It’s great to see that copy editors are finally being given the positive attention we deserve. There are now “copyediting stars” like Mary Norris of The New Yorker; John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun; Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves; and author and podcast personality Mignon Fogarty, the “Grammar Girl,” who “sparked what you might call a worldwide, syntax-driven fiesta.”
I have to admit that I am surprised as well as pleased by this trend. A while back, when I was taking a break from editing to be a substitute teacher, I wondered if texting-style spelling, the overreliance on spellcheck, and the absence of diagramming sentences in school meant that attention to proper spelling and grammar would become a lost art in the everyday world. Would people outside of scholarly publishing give a darn about, say, the serial comma?
It turns out they do. Witness the case of the Oakhurst Dairy in Maine. The Maine Legislative Drafting Manual does not approve of the serial comma; therefore, there is none in the state law regulating overtime: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.” The ambiguity created by the lack of a comma after “shipment” resulted in Maine truck drivers winning a lawsuit that could cost Oakhurst Dairy $10 million. Some folks may find the serial comma superfluous—but I say that a little symbol that could save a company $10 million is nothing to sneeze at. That fact that so many articles were written about this case show that there is an interest in such topics.—Karen Boyd