on authors who don’t naturally use it.

Apply the series comma quietly and consistently unless you’re explicitly told not to.

Remember that it’s the author’s book, not yours.

The rest is commentary.

Or perhaps not; it was, after all, a long time ago.

“The past is a foreign country,” we’re reminded by L. P. Hartley at the opening of his novel The Go-Between. “They do things differently there.” And indeed we did. There was no email yet. There were fax machines. If your phone—a landline phone, to be sure, though we had no use for the term yet—rang, you answered it, even if you didn’t know who was on the other end. It might be your mother; it might be, as it once was for me, Isabella Rossellini silkily requesting a tiny but exceedingly late text change to her memoir, a change I promised to get taken care of (well, wouldn’t you?) before we went to print, even if I got yelled at for it. (I got yelled at for it.) And if you did want to make such a late change, you often had to cajole a design colleague to make the change by hand, razoring up a bit of plasticked text from a spare copy of what were then called blues, short for bluelines, and gluing it down where you needed it.

And, yes, I had an office, a state that persisted through three office buildings as Random House—eventually part of Penguin Random House, which itself grew larger and larger through various mergers and acquisitions—moved in a northwesterly direction from the East Side of Manhattan to the West. After the Plague Curtain descended in March 2020, I visited it nearly not at all, though it remained mine till, not very long ago, I packed up the last of my personal effects and shipped home four brimming boxes of books in preparation for my retirement this week. […]

Language, then, was my business. And though English, I’m also happy to report and as you’ve likely noticed, is much the same now as it was in 1993—we don’t yet need to annotate late-20th-century books with footnotes explaining outmoded vocabulary, as we do with Shakespeare, and there hasn’t been a Great Vowel Shift in at least a few hundred years—observing and participating in the evolution of language, even on a relatively microscopic level, has been its own adventure.

In terms of pure and minute mechanics, there’s the urge to merge, as Cole Porter once put it (with a splurge, he noted), that leads us from light bulb to light-bulb to lightbulb, and in my department we’d dutifully await the arrival of a new edition of the dictionary to grant us permission to make changes we’d been champing (or chomping, if you prefer) at the bit to make. I recall the utter nerdery of our gathering in the hallway and riffling the pages of our just-arrived copies to see if town house had finally become townhouse, or if a rest room was, at long last, a restroom. (“After all,” a colleague once noted, “it’s not a room you rest in, is it.”) Only years later did I learn from a lexicographer friend that I’d carried the process in my mind somewhat backward: “We can’t change things,” he explained, “if you don’t change them first.” If only I’d known.…

Other evolutions were subtler—not quite visible to the naked lay eye, perhaps, but meaningful in ways readers might not consciously recognize but might certainly feel.

The ironclad rule, for instance, that all non-English text (though I’m sure I called it foreign-language text) should be set in italics began to rust and fall to bits. Such a rule serves one well, perhaps, in a novel about an Englishwoman living in Paris, unfluent in the native lingo and feeling anxiously isolated every time someone speaks to her in French, but what purpose does it serve when one’s characters shift from, say, English to Spanish and back again, not in any way lapsing into a foreign tongue but simply, well, speaking the way they speak? The use of italics is, as has been increasingly noted over the years, an unhelpfully othering, finger-pointing process. (Besides, the less use of italics on a page, the better. I certainly know that if I see a few pages set entirely in italics I figure they’re a protracted dream sequence and skip right past them, usually to no discernible loss.)

He sensibly plumps for singular they, and concludes:

For 30 years I’ve done my best to be a steward of prose, helping authors make their books into, as I often put it, the best possible versions of themselves—first, as a production editor, book by book, eventually, as a divisional copy chief, setting a good departmental example and steering an occasionally unwieldy ship. I upheld the decades of care and precision brought to our work by my predecessors; now, as I’ve stepped out of that ambling river, it’s others’ turn.

Perhaps, though, I can add one precept to those I was handed when I arrived, and it’s a good thing, I think, both for editorial types and for vastly more normal people:


Listen to what others are saying—and writing—before you start telling them how to do it better.

This is how language proceeds.

It warms my heart to see a fellow member of a profession often charged (and often, alas, rightly) with hidebound conservatism and prickly perfectionism displaying such genial tolerance for change and variety. And it makes me nostalgic for bluelines, actual offices with personal desks, and even faxes. (We discussed a previous piece of Dreyer’s last year.)


  1. Hat, I’d like to know what your feelings are about italicizing. Me, I’d say that in some circumstances, yes, it can project othering and come off as a putdown; in others, it’s the opposite; in others, it’s a useful convenience.

  2. I agree with your formulation. It’s one of those things that can’t be decided by generalizing fiat.

  3. There was an extensive discussion On Italicizing Words here in 2018, when languagehat read something that changed his mind.

  4. Yes, that was an eye-opener for me.

  5. And it shows that my brain has not fossilized!

  6. from light bulb to light-bulb to lightbulb

    I’ve seen this claim often (not always with the same example word), but I’m skeptical about this supposed stage with a hyphen. I remember in the ’90s when the new edition of MWCD came out and we could finally stop changing database to data base, but there was never a data-base stage. Maybe baseball went through a base-ball stage before becoming solid, but that hasn’t been the way things go for a long, long time.

  7. OED:

    1885 The forward end of the light-bulb L is at the free end of the holder, and the bulb can easily be removed.
    C. W. Meyer, U.S. Patent 330,139 1/2

  8. s.v. database:

    1985 CIR went through its data-base looking for companies interested in investing in new ideas in electronics.
    Sunday Times 10 March 80/3

  9. Dude, you’ve been around these parts long enough to know not to trust your intuitions about these things!

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    In the titles of books published between 1890 and 1910, for example, you can find instances of “Down Town,” “Down-Town,” AND “Downtown.” Sort of like the mid-20th-century period when “Roumania,” “Rumania,” and “Romania” were all competing for English-language market share. But it does seem plausible to think of the hyphenated version as intermediate between the early two-word version and the final alloneword version.

  11. There was a time when I worried that hateful camel case would take over, and dataBases and lightBulbs and the like would hold illimitable dominion over all.

  12. Can’t help but call attention to “utter nerdery”. It’s so nice it almost deserves to
    be presented in twelve point Goudy Old Style, with swash caps.

    And printed on a proper letterpress…

  13. I wasn’t very clear. I’m not disagreeing that it happened with lightbulb specifically but that it is still happening that way today as the natural progression for compounds. Of course 100 years or more ago people used hyphens in ways we don’t today. I admit that the 1985 data-base gives me pause, but that’s still almost 4 decades ago. Are hyphens really still being used in compound nouns (except in cases where letters would be brought together in a way that might confuse the pronunciation, in which case the evolution into solid form wouldn’t happen anyway)?

  14. I don’t know, and you don’t either. Pending a careful investigation, I’m assuming that it does still happen, if not perhaps as frequently. And 1985 is not really that long ago.

  15. And 1985 is not really that long ago
    Right you are! I can still remember things that happened that year!

  16. I agree with probably most of the people here that 1985 was just yesterday, but we all need to remember that it wasn’t. Regardless, I doubt that data-base was the dominant form at that time or any other, but in the absence of evidence there’s not much else to say.

  17. Sort of like the mid-20th-century period when “Roumania,” “Rumania,” and “Romania” were all competing for English-language market share.

    However, there has never been any serious presence of România in English.

  18. I did read some time this century that UK English uses hyphens more than US English. Maybe the usual diachronic trend for a given compound is open to hyphenated to closed, and then maybe in the US the middle phase is shorter on average, and/or maybe it is more likely to be skipped altogether. Further research is required, maybe

  19. People in Israel were, and some still are, under the impression that all (Anglophone at least) placenames are hyphenated, like Los-Angeles and New-York. It probably comes from some European practice which I don’t recognize.

  20. I played around with Google Ngram Viewer a bit but had no luck (except for base-ball) with finding times when versions with a hyphen are the most common. In most cases they’re negligible (data-base, web-site, smart-phone), even though there’d be false positives from hyphenation of the open form when used attributively or the closed form when broken at the end of a line. And light bulb still mostly keeps its space anyway. Of course we know that the data has problems, and I definitely didn’t conduct an exhaustive examination.

  21. @Keith Ivey: With the possible “web-site,” there’s also the capitalization issue. Personally, I will forever persist in using “World-Wide Web” as a proper noun and “Web site” as an open compound.

  22. Y, for example, Russian.

  23. drasvi, that must be it. The Wikipedia pages for New York and Los Angeles in various languages use hyphens in the title for almost all former USSR languages, and almost nowhere otherwise. Of course, the practice is old, and other languages might have hyphenated such names 150 years ago.

  24. David Marjanović says

    My impression is that hyphens generally are dying out in English. I’ve often read a comment somewhere that read like Chinese (each morpheme a separate block of text) and wondered how many people can find the hyphen key on their keyboards…

    Autoincorrect seems to be a factor here; it does not understand that the same sequence of letters can sometimes occur with a space, with a hyphen or with neither.

  25. Again, I would want to see statistics on that. Also, are you talking about printed text or whatever crap is floating around the internet?

  26. The New-York Historical Society, established in 1804, intentionally retains the hyphen from its original orthography for branding purposes. I have never investigated how common hyphenation of the toponym was at the time and whether it mattered back then that this was sort of an adjectival use.

  27. On an unrelated issue, I was caught short by the assertion in the block quote in hat’s original post that the phrase “the past is a foreign country” was originated in some random novel published, as the block quote does not specify, in 1953. Surely it’s older than that, I thought to myself, but even with slight changes of phrasing like “another country” or “a different country” I can’t immediately antedate it. Maybe I was reading the basic idea back into the much older “but that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead”?

    FWIW, the Hartley novel was published two years after the Faulkner novel with the rather contrary oft-quoted claim that: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

  28. It’s not “some random novel,” it’s a quite famous novel, and the quote is quite famously its opening line. This is not a cold case that needs reopening. But it is interestingly in tension with the equally famous Faulkner quote.

  29. I agree with the desire for statistics. My guess would be that the decline of hyphens precedes autocorrect, and that autocorrect doesn’t have that much effect on published text (for some definition of “published”).

    But I’d equally like to see some statistics for the claim that compounds move from open to hyphenated to closed. That claim shouldn’t be embraced without evidence just because a lot of people have said it. What evidence we have suggests that it’s false for light bulb anyway.

  30. Faulkners quote was true in 1951. But by 1953, 1951 was a foreign country

  31. James Joyce famously insisted on compound nouns (and adjectives) being spelled as one word (as in German or Greek), and having a French printer who didn’t know any English helped.

    As for data(-)base: E. F. Codd’s famous articles about the fundamentals of databases use the word(s) “data bank” (“Derivability, Redundancy, and Consistency of Relations Stored in Large Data Banks”). This usage is still alive in German (Datenbank) I wonder when and why the change from data bank to data base happened.

  32. yiddish generally hyphenates ניו־יאָרק, לאָס־אַנדזשעלעס, סענט־לואי, אַאַזז (regional roots on display!). but when i went looking to see if “אַנגעלעאָ„ also turned up, i found that it tends/tended not to be hyphenated, so go know!

    (some other lovely ear-transliterations from along the way: דזשױרזי סיטי*, באָפֿאַלאָ, װאוסטער)

    * implausibly rhotic, if you ask me, especially with the “ױ„.

  33. David Marjanović says

    are you talking about printed text or whatever crap is floating around the internet?

    Mostly but not only the latter. Even in scientific papers many disambiguating hyphens are missing.

    My guess would be […] that autocorrect doesn’t have that much effect on published text

    It influences what people are used to seeing.

  34. rozele: I’d sort of remembered that, but then checked the spelling of the WP entries and lazily concluded I’d misremembered.

    (For those who don’t read the Hebrew alphabet, דזשױרזי סיטי is “Joirsey City”.)

  35. @Y: the spellings are about as consistent as you’d expect! (you may have noticed the decidedly un-YIVO* mekhitse-alefs in “vuster” and “sent-lui”**)

    * a major*** bone of contention in yiddish spelling is how to disambiguate sequences like „װו“, which can be transliterated “vu” or “uv”. traditionally, it’s done with an alef (without a vowel-marking/clarifying diacritic) – „װאו„/“ואװ“ – but YIVO prescribes a melupm-vov instead – „װוּ„/“וּװ“. oddly, they don’t also want to get rid of the silent alef at the start of words beginning with vowels, which would actually make some sense.

    ** not a dipthong.

    *** for values of major not exceeding teapot size.

  36. David Marjanović says

    o hai!

    for values of major not exceeding teapot size.



  37. Thanks, rozele! And, I hadn’t heard of melupm-vov before! (< Aramaic melāʼ pûm ‘with full mouth’, but referring to rounded lips, somehow.)

  38. Alexander Hamilton, who founded the New York Post in 1801, spelled it with a hyphen. See https://nypost.com/2021/11/16/happy-220th-birthday-to-the-new-york-post/

  39. The New-York Times dropped its hyphen on Dec. 1, 1896, according to this story (archived) on the evolution of its nameplate.

  40. The comments discussion piqued by interest less on the question per se than methods that might be applied to gather evidence. So I took all words in OED3 that existed in all three forms: i.e. hyphenated, with a space, and without a space, in the quotation evidence, and then looked them all up in Google Ngrams. I normalized and summed the categories to come up with curved for hyphenated forms, space forms, and nospace forms, which I’ve uploaded here: http://thelifeofwords.uwaterloo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/hypspnsp.jpg. Thoughts on this (beyond normal ngrams caveats)?

  41. Very interesting, but I don’t know what to make of it except that hyphens have always been unpopular!

  42. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Bloix, ktschwarz:

    Aren’t the New-York Post and New-York Times different from light-bulb and data-base?

    I was still taught that compound adjectives ought to be hyphenated, in this case to distinguish a New-York newspaper from a new York newspaper.

    For compound nouns, instead, if any grammarian made up a rule it was considered too esoteric to be taught to Italian schoolchildren.

  43. Giacomo, if you were taught that “new” specifically in “New York” was functioning as an adjective, your textbooks must have been from the early 1800s! In geographic names, New is now just part of the name, it’s only etymologically an adjective. Nobody (except the historical society) has written “New-York” in well over a century — well, it’s hard to be sure of “nobody” since the Google Books index ignores hyphens, but it hasn’t been the norm since the middle of the nineteenth century.

    However, two hundred years ago, people did put the hyphen in New-York even when it was functioning as a noun phrase: from the 1800s-30s you can find Travels in New-England and New-York, A Gazetteer of the State of New-York, Trial of the Journeymen Cordwainers of the City of New-York.

    You can also find, e.g., The History of South-Carolina (1809). But since West Virginia didn’t exist until the Civil War, it may never have had a hyphen.

  44. On the Hartley quote, the key point is that it is in the present tense – the past IS a foreign country, they DO things differently there. The first person narrator is an elderly man who is recounting the most important time of his long life, the few months of his service, when a child, as a go-between for two lovers. The resulting catastrophic events have dominated his life in all the decades since, to the extent that emotionally he still lives in that remote Edwardian past. So there’s no tension at all between Hartley and Faulkner.

  45. As further evidence that the compound-adjective rule had nothing to do with hyphenated New-York: in the first decade of the 1800s you can find “passage from Nassau to New-York”, “sittings in New-York”, “filed in New-York”, “I have seen them in New-York”, etc. That is, it was hyphenated whether it was functioning attributively or not.

    Anyway, in style guides that prescribe hyphens in compound adjectives (CMOS 7.85, for example), there’s an exception for proper names: “the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert”, not “the Red-Hot-Chili-Peppers concert”.

    Hyphenated “West-Indies”, “North-Carolina”, etc., can also be found up till the early 1800s, but less often (impressionistically). It looks like it was just the fashion in the age of colonization to use a hyphen when forming names with “New” in particular.

  46. Once upon a time, New-Found-Land and Newfound-Land.

  47. David Marjanović says

    And Oxford-street and Fleet-street in London – though I’m not going to look up at this hour if this phenomenon even survived into the 19th century.

  48. kt:

    there’s an exception for proper names: “the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert”

    Yes, but CMOS 7.85 (to whch you refer) smudges a lot of important detail:

    When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as high-profile or book-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective (see 7.86), it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun. When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

    Some of the many exceptions noted elsewhere (mainly in the table at 7.89; they ought to be signalled at 7.85):

    sodium chloride solution
    • an a priori argument; a Sturm und Drang drama; etc. [“Open unless hyphens appear in the original language.”]
    • a 2 kg weight
    • a rather boring play

    Cases like this at 7.89 are questionable, and may not accord with common expectations:

    the garden was flower filled

    Cf “The dawns were pale and translucent until the sun rose, mist-wrapped, like a gigantic silkworm cocoon, and washed the island with a delicate bloom of gold dust. / With March came the spring, and the island was flower-filled, scented, and a-flutter with new leaves” Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals (my italics).

    What would CMOS do with “mist-wrapped”? Without that hyphen the reader’s parsing might be needlessly slowed. From wording at the head of 7.89:

    “In general, Chicago prefers a spare hyphenation style: if no suitable example or analogy can be found either in this section (7.81–89) or in the dictionary, hyphens should be added only if doing so will prevent a misreading or otherwise significantly aid comprehension.”

    Fine, but there is a premium – aesthetic and communicative – on consistency. Seeing mist-wrapped (for ease of comprehension), the reader is entitled to expect flower-filled (for consistency and predictability of intent).

    Beyond all that, preceding versus following a noun is a foolishly loose way to put it. They mean attributively, and attributive uses (eminently hyphenable) can come after the noun: “Worthwhile studies, high-profile and book-length, do not come cheap.”

    I don’t like CMOS. Arbitrary and ill-considered rulings abound. Don’t get me started on their treatment of the en dash. Unless you really want to, of course …

  49. En dashes have been discussed so many times here, I won’t even give links. I love ’em, and yes, I would like to know if they are mistreated.

  50. Indeed, Giacomo’s teachers only showed him the tip of the iceberg. I’m not recommending CMOS throughout, it’s just an example of a style guide that describes the proper-name exception (I’m pretty sure “the proper-name exception” is correctly hyphenated). This isn’t at all controversial; any guide would say the same, there’s none calling for “United-States citizens” or “Nobel-Prize winners”, is there? The capitalization already does the job of showing which words go together, and sticking a hyphen in the middle of a proper name feels like a misspelling.

    Noetica: “preceding a noun is a foolishly loose way to put it. They mean attributively

    Ha, yes, they sound like they think their readers aren’t smart enough to understand big words like “attributively”, or maybe don’t understand it themselves.

  51. “the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert”, not “the Red-Hot-Chili-Peppers concert”

    I would’ve thought nobody actually endorsed that second option, nor “United-States citizens” or “Nobel-Prize winners” — but then there’s Fowler (1926), who quixotically called for “British-Columbia peaches” rather than “British Columbia peaches”. I think that was Fowler dreaming of an ideal world where he’s in charge, not reporting on best practices found in the real world. Google Books doesn’t show any examples of hyphenated “British-Columbia peaches” on the first several screenfuls, except for those written by Fowler himself; all the real-life uses are “British Columbia peaches” (which were apparently much more of a thing in Fowler’s time than they are now).

    Gowers (1965), revising Fowler, dumped his entire section on hyphens and wrote a new one from scratch. Burchfield (1996) did the same. Butterfield (2015), yet again. None of them endorses “British-Columbia peaches” — actually, none of them addresses that question; they all admit to being only overviews, not comprehensive.

  52. This isn’t my place and it’s not my call, but I wish we wouldn’t start up with the en dashes in *this* thread, divorced from all previous context. If you have something to say about them, why not continue one of the previous conversations as Y mentioned, e.g. most recently at Hysteria over Hyphens?

  53. I agree.

  54. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    My Fowler and Fowler (originally 1931), which I certainly had in high school, was probably the underlying authority for the over-simplified guidance our teacher provided.

    It is good English usage to place a noun or other non-adjectival part of speech before a noun, printing it as a separate word, and to regard it as serving the purpose of an adjective in virtue of its position; … Not only can a single word in ordinary circumstances be thus treated as an adjective, but the same is true of a phrase; the words of the phrase, however, must then be hyphened, or ambiguity may result. Thus: Covent Garden; Covent-Garden Market; Covent-Garden-Market salesmen.
    … it is to be observed that New York-Street should mean the new part of York Street, but New-York Street the street named after New York. The set of examples includes some analogous cases, beside the railway and street names.

    I suspect the Fowlers would have considered the New-York Times an analogous case. Certainly on the next page they castigate the (London) Times for printing Cochin China waters when by their rules “Cochin China gives Cochin-China waters.”

  55. My Fowler and Fowler (originally 1931)

    Thanks for the interesting quote! There was a 1931 printing, but it was *originally* 1906. And even then, “Covent-Garden Market” was already very antiquated; in the ngram, the hyphenated form was always a minority, and by 1900 it was almost dead, outnumbered by the unhyphenated “Covent Garden Market” by a factor of close to 100. (The ngrams corpus under-represents newspapers, whereas the Fowlers concentrated on them, but I don’t know of any reason that would make a difference here.) Furthermore, just like New-York, where you see “Covent-Garden Market” you generally see “Covent-Garden” by itself, e.g. “Covent-Garden received its name from having formerly been a garden belonging to the abbot and monks of the Convent of Westminster” (1808). (TIL: covent is the form originally borrowed from French; convent with n in the first syllable is due to Latin influence.)

    I’m very skeptical that “Covent Garden; Covent-Garden Market; Covent-Garden-Market salesmen” was ever more than a fringe notion. Fowler sounds like he’s got a beautiful theory and has no need for mere facts of usage. Early editions of Hart’s Rules (1905, 1921) say to hyphenate compounds like “poverty-stricken family”, but don’t address the question of proper names. The first edition of the Chicago Manual (1906) does address it, and says no hyphen: “first-class investment … but: New Testament times, Old English spelling.”

    I don’t think of Fowler and Fowler as *usually* out in la-la land! You were unlucky in being taught that bit.

  56. Trond Engen says

    @D-AW: One simple thing I read out of your graph is that the share of compounds written as one word increased and the share written as two words decreased. This trend was slow but steady from about 1930. But does it continue into the new millennium? I guess the uptick in absolute numbers towards the year 2000 has to do with the advent of the Internet. This may have changed much, not only in available material but in the share of material not written and edited professionally.

  57. First they came for New-York, Threadneedle-street, and Covent-Garden. But I said nothing, because I wasn’t a placename.

    Then they came for base-ball and to-day. But again I said nothing, because I wasn’t a game or a time reference.

    Then they came for freshly-laundered shirts. But still I said nothing, because I wasn’t an -ly adverb.

    When they came for e-mail, there was nobody left to speak for me. Well, there were the other prefixes, but they were already embattled themselves, and distracted by infighting with the en dashes. Or maybe they didn’t want to admit upstart e- to their stuffy old prefix club.

    *goes mad*

  58. I stand by e-mail!

  59. Only years later did I learn from a lexicographer friend that I’d carried the process in my mind somewhat backward: “We can’t change things,” he explained, “if you don’t change them first.”

    The reasonable man adapts himself to the dictionary; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the dictionary to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

  60. kt:

    Then they came for freshly-laundered shirts.

    The hyphenation exception for -ly adverbs is applied less regularly, in practice. The matter is complicated by newlywed or newly-wed (given as a noun or adjective in its own right by most dictionaries, stressed on the first syllable), and by “accidental” -ly adverbs not formed by addition of the suffix to a normal adjective:
    • only begotten [or only-begotten] son
    [Usage varies; OED analyses only~begotten as adverb + adjective, not as a pair of adjectives.]
    silly-acting [“He just would not be defeated by this silly-acting officer.”]
    early-blooming dwarf daffodils

    CMOS has nothing to say about such common complications.

    And yes, en dashes could well be further discussed at that other thread. So could hyphens, since the two are so intertwined.

  61. PS- those who care strongly about the hyphen issue might want to review the usage of an actual copy-editor. From Dreyer’s piece:

    the three marvelous ladies-of-a-certain-age who’d been doing this work for decades

    we don’t yet need to annotate late-20th-century books with footnotes

    riffling the pages of our just-arrived copies

    all non-English text (though I’m sure I called it foreign-language text)

    the use of the so-called genderless he

  62. All those are perfectly normal except “the three marvelous ladies-of-a-certain-age who’d been doing this work for decades,” and I think that works beautifully, suggesting he’s deliberately using a cliche for effect but less ostentatiously than by putting it in quotes. Hats off from another copyeditor!

  63. Paris Métro line 10 is the Boulogne–Pont de Saint-Cloud—Gare d’Austerlitz line.

  64. Boulogne–Pont de Saint-Cloud—Gare d’Austerlitz

    I’m suffering.

  65. I’m with you on the marvelous ladies. Non-English and so-called are standard in all contexts, and it has to be just-arrived even though recently arrived versus recently-arrived is a personal choice, I think.. My own internal style manual would counsel late twentieth-century and foreign language, although Dreyer’s choices certainly don’t seem “wrong.” I didn’t write to criticize-merely to observe that all of us are making decisions all the time and there doesn’t seem to be any consistent set of rules that govern them.

  66. Quite so; it just happens that my internal style guide aligns with Dreyer’s (and in fact I wince when I see “late twentieth-century” — to me it implies a twentieth-century entity that is somehow late).

  67. Bloix: “those who care strongly about the hyphen issue might want to review the usage of an actual copy-editor”

    … who calls himself a “copy editor” (space, not hyphen) in the quoted piece. Did you do that on purpose? That one still seems to be controversial; I see that Language Hat identifies himself as “a retired copyeditor”. Also, I’m surprised by Dreyer’s juxtaposition of open “copy editors” with solid “copyediting” — I would’ve thought that whatever you decide for one would go for the other.

  68. David Marjanović : “Oxford-street and Fleet-street in London – though I’m not going to look up at this hour if this phenomenon even survived into the 19th century.”

    Yes, it did. The first edition of Pride and Prejudice (1813) has mostly “Gracechurch-street”, though “Gracechurch Street” and “Grosvenor street” slipped in a few times.

    Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (published 2004, set in the first two decades of the 1800s) uses “Threadneedle-street” consistently, as part of the period atmosphere. However, if it had really been published in that period, “Mr Norrell” would almost certainly have been written with a period after Mr, just as “Mr. Darcy” was in Pride and Prejudice. I’m guessing the author or editors thought that would be too much for present-day readers.

  69. Also, I’m surprised by Dreyer’s juxtaposition of open “copy editors” with solid “copyediting” — I would’ve thought that whatever you decide for one would go for the other.

    Indeed; it just goes to show that we all make mistakes (and that editing yourself is hard).

  70. I never mis-parse “copyedit” as cop-yedit, but it’s not obvious to me why not.

  71. On the topic of copyeditors and their craft consider also policy~mak[ers,ing]. These variations turn up often in my editing of applications for research funding. I usually just go for local consistency.


    I wince when I see “late twentieth-century”

    We self-respecting copyeditors (retired, semi-retired, or what you will) must wince frequently, as a stimulus to avoid inuring ourselves to such atrocities. Personally I deplore the trend to accept “mid” as completely detachable: “in the mid twentieth century”. But no wincing on my part has held back its acceptance in current US and UK style manuals. At least they still want “mid-twentieth-century politics”.

    editing yourself is hard

    Sooo hard. I’m thinking to engage a young eagle-eyed proof~reader (much as I hate that term, in all of its variants) to check any of my mission-critical work.

  72. I’m guessing the author or editors thought that would be too much for present-day readers.

    But “surprize” wasn’t?

  73. Surprize, chuse, shew are pretty widely known to be historical spellings, so it would have been reasonable to expect readers to accept them (which they did, on the whole).

  74. we all make mistakes

    Dreyer spells “copy editors” and “copyediting” like that in Dreyer’s English dozens of times consistently (along with solid verb forms “copyedit” and “copyedited”), so it must be what he’s decided on, not inadvertent.

    Meanwhile, in the New York Times piece linked in the previous post, Dreyer is a “copy editor” who does “copy-editing” and has “copy-edited” many books. That’s supposed to be NYTimes style according to their style manual, but according to Google they actually use a space in the verb more often than a hyphen, e.g. in a “copy editing quiz” series a few years ago.

  75. Dreyer spells “copy editors” and “copyediting” like that in Dreyer’s English dozens of times consistently (along with solid verb forms “copyedit” and “copyedited”), so it must be what he’s decided on, not inadvertent.

    Ah, interesting. Odd, but as long as he’s consistent I’ll accept it. The Times, on the other hand, is a sinner before the gods of editing.

  76. For “copy editing quiz” the logic could be that it’s a quiz about editing copy, not a use of the verb “copy-edit”. When the verb is unambiguously a verb it would seem strange to have a space. “He copy edited the piece” doesn’t work at all for me. It would have to have a hyphen or be closed up.

  77. For “copy editing quiz” the logic could be that it’s a quiz about editing copy, not a use of the verb “copy-edit”.

    Even if it’s a quiz about editing copy it needs the hyphen, as in “time-wasting job” or “man-eating tiger.”

  78. I’d use a hyphen in that case too, but some people use hyphens a lot less than I do in attributive phrases, as long as they can claim there’s no possibility of confusion.

  79. David Marjanović says

    That’s the kind of people that never worries about slowing readers down.

  80. Slowing readers down is a good thing, as long as you don’t overdo it. As far as I am concerned, copyedit and copyeditor are nerdview that win only because copyeditors control the copy that contains them.

  81. David Marjanović says

    Fair enough. I speak as a reviewer and editor of scientific papers that can’t be read quickly in the first place, so slowing readers down even more should be avoided with great effort.

Speak Your Mind