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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sometimes Even Editors Should Use a Dictionary

At the writers' meeting last Saturday, I chatted with some authors whose editors ask them to change words in their stories because those editors didn't know the word. I've had that happen to me. I have spent most of my life near water. Once an editor judging a contest complained about my use of the word bulkhead. 

"What is that?" she wrote on the manuscript. (This was back in the old days of paper manuscripts.) This upset me because the word is in the dictionary and it's a very important word to know if you're living by an ocean or a river--where you will see a lot of bulkheads. 

In the discussion on Saturday, one author noted that using the proper terminology is important to the book and especially pertinent to the setting of the book. The main characters would be aware of the names of things and places proper to that place--the vocabulary of the area.

When I wrote Daddy Wanted, my editor questioned me about my use of the word DUMBO. The book is set in New York City and everyone in New York City knows where DUMBO is. I've been to DUMBO. Wikipedia says, "Dumbo, also known as DUMBO, is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. 'Dumbo' is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass."

My editor lives in Canada, but she's a very good and reasonable editor. When I explained that DUMBO is the well-known name of a specific area in NYC, she allowed me to keep the word in the book. 

Any editor has a tough job, which I don't envy. If there are 80,000 words in a book, the editor has to pore over each and every one of those words.

But sometimes, just like the rest of us, if an editor sees a word she doesn't know, she should look it up in the dictionary or on the internet. If the word is part of the jargon of a particular place, the word should stay in the book. At least, that's my opinion. :-)

What do you think?


Amy Valentini said...

As a writer and an editor, I would be lost without a dictionary and a thesaurus. If you work with words, you need both. Part of the job of an editor is to fact check and make sure the author is using the correct word and using it correctly. I agree with you wholeheartedly, even editors should use a dictionary. Good post. :-)

Penelope Marzec said...



Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I've re-edited for a number of clients who've hired Google-phobic editors prior to working with me. In fact, it's one of my favorite parts of the job because I get to learn things. Like that DUMBO comes up #3 on my Google search. (and what it is; that's a new one to me, and I was almost a New Yorker.)

I remain horrified that anyone would send money to someone not willing to go that extra mile for their clients.

Penelope Marzec said...


Thanks for stopping by. :-)

It doesn't take much time to look something up on the internet nowadays. It is important!