Having drunk the copy Kool-Aid

Rubber-gloved hand, four Kool-Aid packets, and some cups

I love this article by Lori Fradkin, “What It’s Really Like to Be a Copy Editor” (TheAwl.com, July 21, 2010), though I take issue with her opening example:

The word is douche bag. Douche space bag. People will insist that it’s one closed-up word—douchebag—but they are wrong. When you cite the dictionary as proof of the division, they will tell you that the entry refers to a product women use to clean themselves and not the guy who thinks it’s impressive to drop $300 on a bottle of vodka. You will calmly point out that, actually, the definition in Merriam-Webster is “an unattractive or offensive person” and not a reference to Summer’s Eve. They will then choose to ignore you and write it as one word anyway.

I know this because, during my three-plus years as a copy editor, I had this argument many, many times.

Me, I would have let “douchebag” stand—though I might have queried it, just as a formality. When Kristin Hersh tweeted re her forthcoming memoir, Rat Girl,

the poor copy editor at Penguin had to tell me that "apeshit" is not one word, but two
@kristinhersh
kristin hersh

I couldn’t help but reply as follows:

I say it depends on how it’s being used. RT @kristinhersh the poor copy editor at Penguin had to tell me that “apeshit” is not 1 word, but 2

Per Wordnik, the closed form of “apeshit” is by far the most common. @kristinhersh Show your CE: http://is.gd/bzHMe vs. http://is.gd/bzHOf.

.@kristinhersh Also, “An experienced copyeditor will recognize and not tamper with unusual figures of speech or idiomatic usage”—CMS 15:2.56

So, there.

(via @sarahmaclean)

Photo: Putting Kool-Aid in small containers by Breibeest; some rights reserved.

3 Responses

  1. John Tranter
    John Tranter August 1, 2010 at 4:44 am |

    I hate to say this to a person conscious of the need to get things right, but the drink the poor deluded people at Jonestown drank was not Kool-Aid, but Grape-Aid. Grape-Aid is purple and has a strong taste, sufficiently strong to mask the cyanide, at least for a moment. But this is really too sad a topic to split hairs about. Call it Kool-Aid if you like.

  2. James Fraleigh
    James Fraleigh August 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm |

    This copy editor votes for “douchebag” and “apeshit.” I don’t get to use those two words in the same sentence often; I don’t know whether to be sad or relieved by that.

    The most absurd copyediting decision I’ve seen in a major publication occurred in a New Yorker article that discussed telecommunications industry regulation. To bring the reader up to speed, the author introduced and defined the terms competitive local exchange carrier and regional Bell operating company.

    Someone — the author, the copy editor, some tin-eared relic of the William Shawn era — decided it would be wise or whimsical not to use the initialisms “CLEC” and “RBOC” (or, in their style, “C.L.E.C.” and “R.B.O.C.”), but to spell them phonetically throughout the text as “see-leck” and “ar-bock.” The result made an otherwise informative piece read like Dr. Seuss.

    The mild irony of this specific case is that the term acronym was coined by a Bell Labs researcher. (Whether CLEC and RBOC are wholly acronyms or initialisms is an open question in the Wikipedia article, so far as one trusts that source.)

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