The Demise of Copyediting?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Feb 14 14:24:16 UTC 2008

On Feb 14, 2008, at 4:32 AM, Fred Shapiro wrote:

> I recognize that prescriptivism-flavored postings are heavily
> frowned upon on this list, but let me pose this in a neutral way
> focused on the institution of copyediting:  In today's New York
> Times the following sentence appears: "Your fragrance should never
> be perceived beyond an arm's length, it should not proceed you into
> the room."  This is not the first time recently that I have seen
> major "howlers" in terms of traditional prescriptive usage standards
> appearing in the Times.  What is the specific cause of such
> proliferation -- have newspapers laid off their copyeditors?  The
> Times has in the past given a high priority to copyediting.

entries in both Brians and MWDEU (under "precede, proceed"), and some
further discussion of "proceed" in section 3 of

   AZ, 12/23/07: Proceed with caution:

as a typo or spelling confusion, "proceed" for "precede" has been
around for a very long time.  i have seen no evidence that it's
actually increasing in frequency in certain publications -- though
once you've noticed it, you're likely to catch more occurences of it.

for obvious reasons, typos, cut 'n' paste errors, and other such
errors are frequent in daily newspapers (surely more so than in other
publications) and have been so forever.  when i worked on a daily
newspaper (45-50 years ago), the staff crowed about the many typos in
the New York Times and other elite papers -- but we also spent a good
bit of time catching errors in our early edition and fixing them for
the late edition.  (this kind of correction still goes on, and now
involves on-line editions as well as the hard-copy editions.)

i don't know if there have been studies of error rates, for different
sorts of errors, in different sorts of publications, at different
times.  difficulties would attend all parts of such a project: what
counts as an error?  what is the taxonomy of error types?  how to
sample the publications?  how to assess whether the Daily Planet of
1955 is the "same" publication as the Daily Planet of 2005?  how to
accommodate the sort of ongoing correction that i mentioned in the
previous paragraph?


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