A Word, Please: A copy editor confronts a week’s worth of challenges
A week in the life of a copy editor wouldn’t make for a good movie — a lot of sitting, staring and tapping at the comma key on a computer. But for language nerds and people who’d like to improve their grammar skills, an ultra-condensed week in the life of a copy editor could make for an entertaining way to spend five minutes. So here are a few of the more interesting language issues this copy editor came across last week.
“Living at this address carries a certain cache.” Sentences like this justify my paycheck. As a copy editor, I specialize in knowing about commonly confused words like “cache” and “cachet.” For whatever reason, it seems very few non-editors know that “cache” is pronounced “cash” and if you want the two-syllable word that means prestige, it gets a T on the end.
“Yesterday, Popov’ mother drove her to the store.” Possessives can be hard. Possessives of words that end in S are harder. But possessives of words that end in Ch, X or Z shouldn’t be. And that goes double for words that end in V. There are no special rules for forming possessives of words that in end in one of these letters. Just add an apostrophe and an S: Popov’s mother, just like Smith’s mother or Lurch’s mother or Chavez’s mother.
“Wellbeing.” Teenagers used to be teen-agers. Cellphones used to be cell phones. Email used to be e-mail. So it’s understandable that writers would start compressing well-being into wellbeing. In fact, I see it a lot. But the closed form isn’t in major dictionaries yet and, until it is, “well-being” remains the correct form.
The word “till” isn’t a contraction and in fact doesn’t come from the word “until,” which is a newer word.
“Weekender Magazine: Where Everyday Is the Weekend.” I don’t expect doctors and accountants and baristas and carpenters to know that “everyday” is an adjective and that, therefore, you can’t use it as a noun. But I do expect people who publish magazines to know it. When it’s doing the job of a noun in a sentence, it’s two words: “Every day is the weekend.” Only when it’s modifying another noun is it one word: “We offer everyday values.”
“Under the auspice of the charitable foundation.” This was a new one on me: auspice? Singular? I know that “under the auspices,” plural, is the standard form. But is singular “auspice” wrong? I didn’t know, so I looked it up. The correct term is plural, you act “under the auspices” of some organization or entity. The singular auspice is a word, but it has a different meaning from the plural. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s: “auspices: plural. Kindly patronage and guidance.” In the singular, auspice means “a prophetic sign, especially a favorable sign.” Merriam’s example: “interpreted the teacher’s smile as an auspice that he would get an A on his presentation.” That was a new one on me.
“Thank you to whomever sent me these beautiful flowers.” People who know how to use “whom,” more often than not, don’t know how to use “whomever.” They know that “whom” and “whomever” are objects. They know that in a sentence like this one the preposition “to” needs an object. But they don’t know that the object is the whole clause, “whoever sent me these flowers.” The verb “sent” needs a subject: “whoever.” Together, “whoever” and “sent” form a clause that, as a unit, is the object of the preposition “to.” So it’s “Thank you to whoever sent me these beautiful flowers.”
“We have showrooms in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties.” There’s no county in the U.S. that I know of that has the plural “Counties” as part of its name. You don’t have to follow my lead on this one, since it’s not a hard rule. But when I come across plurals like Counties, I change them to lowercase: Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.
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