Oh, the tough life of a copyeditor. So misunderstood. “A copyeditor, huh? You must, like, go around correcting people’s grammar all the time, right?” Actually, I don’t, because it would be obnoxious and rude. I correct things because it’s my job. I don’t correct people because giving unsolicited advice of any kind is just bad manners, whether it’s grammatical, romantic, or career-oriented. The other assumption I get a lot is that I speak and write perfectly at all times. Anyone who has known me for more than ten seconds knows this isn’t true. I’ll admit to having a freakish ability to spell things correctly, but some people can draw, and others can cook. We all have our innate talents.
Even someone who is immersed in words all the time still screws up. Some of us screw up a lot. So, in order to convince everyone that I’m not some sort of robot, oddly programmed with a creative cursing chip and fueled by French roast, I’m going to share with you some of the things about grammar and spelling that always trip me up.
-“Because.” I know how to spell “because.” I do. When I see it spelled incorrectly, my brain registers it as wrong. For some reason, though, every single time I type it, it comes out “becuase.” I spell it wrong so much that my phone now auto-corrects “because” to “becuase.” It’s embarrassing. (And yet, I can always remember which are the double letters in “embarrassing.”)
-British and American variations. “Traveled” and “canceled” look wrong to me. I want to double those letters. I’m American, though, and use American style guides, and therefore, I have to force myself to leave those final consonants before the suffixes alone. I feel a certain calm when editing a piece from a non-American writer talking about their travels. Well, until I’m stopped short by punctuation outside of quotation marks. Damn cultural inconsistencies.
-When I was younger (in college, and an English major to boot), a professor corrected me in front of the class about using “less” when I should have used “fewer.” So now I’m a complete freak about “fewer” and “less.” So much so, that my poor husband, any time he hears the word “less,” even in the correct context, automatically says “fewer.” A commercial talks about “less hassle,” and I hear “FEWER hassle!” from next to me on the couch. He’s mostly kidding, but I’ve created a monster.
-Lie/lay/laid. This combination of verb tenses is just beyond my comprehension. Seriously. I’m pretty sure I’m missing the part of my brain that’s able to remember the rules for this one.
-Further/farther. I know one is for physical distance, and one is metaphorical, but damned if I can ever remember which is which without a quick Google search. (“Farther” is the distance one. It has “far” in it. I’ll retain this information for approximately twelve more seconds.)
Which brings me to this: normal people (as in, people who are not me) don’t generally have the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style within arm’s reach at all times. Which is where the Internet comes in. (And I capitalize “Internet” because the AP tells me to. Aside from their incomprehensible views on the Oxford comma, I generally do what the AP tells me to.) The Internet is a wide, wonderful place. Use it. Google is my most reliable spell check. Can’t decide between two words? A quick search will show you fifty discussions on that very topic, usually with a pretty clear answer. Punctuation is not something that comes naturally to most people, but there are plenty of resources out there to teach you when to use a semicolon, or all about the wacky rules of quotation marks. There’s always room for improvement in your writing, whether you’re a student, a professional writer, a copyeditor, or a person who loves to read. The worst thing we can do is think we know it all, becuase that just leads to complacency.*
*Yes, that was on purpose.