Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copyedits of Forbidden

Coming down to the wire on this.

Have I ever indicated by some slight subtle bitty hint how much I hate and despise and abominate the Chicago Manual of Style? Loathe and abhor it? It is a subject that does not leave me gravelled for lack of synonyms.

Ok. Why do we use double quotes for emphasis?

As in --
After the court martial, she was "out of commission" for about a year.

Has nobody noticed that double quote marks are being used in great numbers by dialog?
Single quote marks, on the other hand, hang around at the pool all day drinking Sex on the Beach.

Has anybody noticed how confusing double quotes are when we want to emphasize stuff in the narration surrounding dialog.
So why don't we use single quote marks for this? Huh? Huh?

And colors. I am just steamed purple by the stupid no-hyphen-in-colors bloody rule. A blue and white set of dishes. A yellow green field of wheat.

Are we richer, linguistically, because we don't use the hyphen? Are we, like, saving the hyphens for something important?

Right now my annoyance centers on certain French usages, which is not really CMOS's fault, but I will be mad at them anyway.

Sans-cullotes and counter revolutionary are the 1790s terminology.
Sansculottes and counterrevolutionary are NOT.
They're mostly MODERN. But they're in Websters and thus the pure quill as far as CMOS is concerned, (See, I got a swipe in at CMOS.) Webster's being, if not God, at least a theoretical construct of Infinite Wisdom.

So I've been stetting counterrevolutionary like mad all through the text.
Bet you didn't know counter revolutionary was a 1790s word.


  1. Hmmm. As a former copyeditor who has a love-hate relationship with the CMOS, I'm fascinated by this post. I mainly copyedited academic monographs and essay collections, for which consistency is much to be desired. Chicago has its faults, but it's comfortingly comprehensive in what it covers. And it employs the series comma. One of my pet peeves is books/publishers that eschew the series comma. (I work for one, alas.)

    But I had no idea Chicago was the gold standard for fiction as well. I can imagine all kinds of problems with that.

    What most interested me about your post, though, is what you say about 1790s usage. In previous posts, you've touched on when and why using a slightly anachronistic term makes more sense than rigidly adhering to contemporary vocabulary. Given your attention to detail, I'm not surprised you pay the same attention to punctuation. But I am wondering how you decide when, for example, leaving a space between counter and revolutionary helps to keep the reader in the world of the novel and when it might be distracting. I acknowledge that folks whose pasts do not include several years deciding when to hyphenate are probably delightfully oblivious to the author’s choices in this regard, but I'm still curious.

    On a slightly unrelated note, I once sent a note to a writer of historical fiction whom I greatly admire to tell her how much I enjoy her work. Without at all meaning to be annoying, but likely failing, I observed that "infer" was frequently used in place of "imply" in her novels. She pointed me towards a dictionary of the period in which "infer" has the same or similar usage as imply does today. Now I have to say, I was enormously impressed by her commitment to historical accuracy, but I still find it distracting to read a bit of dialogue like the following: "Are you inferring I'm an idiot?"

    Sorry for the long post and also for revealing myself as the sort of persnickety person who should never be invited to parties. *g*

  2. Anonymous4:03 PM


    Thank you for another interesting post. I must fall into the 'delightfully oblivious' category described above as I wouldn't mind the hyphen being there or not being there.

    In other thoughts (of mine anyway) have you any suggestions as to the use of Russian in a novel. If a character is greeting another and the Cyrillic (Здравствуйте) is unreadable to most, but a pronunciation written thus zdras-tvooy-tyeh might be more so...which does one go with?

    Many thanks!

  3. Hi, Anonymous, I'm afraid that "delightfully oblivious" comment made me sound as though I'm full of myself. It was sincerely meant. After working as a copyeditor for several years, I find it nearly impossible to read a book without noticing typographical or syntactical errors. I'd love to be able to compartmentalize that part of my brain when I'm reading for pleasure. The saddest part is my copyeditor's eye goes off duty when I'm reading my own writing. How sad is that?

  4. Anonymous10:37 AM

    No worries, Annie!

    I used to think I knew about copyediting until I taught second grade. Now, after 17 years of reading seven-year-old's masterpieces, I think wuz might be the correct spelling!

    And that makes me an even more terrible critic of my own writing!

  5. Hi Annie --

    I would not have you think I do not like copyeditors. They have saved my bacon so many times I can set up my own charcuterie.

    I, too, love the serial comma. There is a fan club somewhere, doubtless. I will join it.

    Chicago is beautifully complete and consistent and intelligent. But it is not suited to copyediting fiction.

    It is rather like a stuffy and beloved mathamatics professor being assigned 'Topics in Modern Morality 101' by some glitch in the university computer system. All that depth of knowledge and mathamatical authority would be utterly helpless in dealing with the nuance of 2010 sexual antics.
    Chicago wanders from the rarified heights of the Math Department out onto a muddy playing field where none of the accustomed rules apply.

    Which is a long and figurative way to say Chicago does not do fiction well. I HATE Chicago's minimalist stand on capitols. Among other things. Did I mention non-hyphenating colors?

    I would like to make a tiny little bonfire and tear out all of Chicago's pages and dance around as it burned.

    Which leads to a measured consideration of period language.
    Let me pull that out and use it as a posting, if I may.

    So none of that is here ...

    Which brings us to the imply/infer usage.

    I do not want to go criticizing another author because it'll turn out to be somebody I respect immensely and I will be covered with shame and have to change my name and go live on a small island off the coast of Canada,
    which does not sound like a bad idea, just at this moment.

    But I wouldn't do a confusion of imply/infer myself.
    Though others may do this with great deliberateness and skill.

    I would avoid this on the be-werry-quiet-we-are-hunting-wabbits subheading under the section 'do not distract the reader.'

  6. Quotation marks for emphasis? Really?

    I'm afraid I tend to think that quotation marks used like that imply that author thinks they are using some novel or quaint expression - as though they are mentally doing air quotes around the words. I would never read it as indicating emphasis - wouldn't you use italics for that?

  7. Hi ros --

    In Chicago we got Italics for 'key terms' or other words the author wants to emphasize. Per 7.57.

    Quotation marks for words used in a nonstandard, ironic or other special sense. Meaning 'this is not how this word is usually applied.' Per 7.58. And for slang and argot. Per 7.61.

    So I should not say quotation marks are used for words emphasized but that quotation marks are used for words set off or distinguished. So much my bad.

  8. @ Anon --

    >>>In other thoughts (of mine anyway) have you any suggestions as to the use of Russian in a novel. If a character is greeting another and the Cyrillic (Здравствуйте) is unreadable to most, but a pronunciation written thus zdras-tvooy-tyeh might be more so...which does one go with? <<<

    Finally getting back to you ...
    I have not forgotten the question, I've just been running around like a cat with ten kittens lately.

    I know what NOT to do in this case. Don't use strange alphabets. This tosses the reader out of the fictive world.
    Using strange alphabets is for when you purposefully add Greek quotes in Greek and you're trying to make a character incomprehensible and Eighteenth Century.

    So. No weird alphabets. That's one possibility checked off.

    I'd also say NOT to phoneticize it.

    What it is ...
    You're not writing a guidebook where the user wants to know how to pronounce it.

    What you're trying to do is make this look like an ordinary word that just happens to be in a foreign language. If it's a single word in Russian, you want it to look like a single word in Western spelling. Two words, you'd represent with two words.

    Lookit the Japanese greeting.
    A phonetic representation would be
    'Kon Ni chi Wa'
    and that's good for a guide book.
    But the usual representation of this word is the simple, single 'Konnichiwa'.
    Now, if we, the readers, think about it, we KNOW the Japanese 'K' sound might not be just exactly like an American 'K' and the 'W' probably comes with a bit of 'V' somewhere in it.

    But the truth of the matter is WE DON'T CARE.

    So 'zdras-tvooy-tyeh' might be rendered as the simplified, 'Drasvoyteh'.

    'D' represents the more complex sound 'ZD'. 'V' is the inaccurate rendering of the 'TV' sound. 'T' for 'TY'.
    But the reader understand that this is not an exact rendering of how the word sounds.

    It's not phonetic. But language general isn't. It's 'bon Jour' not 'bohn zhoor'. It's 'Howdy', not 'hau de'
    So you can do the same with your Russian word.

    In my humble opinion

  9. Anonymous8:14 PM

    Ahh. That is very clear and very helpful. A Russian friend was helping me write out reasonable English versions of certain words which are spoken by a Russian in a non-Russian speaking scene. So I had been thinking along the lines you mentioned. Yet there's always room to wonder what others think or what the standard might be. I so appreciate your thoughts and the time you put into them.

  10. I do agree about the CMOS. Love that you stetted all those phrases.

    Does it really tell you that double quotes are used for emphasis? Because it's more subtle than that: they're used for setting off a phrase in an ironic or sarcastic manner. So, when we read that Susan Jones has been placed on "administrative leave," we know the writer is rolling her eyes and/or winking because Susan Jones actually got her butt suspended for engaging in questionable activities in the janitor's closet.

  11. Hi Beth --

    It's as you say -- quotation marks for words used in a nonstandard, ironic or other special sense, and for slang and argot.

    I would so much rather they used a single quote mark for this.