Monday, January 3, 2011

I Can't Get No (Editorial) Satisfaction

Sunday night, I was copy editing a project on my laptop while Windows Media Player shuffled through some of the tunes I've saved to my hard drive. In the course of editing, I noticed that this author had inexplicably used 'single quotes' instead of "double quotes" to call out a specific word.

Now, all copy editors have their specific pet peeves that drive us batty. Most copy editors, however, share (in the intellectual sense) a mental list of common writing errors that just agitate us -- those errors that we all see, that we all hate, and that we all know we'll see again. One of these errors is the random and/or inexplicable use of quotation marks. Misused quotation marks can sometimes be confused with "scare quotes" and thus transmit a meaning that is opposite of what was intended.

For example, if you see an advertisement for a "free" T-shirt, do you really think it's free? Would you prefer fresh seafood or "fresh" seafood? How would you feel about setting you up with a handsome, intelligent "man"? (For more, check out The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, whence the following image originated.)

I'm sure all their sewing machines "work" perfectly.

But before I spin off into a tangent about editorial peeves, let me try to circle back round to what I had intended to write about. After finding this misuse of single quotes,* I typed a quick tweet indicating my irritation into TweetDeck. No sooner had I poked Enter to send that tweet into the ether than David Bowie began singing "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" from my computer speakers.

I don't really know what "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" is all about. I hope that it alludes to some book, some movie . . . some extramusical element. Otherwise, the lyrics really don't make a lot of sense.

At any rate, though, when I heard Bowie sing "The heart's filthy lesson falls upon deaf ears," I thought it the perfect song for my mood. And for editing in general. It does indeed feel at times like the lessons that editors have to teach too often fall upon deaf ears.**

And thus began a currently very short list -- what will grow into multiple lists -- of "Editing Songs" that you can help me fill out.

List 1: I know there are plenty of people out there who can't read, much less edit, with music playing. It's just too distracting. (Personally, I can edit only with familiar music playing -- music that my mind can register without actually having to listen to. It's certainly less distracting than the random grunts, sneezes, elevator bells, and HVAC noises that fill the air around my cubicle.)

For those of you who prefer or need music playing when you edit (or, for you noneditors, when you're reading primarily to learn, as opposed to reading for entertainment), what music works for you? Do you hope to build your brain with Mozart or with Bach and the Baroque masters? Do you put on the electronica and become an editing machine? Do you attack the text with rage, with a screaming soundtrack to match?

List 2: Footballers have "Benny and the Jets," astronauts have "Space Oddity" and "Rocket Man," and mimes have "The Sound of Silence." What do we editors have? If you were going to put together a collection of "Songs of the Editor," what would you put on it? (Aside from "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" might have a place on there, alongside Morris Day's "Word Up.")

List 3: Here's the easy one: What songs would show up on "Anti-Grammar Rock"? First up is the Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."***

List 4: What well-known songs can you subtly alter to make them about editors and editing? Do you hear Prince singing "Purple Pen"? How about Billy Joel's "New York Stet of Mine"? Or, to use an earlier song, should Elton John be singing "Benny and the Stets" instead?

This fourth list has been played out with the Twitter hashtag #EditingSongs before, I know. But (relatively) ancient tweets aren't easily accessible through their accompanying hashtags. And not everyone is on Twitter yet. (But everyone reads blogs, right?)

If I get enough comments about any or all of them, over the various social media outlets I use, I'll follow up this post with one listing some of the best submissions.

* in a paper written by an American who had, until now, had no troubles in the quotal area. (I add this to preempt editors who might argue that single quotes were, perhaps, actually correct here. They weren't.)
** That's only how it seems, of course, and that's a purely selfish belief. I don't work with any single authors often enough to know whether their writing actually improves after they've looked over my edits. Even if I do manage to instill the difference between comprise and compose into one writer's mind, I'm still left correcting it in all those other writers' works, so the corrections seem endless and unnoticed.
*** And no, I'm not suggesting that this classic tune would be improved by "correcting" its grammar.