Today in copyediting

23 Nov

One thing that I like is The New Yorker. I think it’s a great magazine. I subscribe to it and I read it cover to cover every week. I don’t read the New York cultural listings at the front and sometimes I skim the theater/dance/movie reviews, but other than that I read it all.

The New Yorker is famous for its fussy and particular house style. This is one of my favorite things about the magazine. I think I’m a lot more conscientious about grammar and usage than most people, and I like that The New Yorker makes it such an emphasis and is so willing to eschew convention to do things the way they think are correct.

The New Yorker used to be much more fussy and particular. The magazine hewed very closely to Fowler’s Modern English Usage and had a woman who “Fowlerized” pieces for publication. Apparently many famous fiction writers would re-edit their own stories when they were published in collections because they didn’t like the way that the magazine treated their punctuation and such. I think that has waned some, but there are still some giveaways that you’re reading The New Yorker. Coördinate instead of coordinate. Vender instead of vendor. The New York Times instead of The New York Times.

One of the more common grammar/usage quirks in the magazine is the British way they spell suffixes. Travelled instead of traveled, for example. I notice this most often in the word focus. Focussed, focussing, etc. This is present in some form in most issues. Last week, focussed appeared in a way that stood out. It appeared three times in an article about education policy. One of these was in a quotation from another publication. Not a spoken quote, but a transcription. The sentence in question:

A Harvard University study concluded that “achievement rose when leadership teams focussed thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”

There’s no citation of the study so I couldn’t look it up, but I guarantee that no one who publishes academic education studies uses “focussed”. And this is a direct quote from the study. The New Yorker retroactively edited another publication to fit its house style. That’s amazing to me. There’s no [sic] or note. They just threw in an extra s like it was no big deal.

I’m kind of in awe of that. “Fuck you, Harvard professors who are published in academic journals. This is how we do things.” What a bunch of badasses. One more reason to like The New Yorker.

One Response to “Today in copyediting”


  1. The New Yorker: August 5, 2013 | The Pensive Years - August 7, 2013

    […] from a British source, which uses “Mrs Thatcher”, with no period, as per UK convention. I’ve noted in the past that TNY changes quotes to fit its house style, interesting decision here to leave it […]

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