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Beverly Godfrey: Do what you love, and try to keep loving it

I was reading a novel recently and found myself admiring some punctuation. It was a single-quote, comma, quote mark sequence at the end of a sentence, and it had me feeling satisfied, thinking, "This book is well-edited."...

Beverly Godfrey
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.

I was reading a novel recently and found myself admiring some punctuation. It was a single-quote, comma, quote mark sequence at the end of a sentence, and it had me feeling satisfied, thinking, “This book is well-edited.”
Later, there was a sentence in italics, and a word within the sentence was italicized by not being in italics. I nodded my head a little in approval. “Yes,” I thought, “I like it when that’s done that way. That’s how it should be.”
The excitement of the story was lost on me for a few moments as I copy-edited the book.
It’s a hard thing to turn off when you work as an editor. I suspect most editors read a little slower than the average person, hoping to see mistakes and being frequently annoyed when things are not the way we think they should be.
I could be reading the latest best-seller, a murder mystery or epic romance but be distracted by the thought, “‘Cancelled’ with two l’s is the secondary spelling in Webster’s Dictionary. I don’t like that.”
I’ll even look up words, questioning if a different word might have been better. Or looking to see whether my understanding of a word might be imprecise, and I want to know for sure exactly what it means.
“Why did the author use ‘aplomb’ when ‘poise’ would do? Why write ‘hirsute’ instead of ‘hairy’?”
These are the kinds of things you think when you edit a daily newspaper, where we tend to eschew - or avoid, that is - five-dollar words. It’s a wonder my vocabulary isn’t better, given all the word-looking-upping, but I’m no English major, after all.
It’s a shame that a love of reading, a love of writing - a love of language - could lead a person into a profession where that love becomes a chore. It invades my private life, making leisure reading less leisurely. Even Facebook posts can cause anxiety because some of my friends are editors, too, and they will notice my mistakes.
I imagine all professions are plagued by this, however. Are hairdressers always too keenly aware of bad haircuts? Do police officers go a little crazy witnessing the bad driving they see only when they’re not in squad cars? Do construction workers white-knuckle it as they drive by a house where it looks like the deck might collapse any moment? And maybe they think, “I’d love my job if it weren’t for all the hair cutting - or driving around - or building stuff.”
I know there are days I like my job just fine - except for all the reading. I’d call it a cruel irony, but copy editors don’t like cliches, either. Oh well.

Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune columnist and copy editor. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com .

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