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Linda Lowenthal

Sample responses I have received:

1. "Oh, really? WHAT IS THE DEAL with en dashes?"

2. "Oh, my wife works for the Garnet Hill catalogue, so I know all about copywriting."

I guess (1) was slightly less painful.


Thank you for this post. I have experienced the same problem and blogged about it:


Copy editors like talking about what we do, but we're not going to judge your grammar at a cocktail party or even in e-mail.

Cat Conway

If someone asked me what it's like to work with writers, I would respond with something rude. I'd prefer to be asked again whether I'd like another drink.

What's the issue with quoting "to boldly go"? Other than it usually leads to a nasty debate about whether or not it is okay to split an infinitive.

Amanda Bindel

I often get the "Oh, I'd better watch my grammar." More often, though, since I freelance from home, I hear, "I am pretty good with grammar, too. I could do something like that."


This isn't really a problem for me, since I don't go to parties, what with not having a life. But to me, the stuff about how clever and/or smart copyeditors are is embarrassing. And when someone complains about split infinitives and the like, I tell them I don't care about that stuff, which is good a good thing to say for two reasons--it's the truth, and sometimes it makes them leave me alone.

If I'm really feeling truthy, I tell them that what makes me such a top-notch copyeditor is my unembarrassed cluelessness--my willingness to say "Gosh, can that be right?"


Speaking of cluelessness! I was the person who wrote "This isn't a problem for me [etc.]." Signed in that time using Yahoo!! What happened to the old-fashioned method of just clicking "comment" and proceeding with the blatherage?


I almost always get the "copywriter" reply. I used to reply something like, "Oh, I tried copywriting ONCE and hated it!" until I realized the weird looks I was getting were a non-verbal, "Then why are you a copywriter...?"

Even in writing -- e-mail, cover letters, forums, you name it -- people see "copywriter" when I write "copyeditor."

Patricia Bower

I've gotten the "I could do something like that too" response lots of times, usually from people whose only "qualification" is that they like to read. When they ask for guidance on getting started and for a referral to a press (true story), I suddenly remember that I forgot to turn MY stove off.


What about discussing style guides, and interesting and contentious issues of usage?

I’m thinking of such things as “whiches” that introduce restrictive relative clauses; whether to resist the “which hunt” pun even if both interlocutors are wine-whine merged; whether to spell “wine-whine merger” with an en dash; the uses of the semicolon; logical punctuation (regarding punctuation following quotations); the quotation dash; the typography of ellipsis points; the perks of ISO 8601; etc.


Most people I talk to have no idea what a copyeditor does, so I rarely have these problems.

Though, I have to admit, I absolutely judge my friends' grammar in emails. Horrible, I know.

Don Chinnici

Linda, perhaps an acceptable retort to "Oh, my wife works for the Garnet Hill catalogue, so I know all about copywriting" may be, "I understand you orbit the planet; but it's a very different thing to live on the surface."


I like any copyeditor who writes a blog post with 76 words in the first sentence.


I judge email grammar too. Along with everything else, including menus, handwritten signs and so forth. Unless I'm in a room with no words, I'm probably going nuts.

Patricia Boyd

Most ask me, "So you make sure things are spelled correctly and correct the grammar?" Oh, that it were this easy! I've usually tried to justify my profession by explaining the details of what I do. But yours is a far, far better suggestion: just switch topics quickly and ask what they do! The only things I judge are memos from my kids' teachers and principals. Errors in these letters made me cringe. These folks are teaching our children? Sorry, so if you're a teacher, yes, you'd better watch your grammar around me!


I get many of the same responses when I tell people I'm an English teacher. I often hear, "Oh, I better watch my grammar then!" While it's true I judge too much on grammar (both written and spoken), I'm not going to call you out on it (or even care that much) in a social setting. Come on, people. And while we're at it, no, I will not "look over" your paper.


I'm more likely to say something inappropriate about authors, so I'm safer holding forth about en dashes or how to go freelance, especially after a drink or two.

Susan Y Clawson

Try saying I work in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. They look at you like you came from outer space. Or they mumble something about being lucky to speak English.

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