It’s all Greek to me

Do you know your recto from your verso? What’s the difference between MSS and MS? What is this stet I keep seeing on the page? Definitions at the end of the post!

The language of editing is complex and confusing, even for those of us who use it daily!

But is this editing jargon useful for authors or is it a distraction. Or worse, is it really just the editor showing off?

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While some authors may be well versed in the language, it’s important to remember that not everyone will be. And what is that language doing, whether you know what it means or not? What is important is that the dangling participle is fixed, not that an editor teaches an author their grammar knowledge.

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A lot of these terms your grammar master would be proud of you for using. Some of them would please a Latin tutor. But as we are working with authors and writers, we don’t need to explain every nuance of language, we need just to ensure that the message is clear. That’s the job!

Of course, there are times when editor speak is best. One such example is stet. Rather than “let it stand”, the literal Latin translation, written in the margin or in the comments, these four letters are a useful shorthand. If, and only if, everyone understands!

Editorial textbooks would describe l.c. and u.c. – short for lower case and upper case – but is that immediately apparent to the author who, already nervous of handing their work to a professional, sees a long list of acronyms that mean nothing to them. Far better to say “capitals here”, or “make lower case”, don’t you think?

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I know I have been guilty of using this language. For me, the phrase “run this sentence on” is clear. It’s only when, a few weeks after the edit, that I get the email asking what I meant do I understand how we need to make our own messages clear in editing.

This is my pledge: in editing, I will endeavour to cut out the jargon. Let’s get to the message and make it as clear as possible.

And where I fall short, authors, tell me!

And for those still wondering about the language in the first paragraph…

recto = right hand page
verso = left hand page
MS = manuscript (singular, one)
MSS = manuscripts (plural, more than one)

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

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