God isn't bland. The Church shouldn't be, either.
Friday Four: Ways to frustrate* a copy editor

1. Abuse apostrophes

I used to subscribe to the RSS feed of the website Apostrophe Abuse, but it got pretty depressing seeing image after horrible image of the poor defenseless apostrophe being misused and abused. If you’re looking to abuse your copy editor, be sure to add an apostrophe to “its” when using it as a possessive (if it can’t be rewritten as “it is” don’t do it). Also be sure to add an apostrophe to things like CDs, 1990s, the plural of your last name (mine would be “the Ralphs”) and words that have no business including an apostrophe like every word but two in this paragraph.

2. Use more than one space after a period

Hitting the space bar twice after a period is a practice that, like the fax machine, refuses to die. It had a purpose that I won’t bore you with back when typewriters were used for more than creating a viral video and decoration, but as technology writer Farhad Manjoo so eloquently put it in his wildly popular Slate article, it is “totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” It’s also pretty ugly, especially when more than one space is three or four spaces. (It is, however, kind of fun to do find and replace in a Word document and see it register a really large number of replacements like say 256).

3. Capitalize words that aren’t proper nouns

Capitalizing “him” when referring to Jesus and words like Bible and Word are perfectly acceptable in church work even if it is nerve-wracking for a coworker who has the AP style guide next to the Bible on his bookshelf. Upper-casing run of the mill words is anything but. Capitalizing words at will is a no more effective way of capturing attention than putting multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence is. The caps lock button should be removed from the keyboards of anyone who doesn’t have Adobe InDesign on their computer. Of course, different style guides disagree on capitalization, but a good rule of thumb is to think of capital letters like you do (or at least should – see Eric’s post) ice cream. Ask yourself if it’s a good idea to have it three nights in a row.

4. Liberally use redundant phrases like “free-will offering,” “gather together” and “9 a.m. in the morning;” oxymorons like “first annual” “all alone” and cliches like “outside the box” and “state-of-the-art”

Whenever I read the phrase free-will offering, I get an image in my head of a guy with a semi-automatic rifle walking into a church fellowship hall and demanding the offering plates be passed before grace is said over the potluck meal. Since scenarios like this are, fortunately, not common place, the idea of an offering being one where you give freely is widespread enough that the word offering will do. The same goes for phrases that are either an oxymoron that can utterly confound any non-native speakers of English (here’s a list) or common redundancies that are okay to speak but add weight to copy.

P.S. While I’m nitpicking, please post any grammatical mistakes or typos you find in this blog post in the comments below.

* Depending on the copy editor, “frustrate” could also mean “excite” because we all know copy editors like to play the part of grammar superhero. For an extreme example of this, see the book Great Typo Hunt.

Matthew RalphToday’s post was written by Matt Ralph. Matt is the Communications Coordinator at Hempfield UMC. He’s also a part of Creative Missions. Matt likes to read books (dead-tree ones), watch/play soccer, and blog over at matthewralph.com. Matt and his wife, Sara, reside in Lancaster, PA.
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  1. Chuck Scoggins (Reply) on November 4th, 2011

    Note to self:
    Have Matt proof-read all of my MediaSalt posts before they go live.

  2. [...] HERE to read my post. Elsewhere, Grammar ← Will they know us for our outdated [...]

  3. Jonathan (Reply) on November 4th, 2011

    Since you asked for it, this sentence could use some commas.

    (It is, however, kind of fun to do find and replace in a Word document and see it register a really large number of replacements like say 256).

    I would suggest, “…replacements – like, say, 256.”

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