Forgo and Forego
Posted by June on July 24, 2017


I don't know if I've ever seen anyone use the word forego correctly. Most of the time, it's used to mean "to do without," as in, "He'll have to forego using his washing machine for a week." They wanted to write forgo. But instead they chose a word that is at best a "variant" spelling of the word they wanted.

The past tense of forego—forwent—crops up from time to time. The male pioneers forewent the women and children settlers. But that's pretty rare, too. 

For the record, unless you want to settle for the variant spelling, the word that means to do without is forgo. No E. With an E, forego means to go before—a job we usually just give to precede.

Passive Voice: It's Not What You've Been Told
Posted by June on July 17, 2017

A few weeks ago, one of the copy editors in my social media feed stumbled across a blog post by a writing coach offering tips and insights about passive voice and when and how to avoid it.

Here are the examples the writing expert offered. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” “The noise was terrifying.” The verb structure “was walking.” Sentences beginning with “it was” or “there were.” And “she made her way.”

My online editor friends had a field day. You see, none of those examples is passive. Here's my recent column explaining where the blogger went wrong.

The Things Copy Editors Notice
Posted by June on July 10, 2017
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An editing error in this paragraph from a CNN story a few weeks ago caught my eye.

“DHS’ acting Director of Cyber Division of the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Samuel Liles, said that by late September, the intelligence community concluded that 21 states ‘were potentially targeted by Russian government-linked cyber actors’ with scanning of Internet-connected election systems.”

In all fairness, I should say that the error might not be an error in every editing style. But I still say it was the wrong call. Here's my column that explains what I mean.


New York Times Copy Editors on the Chopping Block
Posted by June on July 3, 2017


New York Times reporters and other staff members staged a walkout recently to protest deep cuts to the paper's copy editing staff. I was touched by the gesture.

Copy editors spend their days picking apart writers' work. It's our job to be a thorn in their sides, nitpicking everything from missing commas to badly written sentences (that we're not shy about labeling badly written). We ask all kinds of deliberately stupid questions to highlight the holes in their stories. As someone who's been on both sides of the process, I can tell you how annoying it is when an editor asks you to check a name spelling in a story you've already forgotten about in your rush to meet your next deadline.

But, of course, we're all on the same team—working to assure that the finished product is the best it can be. And, of course, writers appreciate copy editors' contributions.


"As a journalist, I've been saved by my copy editors many, many times," Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine who took part in the walkout, told CNN. "They play a critical role in the newsroom."

Nice to hear.