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Writers have been aggregating, storing and sharing information through “commonplace books” for centuries—it’s only the technology that’s changed:
Before the affordability of personal libraries, and before people were able to access the world’s knowledge through the Internet, readers and writers had to find reasonable ways to consolidate and store information that could be useful to them. There were no social media to help them aggregate and share stories, quotes, recipes, or images. That doesn’t mean they didn’t do exactly that. They created personal anthologies called commonplace books.
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Commonplace books functioned as literary scrapbooks filled with quotes, poems, proverbs, prayers, recipes, and letters. Each was a unique collection that reflected the interests of its creator. “Great wits have short memories,” as a Chinese proverb goes; and so their short memories have driven the great wits to keep commonplace books.
[Photo: Sara Coleridge’s commonplace book, with some watercolors and poems. She was an English author and translator who was the daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.]
David Rakoff, a “writer, aesthete, genius, New York devotee (the City was “the great love of my life,” he wrote), exceptional reporter and observer, performer, director and incredibly kind person,” has died of cancer. Give his This American Life episodes a listen.
The above screenshot is from his book, Half Empty, as screengrabbed by The Awl.
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s advice for you aspiring authors. Jennifer started her writing career as James Boylan, writing such bestselling novels as author of the novels The Constellations (1994), The Planets (1991), and Getting In (1998), and then became the first bestselling transgender author in 2003 with She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Check out the full interview.
Last week, we asked you to submit questions to our awesome cohort of copy editors. And you guys totally did! So let’s get to it!
Dear Copy Editor, tell me what you think about the singular possessive for a noun ending in s? Is it James’ or James’s? Does it really matter anyway? Oh, and I really hate it when people pluralize abbreviations and acronyms with an apostrophe (CD’s, ATM’s) but I see it in legitimate news sources all the time! Should I be forgiving, or continue on hating? (Asked by thirteenstiel)
Here at Newsweek, the rule is to hang an apostrophe and S at the end of every singular noun that ends with S, per Strunk and White. The problem comes when you have pseudo-singular nouns: the United States, General Motors, the New York Knicks. Are they one thing—a country, a company, a team—or several things? These we deal with on a case-by-case basis, so: the United Nations’, The New York Times’s. But if it actually is a bunch of things grouped together (U.S., U.N), we try to recognize that with the apostrophe-only approach.
I agree on the second point, but it’s often a necessary evil with dealing with all-caps copy, as we often do here at Newsweek.
Is it ‘lead’ or ‘lede’ paragraph? Can people ever be evacuated? What does TK stand for? (Asked by lazenby)
“Lead” and the journalism slang word “lede” both can be used to refer to that first paragraph.
Yes, people can be evacuated. At Newsweek and The Daily Beast, we use Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which defines “evacuate” as “to remove (inhabitants, etc.) from (a place or area), as for protective purposes,” among other things. “Evacuate” also means “to withdraw.” Therefore, people can be evacuated, and they also can evacuate.
TK is not exactly an acronym, but means “to come.”
How do you fix dangling modifiers? (Asked by michaelbrownart)
A dangling modifier can be fixed by rewriting the sentence. Precisely how to do so will vary on a case-by-case basis. Here’s an example: “After working a long day, the dinner was exactly what was needed.” In this sentence, the dinner worked a long day. It could be rewritten as “After a long day of work, the dinner was exactly what was needed” or “After he worked a long day, the dinner was exactly what he needed.”
Is it “spelled” or “spelt”? (Asked my lovetherainmost)
It’s “spelled” in America and “spelt” in Britain, unless you’re shopping in a health-food store. The U.S./U.K. divide is also seen in burned/burnt and pleaded/pled, but the rule is not universal. No one ever claims, “George Washington sleeped here.”
What’s with em dashes? Only journalists seem to use them. When is it preferred over two dashes or even a pair of offsetting commas? (Asked by dannygronerportfolio)
A Slate article that went viral among copy editors last year addresses the overuse of and lack of rules for em dashes.
When using software with the capabilities to make em dashes, they are preferred to two hyphens to mean the same thing. As for using them instead of offsetting commas or parentheses, em dashes can be effective for emphasis and clarity, especially when what is being set off is a series of items or contains some punctuation. Here is an example from last week’s Daily Beast article by Chris Lee on Jennifer Lawrence’s fame: On Late Show with David Letterman Monday, the 21-year-old actress remarked on how much Hunger Games fans—zealots who scream, cry, nearly faint, and show up decked out in the survivalist garb of her character Katniss Everdeen—basically creep her out.
Do you have a pressing question for our copy editors? Submit your own question(s) here.
Ask a Copy Editor!
Ever have a grammatical question you want an expert’s view on? Do you wake up at night
wandering wondering if you used that semicolon correctly? Have you found youself chewing on a pencil over single vs. versus double quotation marks? Wonder whether “Etch a Sketch” is hyphenated or not?
Have no fear! We’re launching a new segment here on the nwktumblr called Ask a Copy Editor! It’s exactly what it sounds like! Use Tumblr’s Ask box to submit any and all of your titillating copy/grammar/spelling questions. We’ll pass them on to Newbeast’s expert copy editors and they’ll do
there their best to answer all of them right here on our Tumblr. So have at it!
1. E-books: “That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”
2. Smartphones: “Great allies and enablers of narcissism.”
3. The Internet: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”
4. Cats: “the sociopaths of the pet world.”
5. Experimental fiction: “It’s also in my Protestant nature, however, to expect some reward for this work.”
6. Schmaltzy fiction: “I cringe, myself.”
7. Michiko Kakutani: “the stupidest person in New York City.”
8. Insipid Broadway musical adaptations: “instantly overpraised.”
9. Author videos: “This might be a good place for me to register my profound discomfort at having to make videos like this.”
I don’t know what we imagine a “herniated dick” actually looks like—but it’s not making us feel good inside. This little whoopsie-daisy comes from the copy desk of the Charlotte Observer, where editors attempted to change “disc” to “disk.”
You go, Groupon copywriter. Don’t let that email-as-medium fact hold you back.