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Looking for lint | COMMENTARY

No dispute: We copy editors are lint-pickers.

It is our job to follow writers and their editors and clean up afterward, because when you are forging the uncreated conscience you’re not likely to be careful about the details.

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We do that because the details, in aggregate, amount to something.

We sigh when we read “She is 10-years-old.” You hyphenate a compound adjective when it comes before the word modified, not after. “She is a 10-year-old girl” or “She is 10 years old.” We don’t much care which you choose.

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We flinch when we see someone called “straight-laced.” It is strait-laced, as in “tight.” You have to think of Scarlett O’Hara being installed in her corset and demanding to be cinched tighter.

We shake our heads when someone writes that a man is a “confidante.” When we lifted the word from the French for someone privy to our personal matters, we kept French usage: confidant for a man, confidante for a woman. If you are tempted to write “close confidant” for someone who is already close, do not go there.

We tut-tut when we see that someone has been awarded a “master’s” upon graduation. That might do for casual conversation, but it is a “master’s degree” in writing for publication. And when we see “a masters,” we purse our lips.

While we are handing out diplomas, the Associated Press Stylebook says, quite rightly in our view, that the names of academic degrees are capitalized. If you have earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (not “a bachelor’s or, God above, “a bachelors”), you’re entitled to see it uppercased.

This is a sampling of lint I have plucked from my employer’s newspaper over a few days, along with “of of,” the name of the subject of an article spelled two ways, and commas where no comma has gone before.

Each item is, you may say, picky and trivial, but the more lint you have on your sleeve and lapel, the less presentable you are in public. 

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