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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Amid the seriousness, copy editors do know how to laugh — even at their own mistakes

By Maggie Walter
April 7, 2012 | 4:58 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — From the tsk-tsking of grammarians and no-no's from copy editing chiefs, some might doubt that there can be any fun involved in copy editing.

Not so, folks.

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Books, jokes, anecdotes and incidents abound — some subtle and some laugh-out-loud absurd.

As an example, there's "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss. The title alone warns that the reader's sensibilities are going to be tickled as Truss proceeds with her grammar romp. Of course, it's written from the viewpoint of a "Queen's English" speaker. As that is not what Americans speak, it has a different "colour" than an American book, adding to the fun.

Truss' book brings to mind a joke shared by Liz Brixey, a Missourian city editor:

"Past, present and future walk into a bar.

"Bartender says, 'Wow, it's tense in here.'"

And most copy editing chiefs know this one:

"Where's the best place to hide a $20 bill from a reporter?

"Put it in a stylebook."

(My apology to reporters who indeed use the stylebook, but they do need a lot more company.)

Even corrections can be sources of humor, as Tom Warhover, the Missourian's executive editor, illustrated recently in an email about the editing desk's failure to use the correct spelling of "flier" — yet again. Like many editors, Tom has a pet peeve about the use of "flyer" for "flier."

With Tom's permission, here's that email:

Stomp Out Flyer, Now.

"We at SOFN deplore and condemn the continuing use of "flyer" in articles (in today's Missourian) and journalism school emails. We believe The Associated Press got it right approximately 824 years ago when it declared that "flier" is the correct term for aviators and handbills. 

"Leave Flyer to the sides of little red wagons and Western Union missives.

"Occupy the I now!

"Why? The y is wrong!

"Fliers fly higher!

"Other slogans with exclamation points here!

"Thank you from the SOFN publicity chair.

"P.S.: please do not send this to the Awful Abbreviations and Acronyms publicity chair."

And, as the world works, within the week, there was another story sent to the desk with the misused "flyer." In the overnight note from the desk that is sent to all editors with a recap of the night's work and need-to-know information, I wrote:

"A little flyer tried to sneak by last night again, but we clipped its wings."

I don't know what it is about those words that leads to the misuse, but within the week, yet again, there was another misuse. We'll continue to bring them down to earth.

And from the world of punctuation correctness, there's a flier that offers a bit of humor.

It features the headline, "Punctuation saves lives" over a drawing of an older woman. Below, it offers two scenarios:  

"Let's eat Grandma" or "Let's eat, Grandma."

I'm fairly certain grandma would see the humor in being saved by a comma.

While we can laugh at such errors after the fact, it's certainly not a laughing matter when we miss them in the editing process. That's why we appreciate the participation of our readers in the Show Me the Errors contest.

For March, we had 23 participants who filed a total of 46 corrections. Our stalwart contributor, Jim Terry, had the most submissions with 16 entries.

Derek Boiko-Weyrauch is the winner of the drawing to determine the prize-winner. In a March 11 submission he reminded us that "power" should be "powder" in a photo caption for a Hindu festival.

He'll be receiving a copy of "The Great Typo Hunt" and a Missourian T-shirt. 

To submit a correction, just click on the Show Me the Errors box at the bottom of each article and let us know about the error.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com. In the spirit of full disclosure, one of the worst mistakes I've ever made was a typographical error in a headline about a mission to the moon, which read: "Peace plague left on moon." It's plagued me ever since.