Day 158: Tart notes to copyeditors

Raymond Chandler, according to Benjamin Dreyer in Dreyer’s English, once wrote a note to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly regarding his recent experience with one of the magazine’s copyeditors:

By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.

Over and out.


Any writer or editor with the sense God gave a goat will endorse the value and defend the honor of copyeditors and always address them with the utmost civility. Except for those times when the copyeditor has subjugated all aesthetic sense and creative latitude to the merciless manual of style.

In many of his sentences, the late Brian Doyle would lay out a long line of adjectives with nary a comma in sight. Brian was a lifelong student of fine prose and a writer in full control of his art and craft, but an editor once returned a proof with one comma insertion after another, new commas by the half-dozen. Brian knew what he was after with his quirky lack of punctuation, and for a brief spell marked each instance with STET, the proofreading mark that scribbled next to a change by the editor means “never mind, ignore my edit here,” and when applied by the author means “no, leave that as I wrote it, thank you very much.” After five or six individual STETs, Brian, normally a gentle and courteous soul, wrote in an angry scrawl at the top of the page “STET FUCKING STET!!”

I always favor and counsel good manners. Except when a bit of rudeness is delivered with such literary flare.