Touchstone’s copy edit

The original manuscript says:
He hit out against the Major, and inadvertently won his release.
The copy editor changed it to:
He hit out against the Major and, inadvertently, won his release.

This is the kind of question that takes me so long on a copy edit. Not the substantial near-revisions the editor gently requests, not the gaping holes in the sub-plots that suddenly catch my eye, but these weird grammatical conundra. I come across one and sit, pencil poised, tasting the alternative readings on my tongue: He hit out against the Major, and inadvertently won his release. He hit out against the Major and, inadvertently, won his release. He hit out against the Major. His release inadvertently won, he etc. Hitting out against the Major inadvertently won him his release.

To me, punctuation is an extension of pronunciation. Where I would pause in speech, I stuck a comma; to indicate a heartier break, I add a dot to make it a semicolon.

Copy editors don’t work that way. They have Rules, and the Rules have Reasons. Infinitives stick together unless there is good reason to separate them (and to prove her flexibility, this c.e. even took one of my carefully joined infinitives and brutally chopped it in two with the sharpened adverb I’d placed at the beginning.) Verbs agree with the subject. And punctuation serves to clarify.

So I have no doubt that it is more correct to say, He hit out against the Major and, inadvertently, won his release. But in order to stress the consequence of the sentence—first this happened, and as a result that—in the end I decided to hammer a STET onto the margin.

So in my book you’ll find Bennett Grey hitting Major Carstairs, and by doing so, inadvertently winning his release.

It’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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  1. Kerry on August 22, 2007 at 11:23 am

    What a lovely example! I found myself reading both versions over and over again, trying to figure out why I like the first one better when I know that the second is, possibly, the more properly constructed. It is all in the pauses, isn’t it? By setting off “inadvertently” at both ends, the second version makes the *accident* of the release the important fact, rather than the release itself. Or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me.

    The very worst of my English teachers (I only had one really good one — and I thank my stars for him regularly) happened to me my freshman year in high school. The only thing of value I learned in her class was how to use semicolons; I subsequently learned to love them. Mind you, she didn’t actually teach me that — she had each of us pick a punctuation mark and do a sort of independent study of it to learn to use it.

    Commas, however, are a constant source of bemusement to me. I applaud anyone who understands them!

    Meanwhile, I’m glad Mr. Gray won his release, advertently or otherwise . . .

  2. nkk1969 on August 22, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    You’ve just given me hope of finding a career for my child. She needs to be a copy editor. She looks over my shoulder as I write, saying snarky things like, “Where’s the other comma, Mother? That’s an appositive. You do know what an appositive is, don’t you?” (Sarcastic brat. All 16 y.o. females should be locked up until they turn 30.) She knows the rules. I write by the way it flows best to my ear.

    Said child just walked in the room and read the blog over my shoulder. She says to tell you either way is correct and your way just works better with the pauses. Mark this down on your calendar. Caitlin complimented your grammar. She seldom compliments _anyone’s_ grammar. You should be able to feel the vibes coming through your computer screen.


  3. admin on August 23, 2007 at 8:34 am

    Nikki, I am humbled, and will do my utmost to live up to this sacred responsibility.


  4. adyktd2thewrttnwrd on August 24, 2007 at 4:11 am

    ~Since I should technically be locked up for another eleven years, ;] I will make this easy and un-sarcastic as possible.~

    I found both to be correct gramatically, but liked yours best. The other one changed the meaning of the sentence a bit too much for my liking.

    [I pride myself on my grammer and diction as well, but you need not mark mine down as that all my friends and family know to speak proper English around me. The only time you should mark anything of mine down is when someone corrects me. Very rare. Oh dear, I sound smarmy now. :p ]

  5. LEM333 on August 31, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    In my opinion, not many people even know how to properly use a comma. It’s hard enough for people to speak properly (ain’t, I seen that, etc.). I believe that commas should be left where the author puts them.

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