Author Archives: Steve Dunham

About Steve Dunham

A writer and editor living in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and author of The Editor’s Companion

Real Quotations: Einstein’s revered name

A new quote on my website with a picture of the source:

“Some people think that Albert Einstein’s name is magical. If they want to convince you of something or sell you something they invoke his revered name to prove that a genius agrees with whatever proposition they are peddling.”

—In a question submitted to the Quote Investigator, Oct. 31, 2011

Steve’s Hall of Shame: It’s Protection, Buster*

Customs and Border Protection. This caption appeared on U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Flickr page.

Don’t let this happen to you: As my editorial checklist says (and yours should say it too): Check repeated information. If the agency’s name is given in two places, is the name the same? That sentence didn’t need two periods at the end either. Further advice for all employees, not just editors: memorize the name of your employer.


* “Steve’s Hall of Shame” is what one writer called my collection of bloopers. I decided to keep the name.

Real Quotations

I have a new feature on my website: Real Quotations—quotations I’ve come across with pictures of their sources. (Actually, so far there is only one, but I plan to add more soon.)

As an editor, I spend a lot of time trying to verify quotations. Sometimes the author provides a source, making my job easy. At the other extreme, an author may provide a dead hyperlink or nothing at all. There are numerous “quotations” websites, most of them unreliable: you can find five versions of the same alleged quotation and little to help you verify it. (An exception is Bartlett’s, an old, public-domain version of which is online at Library Spot.)

So I decided to start posting good quotations I find, but I don’t expect other editors to have total confidence in my transcribing ability, so with each quotation, I’m posting a picture of the quotation itself and of the title page so that the primary source is there too.

The first one is a quotation I came across last year, from the Rev. Neil Pezzulo: “Even though my influence may be limited, it is not irrelevant.”

Hiking trial

A hiking trial? Sounds like a grueling hike. This caption was in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance–Star on Feb. 23, 2017.

Don’t let this happen to you: Maintain a list of “bad words”—words that probably shouldn’t be in your documents but that a spellchecker won’t catch. Search for these words as part of copyediting. Trail happens to be in my own list but in reverse: that is, trial is more likely to appear in the work I edit, and trail is more likely to be a typo.

Be nice to authors

Copyediting.com has a new post, “The 3 Essential Elements of Author Queries” (the elements are tone, specificity, and tact). It’s well worth reading. As an editor and author I still have room for improvement. I often edit pieces that are missing important information, but I also sometimes leave out important information myself. For example, I wrote a piece for the company newsletter about women’s history and, after referring to Clara Barton’s local connection, noted that March is also Red Cross month. The corporate communications guy politely pointed out that I never mentioned that March is women’s history month. He suggested a correction, and I give him A’s for tone, specificity, and tact.

In my book The Editor’s Companion, I quoted Liz Dexter’s post on being edited on her LibroEditing blog. Her main points:

  1. Try to build trust first of all
  2. Remain kind
  3. Understand that when the client asks a question, sometimes they just need reassurance that they’re not stupid or rubbish at writing
  4. Make sure I praise as well as criticise

I noted that I was still working on those things. I still am, though I hope I’ve gotten better. I highly recommend reading her whole post.

Steve’s Hall of Shame:* A decadent headline

p>No, 50 years is not half a decade, it’s half a century.

Or is decade going the way of decimate? A lot of people now use decimate to mean not “reduce by a tenth” but “reduce by a lot.” Does decade no longer mean “ten years” but “a lot of years”? I’m just kidding. I hope this doesn’t happen to decade. And what would half of a lot be anyway?

It reminds me of Chico Marx in The Cocoanuts explaining to Groucho why a real estate lot is too much: “Sometimes you no got enough, it’s too much, you gotta whole lot. Sometimes you got a little bit. You no think it’s enough, somebody else maybe thinks itsa too much, itsa whole lot too. Now, itsa whole lot, itsa too much, itsa too much, itsa whole lot … same thing.”

Decade, decimate, itsa whole lot, same thing.

This was in the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance–Star on Jan. 26, 2017.

Don’t let this happen to you: This didn’t need an editor to catch it. It just needed somebody who was paying attention.


* “Steve’s Hall of Shame” is what one writer called my collection of bloopers. I decided to keep the name.

Backing up tracked changes

Sometimes I want to see the tracked changes in Microsoft Word even when the author doesn’t. One writer has high confidence in my copy editing and wants to see only the changes that could alter the meaning from what he intended. He doesn’t want me to track my corrections of his punctuation, subject-verb agreement, or spelling.

However, sometimes I want to see those changes, especially if the document comes back revised. I may want to see where I corrected a name because I looked it up or where I made changes for consistency. Also, sometimes I do make errors in editing, and I want to go back and look at the editing and find out where I went wrong.

My solution is to work with a file that I label “markup.” It has all my tracked content changes. I save it for future reference, and then I save it with “edit” instead of “markup” in the file name. In the “edit” file, I go through and accept all the changes the author doesn’t want to see, leaving only the queries and the edits that could affect the meaning.

This method is acceptable, but if you have a better one, please post a comment and tell us about it.