March 30, 2004



Being somewhat of a... how do you say... word guy, I have an appreciation for the sport that copy editors employ when they jump into the fray of style and accuracy issues at various publications.

One of the best in the business is Bill Walsh over at The Slot. Bill is the national desk copy chief at the Washington Post as well as the husband of my dear friend Jacqueline.

Bill has a new book out, The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English.

Bill held court today in an online chat that provided an interesting glimps into the world of copy editing. Readers got the chance to serve questions while Bill acted like the concrete wall at the playground, batting back their interrogatory tennis balls with aplomb and great wit. I liked these exchanges best:

Seattle, Wash.: I wonder if you could expand on your discussion of the difference between "attorney" and "lawyer," and when it's appropriate to use one or the other. Like most people, I always assumed they were synonyms. But you say a usage like "he is a patent attorney" is incorrect.
Bill Walsh: Attorney is to lawyer as rescuer is to lifeguard. To be an attorney is to act on another's behalf. Often that's exactly what a lawyer does, but it's not the name for the profession.
And this one:
Scranton, Pa.: Some reporters I've talked to insist on using "says" instead of "said," arguing that it's more conversational. A few years ago it wasn't all that prevalent, but now I see it more and more, even in an occasional AP hard-news stories. What's your take?
Bill Walsh: "Says" doesn't bother me. I think "says" and "said" can peacefully coexist in the same story. One denotes a quote that represents a continuing thought ("I like boobies," Hefner says), and the other is more of a one-time thing ("She is my bride for life," Hefner said).
And this one:
Comma Splice: I had an English teacher in high school who would automatically fail any essay that contained a "comma splice." What was the big deal?
Bill Walsh: Commas aren't supposed to join independent sentences, she was right to fail you. See?
And this last one:
Tampa, Fla.: Do you think R.E. M. should have split at the previously agreed upon date of 1/1/2000 in an effort to preserve their musical legacy and dignity?
Bill Walsh: It couldn't have hurt. But some of the not-so-good stuff was well before that.
Posted by Jeff at March 30, 2004 12:37 AM | TrackBack