About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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The best friend of a nation is he who faithfully rebukes her for her sins — and her worst enemy, who, under the specious and popular garb of patriotism, seeks to excuse, palliate, and defend them.

Frederick Douglass



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 6/15/2018

Totals
Posts - 2502
Comments - 2574
Hits - 2,056,522

Averages
Entries/day - 0.46
Comments/entry - 1.03
Hits/day - 376

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 9:13 AM Pacific


  01:22 PM

A little Friday fun. Years ago I read the book The Years With Ross by James Thurber, which is a memoir about working in the early days of the New Yorker magazine under its original editor, Harold Ross. In the book, Thurber reproduces a list created by Wolcott Gibbs that attempted to set down some guidelines for editing the various authors who contributed to the magazine. Although the list was intended for a specific time and about a specific set of authors, a lot of it seems to apply to many editorial contexts.

Herewith a few of the more memorable pieces of advice.
The average contributor to this magazine is semi-literate; that is, he is ornate to no purpose, full of senseless and elegant variations, and can be relied on to use three sentences where a word would do. It is impossible to lay down any exact and complete formula for bringing order out of this underbrush, but there are a few general rules.

1. Writers always use too damn many adverbs. On one page recently I found eleven modifying the verb "said." "He said morosely, violently, eloquently, so on." Editorial theory should probably be that a writer who can't make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work.

[...]

6. See our Mr. Weekes on the use of such words as "little," "vague," "confused," "faintly," "all mixed up," etc. etc. The point is that the average New Yorker writer, unfortunately influenced by Mr. Thurber, has come to believe that the ideal New Yorker piece is about a vague, little man helplessly confused by a menacing and complicated civilization.

[...]

15. Mr. Weekes has got a long list of banned words, beginning with "gadget." Ask him. It's not actually a ban, there being circumstances when they're necessary, but good words to avoid.

[...]

19. Drunkenness and adultery present problems. As far as I can tell, writers must not be allowed to imply that they admire either of these things, or have enjoyed them personally, although they are legitimate enough when pointing a moral or adorning a sufficiently grim story.

20. The more "As a matter of facts," "howevers," "for instances," etc. etc. you can cut, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven.

[...]

25. On the whole, we are hostile to puns.

26. How many of these changes can be made in copy depends, of course, to a large extent on the writer being edited. By going over the list, I can give a general idea of how much nonsense each artist will stand for.

[...]

29. Some of our writers are inclined to be a little arrogant about their knowledge of the French language. Probably best to put them back into English if there is a common English equivalent.

[...]

31. Try to preserve an author's style if he is an author and has a style.

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