I think my final moments as copy chief at the Advance-Titan should be just like the rest of life’s great moments: filled with GRAMMAR FUN FACTS. These were pretty much the only reason my co-workers come to production nights every week, or really wake up in the morning in general (take my word for it; don’t ask them). I swear, my knowledge bombs are always met with cheers and not groans, which are only like 50% out of sympathy (and 1,000% out of awesomeness).
So, fun fact: “I will have finished the best job ever by the time college ends.” Technically, this is in “future perfect tense,” but did you know that most linguists argue that the future tense doesn’t technically exist in English? When you say “will have,” you’re really just stating a present declaration of futurity. Weird, right? It’s like you’re in the present talking about the past in the future.
That’s my favorite verb form because, for me, it encapsulates human goal-setting. We can’t see what the future holds, so we express our aspirations and anticipate our future selves reflecting on the journey.
I had my “will have” moment as a freshman and baby copy editor at UW-Fox Valley’s former student newspaper when I came across a frustrated Lori Fradkin (now senior editor at TIME) bemoaning the “worst” parts of editing in her article for the Awl, which can be summed up as an airing of grievances on, as she puts it, making “decisions regarding, um, unexplored territory.”
Her example changed my life: is it douchebag or douche SPACE bag? My editing originated as a “search the AP Stylebook for all the answers” affair and less of a problem-solving process, but douchebag changed everything.
Missing from the style guides like all our favorite crassitudes, this slippery little insult eludes all simple reference. Fradkin argued “the word is douche bag. Douche space bag” complete with full-stoppy emphasis, but without definitive authority, the styling remains controversial to this day.
Outside the boundaries of dictionaries and stylebooks, there’s a weird ambiguous world full of unexplored language, and it’s up to editors to puzzle it out with consistency and justification. While this irked Fradkin, I was intrigued, and in that moment, style guides went from mysterious tomes to logical guidelines with audiences and goals. But young me didn’t know whether to do the space, so I vowed that by the time college ended, I’d have figured out douchebag using my applied walking-dictionary knowledge on style guide principles, writing process and language change.
The A-T was huge in getting me there. Each production night brought a new language puzzle my way, and I can’t tell you how exhilarating it is to catch a stealth typo or make a calculated editorial choice in the face of uncertainty.
But the most important lesson I learned is that a good copy chief is nothing without a great copy desk, and I got to work with the best group ever. Seriously, you’re all awesome and I’m amazed how much you’ve developed as editors this semester. The A-T wouldn’t be where it is without your valuable editorial insights, hard work and memes. You all have great futures ahead of you!
Also, I want to thank our previous copy chief, Frankie. I’m not a natural leader, but your management style on desk was hugely inspiring, and my process is usually “What would Frankie do? + grammar quiz MVPs wear a WIZARD HAT.”
Jack Tyranny, you’re the calculated take-no-prisoners kind of leader this publication needed. Leo, I’m looking forward to you becoming the next Roger Ebert, but you’ve gotta get there fast because retirement age is coming up soon. Ethan, I bet you’ll be a really good editor-in-chief this spring, but you’ll never convince me that a hot dog is a sandwich. Joe, thank you for leaving copy desk. That was a trainwreck and you had to be stopped. Plus, you ended up being a great managing editor instead.
And for the record, my education is complete: the word is douchebag. Douche no space bag.
Fite me, Lori Fradkin.