Ten Stuffs What I Done Learnt Copyediting JANE STEELE

I've a confession to make: I am not the most shining example of how to treat the copyediting process.  Copyediting, if you aren't aware, happens after you and your agent and editor have made any necessary major changes to the plot, characterization, and setting of your novel, your editor acting essentially as a theatre director would.  Is this moment clear to the audience?  Does it land as powerfully as it ought to?  What the hell did you mean by that, Lyndsay?

If an editor is a director, then think of the copyeditor as a combination stage manager and dramaturg, the one whose job it is to say during breaks, "Lyndsay, you're blocked two feet further left.  Could you try to hit that mark?"  Or, "Lyndsay, your Northern Irish accent is drifting into Scots on your R's.  Cut it out."  In other words, a copyeditor has to be brilliant, and very meticulous, and insistent on perfection because perfection (even though we won't get there) is the goal.

Unfortunately, pissy actors (I tried never to be) and pissy authors (I am actively trying not to be) are sometimes wrapped up in their ethereal visions of poetic justification enough to whine, "But WHY do I have to hit that mark two feet further left?" (It's important because of a lighting cue.)  Or, "But WHY do I have to take out the word irregardless?"  (Because it isn't a word and everyone who uses it should be put in grammar stocks.)

So this is an ode to the copyeditor (I had a fine one this last go-round), in the form of Ten Stuffs What I Done Learnt Copyediting Jane Steele:

1. Pet doors have existed since at least the 14th century.

When your copyeditor asks, "Author, please confirm pet doors existed in 1837," the author feels a momentary rush of overwhelming how in God's holy Jesus H. Name will I do that followed by at least twenty minutes of ashen existential despair.  After those twenty minutes and some serious headdesking are over, however, you find via none other such venerable source as Wikipedia that 14th century author Geoffrey Chaucer referenced pet doors in "The Miller's Tale."

An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at the hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the last he hadde of hym a sighte.

Following a discovery along these lines, your inclination is to laugh your face off because in the Great Jeopardy Game of Life, both you and your copyeditor can now be superstars.

2. There is a difference between ordinary laudanam and ammoniated tincture of opium.  

OK, this one is fascinating--the copyeditor caught that I had referred to a licorice aroma after Jane entered a house where laudanum had been spilled on the floor.  She informed me that ordinary laudanum would taste only bitter, while ammoniated tincture of opium was a mixture of opium, alcohol, and anise.  For more fascinating science facts about how to get really fucking high in the 19th century, click the badass link she gave me.

3. There is no way to verify whether tinkers' thumbs were really used in witchcraft in the 19th century.

I begged off on this one, pleading that I wanted a "Shakespearean sound."  What a croc.  In reality, I just never went to Hogwarts, though I wanted to, but as an American muggle, I just couldn't afford the UK travel costs.

4.  The verb "showcase" was not in use until 1945.

The fact that this surprised me at all was pretty sad sauce, but if you think about it for just a few seconds, it makes perfect sense.  "Showcase" was used as a noun in the 19th century, but not as a verb--in other words, showcases probably existed in high-end shops but weren't particularly commonplace in everyday life.  But what do we have in the 1940s, ladies and gentlemen?  That's right--a giant uptick in consumerism and department stores.  Language really is the cat's pyjamas.

5. A grandfather clock was not called such until the 1876 song "My Grandfather's Clock."

I HAD NEVER HEARD OF THIS BEFORE and it's bloody amazing.  So, in 1876, Henry Clay Work wrote what would become a brass band and bluegrass standard (yeah, I know--very unlikely bedfellows, those tuba players and the rhythm banjos).  The song has been covered by Johnny Cash and inspired a 1963 Twilight Zone episode about a stopped clock.  Mind: blown.  Here are some lyrics explaining the Twilight Zone interest:

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

6. "Not to worry" is an American colloquialism dating from the 1980s.

Precursors of the phrase include "Please not to mention that again" in George Eliot's Middlemarch, one use of "Not to worry" in the 1958 Daily Mail, and "Not to bother" in Double Fault in 1965.  Following the 1980s, the phrase became much more in use, "went viral" as it were, and now no one blinks at it.  Since it started being in common usage around the time I was born, I had NO IDEA it hadn't been around FOREVER.

7. "Each other" and "one another" are not the same.

YES I KNOW OK, this is an easy one, but I never pay attention to it and would like to publicly flail myself in the full presence of the interwebs and my copyeditor.  345,924,228,502 instances of abuse later, I have vowed to mend my rascally ways.

8. One is either titled "Mr." or "Esq.," not both.

For example, you could be Mr. William T Riker, or William T. Riker, Esq., but you cannot be Mr. William T. Riker, Esq.  (Although, to be frank?  If anyone could pull it off, it would be Riker.)

9. The earliest foldable pocket knives date from the Iron Age.

How badass is that?  According to Wikipedia (but verified), "A pocket knife with a bone handle was found at the Hallstatt Culture type site in Austria, dating to around 600-500 BCE."  Can you imagine Iron Age greasers, like slicking their hair back with whale pomade and taking super fast rides on their mammoths and flirting with women wearing literal leopard print and joining gangs and shanking each other with bone-handled pocket knives?  Then after the fight they'd go get drunk on mead and play really early versions of "Mean Eyed Cat" and "Hot Rod Man" on Iron Age guitars?

I can.

10.  "Sodding," used as an all-purpose intensifier interchangeable with bloody, fucking, etc, was not in UK use until 1912.

Who knew?  Honestly, everyone--who knew?  And with this linguistic gem, I shall leave you to imagine how much I cudgeled my brains to find many, many other creative swear words with which to grace your kindly eyes.  Thank you.