One of the more interesting things about being an editor is the amazing amount of time you spend stopping what you are doing and doing a little research. This is especially true if you are editing a piece that has a lot of colloquialisms in it.
Fortunately, some colloquialisms have made it into the Webster’s Dictionary, and the rest are out there on the internet somewhere.
Let’s consider the question of if we mean damn fool, damnfool, or damned fool:
According to the Urban Dictionary
- A person who is extremely foolish. Their actions are not only irresponsible to themselves, but can possibly be harmful towards others.
- If a guy tries and talk you out of using a condom, he is a damn fool. (You can’t make this stuff up–you have to go to the internet for it.)
- Did you see that damned fool? He was swerving all over the road. (end quoted text)
And just for fun, lets see what Wiktionary
has to say:
- damn fool (adjective)
- (informal) Contemptibly foolish. (end quoted text)
He was a damned fool.
How I see it:
- He was a damned fool. (I just cursed him to hell.)
- He was a damn fool. (He was contemptibly foolish)
- He did a damnfool thing. (He was contemptibly foolish and I will curse him to hell.)
Now this can be tricky if you are unsure which of these damnfool things the author meant, so this is where I insert a comment asking the author what kind of a damned fool she is writing about.
What other fun little “OMG I have to stop and look this up” things do I play with when I should be working?
- I love looking up Pagan rituals, or indigenous peoples’ religious rituals.
- I love anything to do with history, and exact dates.
- Ooh! Ooh! Let me look it up on a map!
Yep–looking things up is part and parcel of the fun. I’m just not as keen on looking up where to properly place commas–the rules make my head hurt.
So let’s talk commas and where to stick ’em, or better yet, where NOT to stick ’em. I found a wonderful website that has a handy-dandy list of comma don’ts
phrased in simple language that did not make my eyes go numb: The Proper Care & Feeding of Commas.
Improperly installed commas can wreak havoc in a paragraph. This is because they are punctuation: “…the act or practice of inserting standardized marks or signs in written matter to clarify the meaning (of a sentence.)”
(quoted from Google)
Commas are there to separate clauses and to make sentences understandable. Consistently used according to the accepted rules, commas make it so that every English-speaking reader understands what you have written. We don’t put them in to indicate to the reader where we pause or take a breath—everyone pauses and breathes differently and what makes sense to you will not make sense to someone else.
These are the same rules for everyone
, which make our work understandable in Brisbane, Houston, London, Hong Kong or Seattle
. But the rules in the Chicago Manual of Style
(my go-to manual) are often ambiguously phrased and are hard to remember. SO, when checking on simple points, I love this website for a quick list of comma do
s: Your Dictionary: Comma Rules
Dialect and local sayings play a huge part in contemporary work–sometimes I get a piece that was written by a UK author. Perhaps it is an Urban Fantasy and it will have all sorts of words I have never heard of: again, I go to Your Dictionary: Common UK Expressions.
This is also a problem with American dialects and local slangs–the internet is my friend! Texas-talk is “a whole nuther thang”
and sometimes more difficult to follow than Cockney English
: Howdy Get Rowdy
It is an editor’s job to do a certain amount of research whenever a question arises in the manuscript to ensure his comments will help the author clarify ambiguous and hard-to-understand areas. Having fun surfing the internet looking up obscure and interesting facts is just one of the perks!