‘Night eyes’: Copy editors share the rules they can’t unsee

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Keira Lee/Staff

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After you get trained as a copy editor at The Daily Californian, it becomes virtually impossible to stop copy editing everything and anything you read. 

It starts off innocently enough. You find yourself replacing “last” with “past” in a text, adding spaces between em dashes in your problem set instructions. Nothing serious. Then you find yourself deleting an Oxford comma in an essay. You look at your hands and wonder what the night department has done to you. This, my friend, is what we Daily Cal copy editors like to call “night eyes.”

Think I’m exaggerating? Read on to learn what rules current and former copy editors just can’t shake.

Maia Alviar, projects editor, hired summer 2019: “That” versus “which.” No matter where I am or what I’m reading, spotting a misused “which” in a defining clause never fails to trigger “Kill Bill” sirens in my mind. This error definitely didn’t bother me before I became a copy editor, but now it’s the one mistake I notice right away.

Jenny Lee, staff representative, hired summer 2019: There are so many minor, nuanced style rules that have leaked over into my everyday writing that I previously would never have given a second thought to. For example, “toward” instead of “towards,” “more than” instead of “over” and “such as” instead of “like.” Also, prior to becoming a copy editor, I was a staunch defender of the Oxford comma, but now, I’m not so sure where I stand (there are such good arguments for both, and I’ve alternated between the two options in my own writing).

Allison Kennedy, social media copy chief, hired fall 2019: Although the rule has since changed, Daily Cal style in 2019 was to never use “however” as a solo transition word at the beginning of a sentence. It used to be my go-to conjunctive adverb to start sentences, but now I can’t stand it.

In Daily Cal style, we use the word “about” instead of “around” to indicate estimates. For example, there can be about eight people in line, but never around eight people in line. I hear people say “around” when estimating something all the time and I can’t stop noticing it, even though switching the two words frequently doesn’t change the meaning of a sentence at all.

Jocelyn Huang, managing editor, hired fall 2019: There are the tiny things, such as using “such as” instead of “like,” “more than” instead of “over” and “about” instead of “around.” But the biggest rules that have wormed themselves into my brain are that entities are singular and dangling modifiers are a no-no. I knew these rules before becoming a copy editor (I might’ve even mentioned one in my interview), but I never paid much mind to them. Arguably the most common grammatical errors I’ve seen as a copy editor, dangling modifiers and the use of plural pronouns for singular entities now make me wince, whether I see them in an article or on Twitter.

Jordan Harris, deputy opinion editor, hired fall 2019: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to unsee incorrect apostrophes. It’s kind of fitting, though, because in response to the favorite punctuation mark question during my copy editor interview, I told the night editors that I liked the apostrophe. The reason? I essentially gave a nonanswer: They’re often used incorrectly. The real reason? In my nervous state, it was the first thing that came to mind, or technically, the second: The applicant who was interviewing with me said hers was the exclamation point — my initial answer — so I, of course, couldn’t copy her (no pun intended). But a few semesters later, the apostrophe is definitely more than an afterthought in my mind, especially when it comes to abbreviations and plurals. I might even go as far as saying it really is my favorite punctuation mark. 

Rachel Lee, deputy social media editor, hired spring 2020: I can never unsee the like/such as rule — whenever I’m about to use the word “like,” my brain forces me to evaluate whether or not I can swap it out with “such as.” I’ve noticed this has helped me eliminate using “like” as a filler word!

Being a copy editor has also introduced me to the punctuation beauty that is the em dash. I’ve found that it has made my writing more colloquial — if I’m unsure of how to end a sentence, I automatically default to using an em dash. In fact, I have to actively remind myself to not use more than 1 in a span of a paragraph!

Annie Lin; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee chair; hired summer 2020: “More than” instead of “over”!

Bryan Hernandez Benitez, spring 2021 opinion copy co-chief, hired fall 2020: Definitely that there’s no “s” at the end of toward, it was always on my feedback when I’d get seconded. But now I always check for it in my own writing and when editing others.

Juliet Pooler, deputy night editor, hired fall 2020: Oh man. Oxford commas, over versus more than, since versus like, numbers in headlines, toward versus towards, avoiding “new” and “recent,” sentence case in headlines and even if there are AP inconsistencies in emails we can’t fix them. Which drives me crazy. But it’s OK. It’s fine. 

Stella Kotik, night editor, hired fall 2020: I think the biggest rule that’s infiltrated my everyday life is how we use the “American” version of words such as “towards,” “amongst” and “amidst.” I literally can’t write “toward” with an “s” anymore, and I even cut the “s” off when I say it verbally.

Runners-up include not hyphenating between “non” and anything that doesn’t start with an “n” or a capital letter and saying “such as” instead of “like.”

Adriana Temprano, copy editor, hired summer 2021: Omitting the Oxford comma is a consistent habit I have developed just from beginning my time at the Daily Cal. Prior to becoming a copy editor, I would always use it in my general writing for English courses. However, since then, I have left it out of most of my pieces even outside of the newspaper editing.

Contact Maia Alviar at [email protected].