Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mary Norris

Mary Norris began working at The New Yorker in 1978. Originally from Cleveland, she now lives in New York.

Her new book is Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.

From her Q & A with Marian Ryan for Salon:

Your profanity chapter is full of hilarious examples of language writers are competing to get into the magazine. One piece by Ben McGrath debuted “bros before hos” in the New Yorker, creating a spelling dilemma with “hos”—hmm, I see that Webster’s gives the plural of “ho” as either “hos” or “hoes.” Where do you turn if it’s not in the dictionaries of record?

When a word is not in Webster’s or Random House, I will look online. There are many dictionaries of slang, but you have to choose your source carefully. One of our sources is the New York Times, but of course it’s no good for profanity! One feels so silly looking up “jism,” say (though there are variant spellings), and even sillier querying it. You try to find a respectable source for the profanity, and it is a bit of a challenge. Rap lyrics, especially.

You once had a dialogue with James Salter probing his somewhat-unusual use of commas. He had clear, if idiosyncratic, reasons for his choices. There’s something very personal about punctuation choices and a person’s particular syntax.

Yes, James Salter was incredibly generous and patient in his explanations, and I was touched by how important those distinctions are to him. Punctuation can work like gesture, and it’s very individual. So is syntax—that’s style, and it’s a reflection of personality.

What makes for a good copy editor?

If there’s a combination that makes an ideal copy editor it’s high intelligence and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue