Monkey news

by Matt Ruff on November 7, 2006

Over the weekend, I received the preliminary cover art for the Bad Monkeys dustjacket. Ain’t he pretty?

Also, about a week ago I finished vetting the copyedited edition of the manuscript. For those of you not familiar with the publishing process, copyediting is the step where very meticulous people go over the text looking for grammar, usage, and spelling errors. A lot of writers hate this, but I always find it interesting. Among the highlights:

Rules changes. Since the last time I did this, the University of Chicago Press released a new edition of the copyeditor’s Bible, The Chicago Manual of Style. Among the more puzzling style changes: the abbreviations “a.m.” and “p.m.”, which used to be set in small capital letters (“A.M.” and “P.M.”), are now to be set in lowercase letters (although the C.M.o.S. does acknowledge that a lot of folks will continue to do it the old way). Who decides this stuff?

Fun with alternative spellings. Because I’m an obsessive spellchecker, I don’t have a lot of misspelled words in my manuscripts, but I do use a number of alternative spellings—spellings that, while not technically wrong, are regarded as nonstandard. For example, I used to spell “gray” with an “e,” until I got tired of copyeditors asking me if I really meant to do it that way. The big one this time was “ax,” which I’d also been spelling with an “e” — e.g., “axe-wielding clown.” I think this particular spelling is a side effect of playing lots of word games, since “axe” is a great way to get rid of a difficult consonant and/or dispose of extra vowels.

Style, meet IP law. Brand names that are registered trademarks are generally supposed to be capitalized—so it’s “a Xerox copy,” not “a xerox copy.” This particular style rule is a big deal to trademark owners, who can lose their trademark if a word falls into generic, lowercase usage. That’s how Bayer lost the exclusive rights to “aspirin” and how B.F. Goodrich lost “zipper.”
From a writer’s perspective, the rule can be somewhat annoying. I’m cool with capitalizing “Xerox,” because there’s a reasonable generic alternative, “photocopy.” This is not always the case. In Bad Monkeys, there are a number of references to “dumpsters.” It turns out “Dumpster” is a registered trademark as well, and thus in theory should be capitalized, but in this case, the trademark term is also the generic term—everyone I know uses the word “dumpster” to refer to any big wheeled metal trash bin, regardless of who manufactured it.

The French language continues to vex me. I was twenty years old before I figured out that hors d’oeuvres—a term I’d seen written many times but had never heard anyone say—and “orderbs” —a word I’d heard spoken many times but had never seen spelled out on a page—were in fact two halves of the same whole. Mind you, I’d known all along that they meant the same thing, but somehow it just never clicked that, duh, hors d’oeuvres is pronounced “orderbs” (feeling my way phonetically, I’d always thought it was “whore’s devours”).
Going over the Bad Monkeys manuscript, there was an exclamation, “Walla!”, that bothered me. The automated spellchecker passed it, but when I doublechecked the dictionary, it was listed as an alternate spelling of “wallah,” an Anglo-Indian word for “a person who performs a particular service,” which is not what I meant at all. So I thought about a while, until—voila!—the lightbulb went on.

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