Sunday, December 28, 2008

Confession I

The U.S. Air Force has been plagued by a multitude of problems in recent years—a drop in morale, security lapses, and ethics violations at the Academy, to name a few. Some observers claim this is attributable to many in the Air Force no longer believing in “the mission,” or more precisely the absence of a clear-cut mission for the Air Force post Cold War.

“What does this have to with editing?” you might ask. In a word, ennui.

There is a rule, somewhere, on how to treat every single element of a piece of writing. The editor, of course, is expected to ride shotgun to ensure that those rules aren’t broken. But like our flyboys and flygals—and every editor will admit this—sometimes we just couldn’t care less, particularly with regard to items that seem trivial at best.

Here are ten of my (least) favorites:

  • % or percent in text and in tables/charts
  • Bold, italics, or underlining for emphasis
  • Insert comma (or not) following city/state within a sentence (The voters of Denver, Colorado, have spoken.)
  • Em dash (—) or en dash ( – ) surrounded by a space to set off text
  • Hyphen or en dash to bridge numbers (1967-1970 or 1967–1970)
  • One or two spaces between sentences
  • One or two spaces following a colon
  • Possessive or not (GM shareholders or GM’s shareholders)
  • Punctuation of bulleted lists
  • The serial comma (red, white, and blue vs. red, white and blue)

  • As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” It certainly feels that way sometimes.