Just Curious

Please state the answer in the form of a question... Just Curious is the occassional blog of Andrew Nelson. In an attempt to balance the polemical tone of most of the blogosphere, all entries hope to pose at least one useful question. Many entries simply advance useful memes. Personal entries may abandon the interrogative conceit.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

what do we call this error, and how to stop it?

(I recognize that this is the first post in some time... well, these things happen.)

In today's Tribune: "But critics have complained about the powers it gives to police invade the privacy of citizens."

This one isn't the best examples of an error inserted by a copy editor -- this one might just be a typo. I'll make up a better example. Let's say the original copy was

"The independent counsel hopes to launch an investigation into the practice."

It would not be uncommon to see a copy editor accidentally change this to:

"The independent counsel hopes to an investigate the practice."

or, a more subtle error:

"The independent counsel hopes to investigate into the practice."

(Of course the ideal is "The indepdent counsel hopes to investigate the practice.")

There are probably better examples than the one I just gave, better in the sense that they show the sort of errors that precede from *good* (or at least well-intentioned) copyediting. Bad editors introduce errors of fact and grammar all the time, but a good editor trying to make things tighter will sometimes forget to tie up a loose end when shortening a phrase and make it go from verbose to just plain wrong.

We might be able to borrow some useful terminology from medicine. "Malpractice" is when doctors fail to do their duty toward science, ethics or the law (Mary, if you're reading this -- wasn't there a time when I said all knowledge could be sorted into those categories?). But there are also "complications," or to use a somewhat broader term, "iatrogenic disease," which is intended to include any health hazard that proceeds from the biomedical system. Is there a term, perhaps following the model of "iatrogenic," that we could use for the kind of errors sometimes introduced by *good* copyediting? Iatros is Greek for doctor... I doubt there's an equivalent for "editor" but we could even use something like "watcher."

As for how to prevent such errors -- well, some will argue that no good copy editor never makes them, but I see them in newspapers all the time. From my limited experience, I would recommend quickly reading every piece aloud to yourself before sending it on to the next tier of editors. I usually caught one or two small errors that way, and it made it easier on the *real* copy editors.