Archive for December 14th, 2023

Service of Word Fat: Unnecessary Words

Thursday, December 14th, 2023

Scott Simon, host of NPRs Morning Edition Saturday, recently interviewed Benjamin Dreyer, author of “Dreyer’s English,” and also just-retired VP, executive managing editor and copy chief of Random House.

Dreyer explained to Simon what a copy editor does—which is far more than spell checking surmised Simon. Dreyer said “copy editors do certainly attend to spelling. That’s a very important function of the job – and to punctuation. But there are so many other things that you do. And the longer you do it, the more you sort of accumulate this massive bag of tricks that you apply to every manuscript, including, for instance, pointing out to an author that, oh, you know, you’ve used the word irrevocably five times in the last 20 pages. So let’s maybe switch that up a little bit. And if you’re working on a novel, you’re going to be keeping very close track of the chronology to make sure that all the days run in the proper order and that people are aging at the same rate as the other. You’re there to do what an author might have done had an author not already looked at their manuscript 175 times.”

And, in my opinion, just as important is what Dreyer added “you are always, as a copy editor, looking for unnecessary fat that isn’t really helpful and suggesting, urging the author to consider disposing of that fat. To say that somebody is very smart almost sounds like pleading. If you want to say that somebody’s very smart, why not reach for a jazzier adjective like brilliant?”

Which brings me to a pet peeve.

Why do people insist on qualifying a greeting with “FOR THOSE WHO CELEBRATE?” When we wish someone Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, Happy Passover, Happy Easter, as some examples [to which, on July 15th, my husband would have added, Happy Saint Swithin’s Day], we only wish cheer to the recipient of the salutation. No harm is meant, only good cheer and the sharing of joy. So bring it on!

Is this qualification only a NYC thing?

I welcome all and every well-meant wish. Do you? What examples of word fat in both expression and writing drive you nuts?

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