Friday, May 06, 2005

George Santayana: Call your office

"He who does not know history ..."
Recently a friend gave me a copy of the over-rated New York Times.
So far I have had, or taken, time to read only one article, and in it were at least two editing errors, including an "its" that should have been "it's."
Not just to bash that much over-rated publication, I point out those errors to point up the woeful dearth of intelligent copy editing throughout the industry.
So to be fair I must say the copy editing at the Chattanooga Times Free Press is not much, if any, worse than at other "news"papers.
However, another example of poor copy editing in the edition of Friday, 6 May 2005, has driven me from my sick bed to the computer to rail and rant.
In the regular section known as "Weekend," a mini-review of the movie "Kung Fu Hustle" includes this line:
Sort of a "Lil' Abner's" Dogpatch meets "The Matrix" ...
It's bad enough the kids holding the job and title of "copy editor" don't know much of anything about language, spelling, punctuation, but they don't have any concept of the American cultural tradition.
If Al Capp were alive, he'd turn over in his grave that some infantile and ignorant dropout, meaning the unidentified author (who, by the way, is at the even more over-rated Atlanta Journal-Constitution) would so mangle the name of his creation, that lovable oaf whose strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure (and his head was empty, said one of the character's critics), Li'l Abner.
But that authors can and do make misteaks is why the Good Lord gave us copy editors ... although it might not be He who gave us today's crop.
To those people for whom English is a second language, such as recent college graduates who become "news"paper copy editors, an apostrophe has several uses, including showing possession (as in "the boy's comic strip") or to show contraction (as in "don't y'all want to come in?" with "don't" equaling "do not" and "y'all" being the contraction of "you all," which Yankees and other ignorami so often misspell "ya'll," though that would mean "ya will").
"Li'l" as in Li'l Abner is a country way of saying "little," an obvious joke since Abner was about the size of his mammy and pappy put together and doubled.
There are some people today alleged to be musical who use the appelation "Lil'" for some reason -- and here I confess to a lot of ignorance regarding the pop culture, but I consider it to be blessed ignorance.
Actually I have heard of someone called "Lil' Kim," but know nothing other than that he or she exists.
So, OK, if I were a copy editor whose job entailed reading and proofing copy regarding the pop scene, I would make it part of my job to find out about "Lil' Kim."
Even more important, I would make it a major part of my job to understand the tools with which I work, including apostrophes.
By the way, even the most cursory look at Google shows nearly 84,000 references to "Li'l Abner," including, and if such a look is too much effort to ask of a copy editor, then I will growl, the so-called copy editor should have already known the rudiments of contraction and apostrophe use before being hired.
Which brings up another question: Who hires these people?
Finally, "misteaks" was my little joke.

1 comment:

  1. Its such a shame -- (hehehehe) -- just couldn't resist teasing you -- (it's is correct) -- but I see these mistakes more and more often - and sometimes I am guilty of them myself -- but only due to haste in keyboarding.

    But it's (correct usage) always a pleasure to see "Grammar Cop" on patrol, ever vigilantly rooting out those stray commas and apostrophes from our midst.

    Now -- if we could just get people to stop spelling "lose" -- as "loose" -- I would feel much better.

    And if we could get people to stop using the ugly phrase "something went down" -- I'd also be happy.

    Of course, we have the unbridled use of hyphens -- but then some of us are incorrigible -- and I claim as my sister in crime, none other than Emily Dickinson herself, who was almost as enamored of the dramatic dash as I am.

    Editions of her poems have recently been reissued with all her distinctive punctuations, capitalizations and other markings left intact.

    It's (there it is again) amazing how they change the meanings of some of her poems.