‘A funny story about…editing.’
Editing is kind of like housekeeping. When you’re doing a good job, nobody notices your work. But put that comma in the wrong place or flub up on “it’s vs. its,” and it’s like you left dirty dishes in the sink, the laundry unfolded or the bed unmade.
There was a book that came out a few years ago called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, commas really do make a difference that showed how misplaced punctuation can not only feel untidy but can cause some pretty funny misunderstandings. To illustrate, just take the comma out of that title, (or the subtitle, for that matter) — completely different meaning.
Another example from the book: a sign saying “Eat here and get gas” instead of “Eat here, and get gas” could make you drive right on by, even with an almost-empty tank.
I was chatting just the other day with the Only Person I Have Met in New York Who Also Went to The University of Missouri Journalism School (hi Kim!). We were reminiscing about those Golden Olden Days and about how we both worked at the Columbia Missourian, which was an actual daily newspaper — not a campus paper — where J-School students were required to work in order to graduate. Kind of a cool trade: free labor for the paper in exchange for real-world work experience.
We talked about our professors — Kim: “Mr. D was a terrible teacher.” Me: “U of Mo J-School advertising professors were the living definition of the adage ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.'” (nice comma workout, that.)
But I completely forgot to tell Kim my editing story. Like I mentioned, we all had jobs on the good ole Columbia Missourian. For we students with hopes for an advertising career, this work was pretty grim. Because it was a newspaper, there wasn’t much chance to flex our creative muscles. Nope, we worked in Ad Sales, which was kind of the college equivalent of selling Girl Scout Cookies. I was terrible at this. “You wouldn’t want to buy any cookies today, would you?” didn’t translate very well to selling ads to shoe stores.
But it sure looked like the kids who worked as editors had fun. There on the wall of the newsroom was a framed front page of a bygone issue. Featured there, above the fold, was a story about a flurry of legislative activity — Columbia was the state capital as well as the site of the university. The headline? Governor’s Pen Is Busy.
Only the editor left out the space between “pen” and ‘”is.”
Amagansett, New York. March 2022