Category Archives: EDITING 101

When DIY gets down and dirty

I’ve said before that I work in magazines. I’m currently on a home and garden title that doesn’t really get much in the way of reader complaints about dirty language, seeing as how stories on how to hang wallpaper and lay (gasp!) paving don’t really get people hot and bothered.

The gardening on the other hand can get pretty smutty and the DIY offers endless sniggering to those of a juvenile mindset, what with all the screwing and drilling that goes on. But still, we don’t get outraged emails. Until this week, that is, when we were accused of lewd and rude behaviour on an epic scale.

A reader took offence at a caption in a story about fish tanks as a design element. That’s right. Fish tanks. Here are the highlights of her letter:

I was highly incensed at the inappropriate use of a profane slang word that has been slipped into your magazine. Obviously missed by spell check, (although I don’t know how), or missed by the proof reader who thought it was funny or too young to know better. Either way they should be held accountable, it is offensive … the use of the word CUM is offensive instead of the appropriate word COME.

Let’s skip over the bit where the staff are accused of either negligence, ignorance or having the sense of humour of a porn-addled teenage boy and get right to the root of the matter (sorry, that pun was begging to be used).

The fact of the matter is, the reader is wrong. When we captioned the picture with the words ‘an aquarium-cum-coffee table’ we were completely right. Cum is a preposition. And it also means ‘in combination’. It doesn’t mean what people think it means when they use it in sex texts.

It’s not the first time we’ve used it either. As the Chief subeditor said when she saw the letter, ‘What! That’s my favourite thing. I do it all the time’. And she does cum, a lot. We all do. Whether it’s a sofa-cum-guest bed or a study-cum-spare room or a garage-cum-workshop we can’t get through a month without one of us inserting cum somewhere in the magazine.

And just in case you don’t believe me, check out this screen grab from the Macquarie Dictionary.

Screen grab of a Macquarie Dictionary definition for the word cum.

Breaking news: Cum is not a dirty word! Please adjust your sexting spelling accordingly. You’re welcome.

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The art of compromise

Sometimes I can’t bear to listen to the radio because of all the wrong crap people say. And I’m talking about the hosts, not the callers. It’s also why I can’t read menus, as apparently a lot of restaurants aren’t open Monday’s but from Tuesday’s to Sunday’s. They are possessive apostrophes people, not word decorations.

It’s not longetivity, okay? It’s longevity. And you really do pronounce it mid-whiffery when you say the word midwifery. I promise. While we’re at it, they are The Real Housewives with a soft not hard ‘s’ in house. Are you with me? And there is no such word as rooves, the plural of roof is roofs.

I’ve already talked about SUPPOSABLY. I can’t go there again. And now FIRSTABLE has become a thing. They mean first of all.

One of the dumbest things I heard was on cable TV some years ago. It was on an entertainment spot, you know the kind they run over and over between shows until you just want to scream? A ‘reporter’ was doing a piece on Hugh Grant. With a huge mindless grin on her face she said like it was the best joke in the world, ‘Hugh Grant has been caught in another uncompromising position’.

Um, the term is ‘compromising position’. It basically means that you have been busted. Which Mr Grant famously was with Divine Brown all those years ago. But this segment wasn’t about anything like that, it was to do with a film or something. They were trying to be funny by relating back to that long ago incident. They failed.

I’ll leave you with this last piece of advice: IRREGARDLESS is not a word. You don’t go around saying RESPONSIBLELESS do you?

Welcome to my world.

Welcome to my world.

What is a subeditor?

A friend recently sent me an article about the top 10 jobs parents don’t understand.

It was, unsurprisingly, called 10 Jobs That Are Impossible To Explain To Your Parents.

Being a subeditor was number five. Only they called it a ‘Sub Editor’.

It’s really not such a mystery. Here’s what the dictionary on my computer has to say:

Dictionary definition of term 'sub edit'

The dictionary definition of ‘sub edit’ from my Mac.

A subeditor, sub editor or sub-editor is there to make sure that what goes to print is grammatical, true to house style, in line with the voice of the publication, accurate, factual, well written, comprehensible, spelled correctly, matches the pictures, has the correct page number and footer plus picture credits and byline.

Oh, and most of those snappy headlines and suck-you-in-to-the-story intros and helpful captions. They write those too.

So, not a lot of work then. God knows why those grammar nazis complain, they’re just human spell checkers right?

Wrong, a subeditor has to be a writer, researcher, fact checker, grammarian and diplomat all rolled into one.

Plus they have to have a lot of general knowledge and common sense. There’s no point in making sure a sentence is free of typos if it says something that is complete nonsense.

Like the time I let the words ‘300 cups of milk’ in a recipe go to print. Hey I was tired, it was late and the last recipe in a booklet stuck onto the cover at the last minute. The problem? Seeing 300 on its own doesn’t raise any flags. It’s a real number plus it shows up in recipes all the time with ml or grams after it. See how easy it is to slip up? That’s why we need subeditors.

And the diplomacy part? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most people who get paid to do so can’t write. Also, they are in denial about it. But even the good writers need smoothing down sometimes when their stuff gets chopped, changed or canned.