The Compulsive Copyeditor

December 29, 2017

An Almost Exact Analogy

Filed under: Uncategorized — amba12 @ 8:59 pm

Copyediting a book, I realize that punctuation marks ARE traffic signs and signals, with a soupçon of GPS or WAZE.

They direct your attention along the correct path of meaning, making sure you don’t take a wrong turn, or come to a fork in the road and not know which way to go. (Much writing today adheres, rather, to Yogi Berra’s quantum-absurdist rule, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”)

They also instruct you when to speed up and slow down, pause, stop, wait, look sharp, or sail ahead.

That makes reading like driving, with the guidance of the one who designed and signed the streets. If an editor is (ideally) the Department of Public Works, making sure the streets are well laid out and drivable, a copy editor is like the bureau of traffic control or Department of Transportation, responsible for signals and signage to prevent accidents and aggravation.

(In practice, of course, the copy editor often winds up hauling trash off the street and redirecting traffic.)

UPDATE: Punctuation marks are also like joints. They “articulate” the flow of words and signal the reader how to reassemble the writer’s meaning correctly in his/her own brain, so that it moves like a living thing—hopefully, with grace.


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