Metaphors Be with You: What Copyediting Is Like for Me

Chris MazzaraA guest post by Chris Mazzara, Assistant Managing Editor in Journals.

This summer marks twenty-seven years since I started at the Press. Why have I stayed? It isn’t because of the allure of publishing, the mission of the Press, the pizzazz of its list, the prestige of its parent institution, or the proximity of its offices to downtown Durham eateries. It’s because I get to spend my days among people whom I admire and whose company and minds I like, and because I get to work with language. My job is a hodgepodge: proofread marketing copy and parts of the Press’s website, draft style guides, design copyediting and proofreading exercises, trade pointers with coworkers, attend blessedly few meetings, oversee the copyediting and proofreading of a set of Duke journals, write postmortems for freelancers. But I feel most fully in my element when I do some copyediting myself. Word usage, grammar, and the practice of bending them toward clarity fascinate me. Someone told me once that I might have missed my calling as a teacher, and it’s true that there is a pedagogical side to a copyeditor’s work. Editing copy means, as probably everyone knows, ironing out typographical and grammatical wrinkles—“Culler, Jonathan. 1975. Sturcturlaist Poetics”; “Satan’s (and God’s, despite himself) speeches expose”; Columbus’s “1942 arrival in the Caribbean”—but it also means applying stylistic standards, checking facts, picking out inconsistencies, filling holes, calming tics, untying knots, and trimming hedges (“Perhaps in Germany—and this is only a theory—opulence is possibly also something that functions somewhat as a deterrent”), all with the assistance or at least, you hope, the assent of the author. Sometimes it calls for restraint, sometimes for the most active engagement. One day you find that the vessel the author has crafted sails itself; another day you must point out—gently yet directly yet tactfully—that the argument whose keel the author extravagantly thanks others for laying is not seaworthy and that its leaks cannot be caulked out of dry dock. More prosaically, copyediting means sparing the reader as much head-shaking and head-scratching as you can by doing the shaking and scratching yourself. Now and then authors experience copyediting and the review of it as punitive, and now and then their pique is justified. What copyeditor has not sometimes done the job badly or overdone it? But more frequent are the authors who, on surveying the ground, find that thorns no more infest it, or at least that they have been loosened enough to be pulled out easily. For me, the work is satisfying, and so, when offered, are the plaudits.

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