Thursday, June 26, 2014

Goes without Saying

When you are serving as an editor, hired to edit a manuscript, one of the more persistent actions you perform is to circle a particular word or phrase, use the proofreader's symbol for deletion, then write in the margin, "Goes without saying."

By these actions, you're conveying to the author that she or he does not need the marked matter; the reader will already have seen it.  An exaggerated example for illustrative purposes  of what you might mark under such circumstances is:  "If you come any closer,"  she said menacingly, "I will shoot."  Menacingly is unnecessary. The rest of what "she" said is sufficient to convey the menacing intent.

If "she" were employing irony and we readers knew, for other instance, that the gun in her hand was a kid's squirt gun, you might want to get the fake menace in there.  "If you come any closer,"  she said, her voice a throaty suggestion of menace, "I will shoot."  The difference between the two is actual warning and a playful, sexual tease.

So far as you're concerned, many things--too many, in fact--go without saying.  Because of the writer's inexperience or desire to please the reader, or perhaps even because the writer is so unsure how well things are going, he or she needs to be what actors call "on the nose," or too literal and straightforward.  In yet another possibility, the writer might not trust the reader to grasp the intended meaning.  Were you editing such a situation, you'd draw a circle around the offending matter, then print in the margin, OTN.  On the nose.

Among the conventions for preparing manuscripts for submission, there is the significant one of setting margins of at least an inch on the sides and top and bottom.  Your own preference is an inch-and-a-half, left and right sides.  An inch and a half provides some room for making notes.

Another such note would be a mark or circle at a particular spot with the shorthand "au qy" which most writers understand to mean author query.  Such a "qy" could be anything relating to fact--"on pps 197 and 213, Irene's eyes described as hazel.  They blue here.  She wearing contacts?"   And the potential for a note after a manuscript entry, "she dropped her eyes."  Did they break?

 Or there was another qy of a similar nature, made by the editor on a recent project of yours.  The editor had circled the name of an individual in your ms, then written in the margin, "who he?"  

Meaning the editor did not know who the individual was, and wanted you to add as brief a description of the individual as possible.  Never mind your immediate response on seeing the query being "How could you not know that?"  Instead, you print nicely, and use proofreader symbols to indicate an insertion, "a Civil engineer and U.S. Army officer responsible for the oversight and construction of the Panama Canal."

No help, the awareness that some information is generational and the editor may have just cause to suspect that a contemporary reader would not understand the coded implications in such popular tunes as Cab Calloway's song, "Kicking the Gong Around," or Fats Waller's song, "The Viper's Drag."  The editor would want you to identify Cab Calloway (as Caleb Calloway, 1904--94) and The Gong as a slang term for an opium pipe.  The same editor would want you to identify Fats Waller as  (Thomas W. Waller, 1904--43) and viper as a slang term for a marijuana smoker, emphasized by the play on words of drag as an inhaled breath and a slang term for a dance step).

Editors may want you to explain to the reader something you already know and take for granted that the reader will know.  After all, not just anyone would read your material, would they? And the editor is wanting to make sure that those who do read you know what you're talking about so that they'll read you all the way through to the finish.  

Suppose the writer and the editor disagree?  Depends on when the decision to publish is made.  If questions come up after the agreement to publish, the author is considered right, although most seasoned writers will listen to most seasoned editors.

You've been a dog in both types of fight, the editor/writer dogfight, and the writer/editor set-to.  Most of them have gone well enough, but in each case, you've come away with the metaphorical equivalent of an editorial hangover, which is to say, for the potential au qy to that term, you held a grudge for a day or week or so, until the matter faded.

Your worst grudge as an editor was for a book on cosmetic plastic surgery, written by a genial surgeon, assisted by a self-important and humorless contract writer, who kept questioning your objections to his use of the word "modality," wanting instead to use such synonyms as "sort," "type," and "method."

The contract writer insisted that such publishers as Springer-Verlag, and Elsevier had no issues with such words, whereupon your counter punch, those are scholarly publishers, this book was for a lay audience that would be bored stiff and put off.  That was nearly forty years ago.  A touch of the rankle remains.

Your most recent contretemps with an editor was the use of a title of a composition by Mozart, Eine Kleinenachtmusik, which you argued would not be foreign to a contemporary American audience.  You even offered to translate to A Little Night Music.

As an editor, you like wide margins for just such queries, comments, and observations.  As a writer, you like wide margins because they impart a gravitas to the text, making the text seem as though it were almost in print already.  Although you know better, to some extent you are daring editors to make marks or queries or anything that does not relate to physical design and typography.

Each of you is speaking.

The editor is saying, "Goes without saying."

You are saying, "Goes without edits."



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