A WORD, PLEASE:

I drink out of Mason jars. It's not just due to the barefoot, lemonade-sipping Southern influence that was part of my Central Florida upbringing. It's because I break things. A lot. I'm clumsy. A drinking glass in my house has a life expectancy of about four months. Mason jars, I've discovered, are a lot more resilient. Plus, they're a renewable resource, meaning I get them free when I buy spaghetti sauce.

It took me years to make peace with my clumsy, breaking-things nature. My denial sent me back to the housewares section again and again to buy drinking glasses that, let's face it, were doomed the minute I took them off the shelf.

But in the last few years, I've made peace with a part of me that I had spent years trying to deny. I've come to accept that I'm a person who breaks things.

What brought on this newfound self-acceptance? Well, I've been doing a lot of copy editing in the last year or two. It's a job that involves fixing things — that is, fixing mistakes in other people's writing. It can be very satisfying. Plus, fixing things can be a big self-esteem builder for someone who, like me, is a lifelong breaker of things.

Here are some of my more satisfying recent fixes, which I hope can be at least half as helpful to you as they were to me.

?“It harkens back to the days of malt shops and poodle skirts.” I changed that to “hearkens.” Some dictionaries allow “harkens,” but call it a “variant spelling.”

?“The new color palette is the work of Johnson Co. Principle Designer Steve Bean.” This one got past two other copy editors. The reason: “Principle Designer” was capitalized, meaning it was being treated as a formal title, meaning it could not be changed. When I pointed out the spelling problem, a colleague started doing Google searches on the guy to try to discern whether this was his real title. Me, I doubted that the guy's title contained a typo. But I saw it as a moot point. We could just as easily use our own words to describe the guy — even if his title truly were “Principle Designer,” I'm still at liberty to say he's a “principal designer.” Why distract the reader with misspellings when you can find a more flowing, less distracting alternative? So I changed this to “Johnson Co.'s principal designer, Steve Bean.”

Regarding capitalization of titles, the “Associated Press Stylebook” says you capitalize “formal titles used directly before an individual's name.” This rule does not apply, however, when the title is set off with commas. For example, you'd write “Congressman Adam Schiff and General David Petraeus,” but, “My congressman, Adam Schiff, met with the general.” Many copy editors agree that AP's rule could be interpreted too broadly: No one I know would capitalize Columnist Barbara Wallraff or Comedian Jay Leno or Dishwasher June Casagrande.

A common but unspoken guideline in the biz is to capitalize only the titles important enough that they get attached to names in common speech. “President Bush” but “dishwasher Casagrande.”

?“The paddle boats gave my legs quite a workout as I peddled around the bay.” This should have been “pedaled.” “Paddled” might have been OK, too.

?Last but not least: “Lisa met John at the entrance of the museum, and he lead her through its many halls and wonderful exhibits.” Here, “lead” should have been “led.” You want the past tense of the verb, not the metal that always makes me think of “lead crystal,” which, tragically, I'll never own.


?JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer and author of “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies” and “Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs — Even If You're Right.” She may be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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