5 Signs an Editor Has Been at Work

Sometimes I’ll be reading happily along and find myself tipping my cap to another editor for the care taken with a particular usage. For just a moment, that editor is there, ghostlike, almost visible through the page.

You don’t need an EMF meter or full-spectrum camera to spot an editor, nor do you have to worry about ectoplasm on your favorite book. The following are five signs an editor has been at work.

1. En dashes

Most people don’t know an en dash from a haberdashery. The mark is most often used in number ranges (1971–2017) and when connecting an open compound to another modifier (Pulitzer Prize–winning author). Many would like to exorcise them from use, but I have a real fondness for en dashes.

2. Capping aunt and uncle

People understand writing “I love Aunt Janice and Uncle Bill” but often look askance when seeing something like “I love my aunt Janice and my uncle Bill.” Most likely a copy editor took down the a and u. (Capping of mother and father also causes confusion, though not quite as much.)

3. Apostrophes with abbreviated words

Love ’em or leave ’em. When letters are left out at the beginning of a word, the letters are replaced with an apostrophe, not an opening single quote. Some simply don’t know this, and some don’t take the time to fix it. I’ve seen the wrong quote there so often I have to smile when I see the apostrophe.

4. Plural possessives

Speaking of apostrophes, there’s probably nothing that trips up your average citizen more than possessives, especially plural ones, especially when they involve names. If I had a nickel for every time I saw something like “the Smith’s house” when referring to a family of Smiths—and not to that one Smith everyone knows as such . . .

5. Comprise

Traditionally, the whole comprises the parts and “is comprised of” has been considered poor usage. Whether or not you care about this usage anymore, an editor has likely laid his cold, spectral hand on the text if it’s used in the “correct” way.

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