Four-frame cartoon. Frame 1: Male character holding coffee mug says to bespectacled editor, "What are you working on?" She replies, "A blog post about how people are styling 'COVID-19'." Frame 2: She continues, "Most outlets are using the hyphen now, but I'm seeing a lot of en dashes and a handful of em dashes. There are even some people using—heh—SPACED EM DASHES! Can you believe it?" Frame 3: Male character stares at her, unspeaking. Frame 4: He says, "Is this really the most pressing issue right now?" And she replies, "Look—I'm feeling helpless and desperately need to justify the existence of my profession, OK?"

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This month’s cartoon is a bit of an experiment. I got an iPad to replace my decrepit laptop and am trying an all-digital workflow for the first time. I’m, uh, not thrilled with these results, but I didn’t have the time to redo it. I’ll keep trying until I figure out something that will work. I haven’t imported my custom fonts to the device yet, so this cartoon is a throwback to the days when I hand-lettered all the dialogue. (Maybe that’s why the whole thing looks amateurish—well, especially amateurish—to me. I hope you’ll forgive me!)

Anyway, what inspired this cartoon were conversations I saw among editors on social media, where a few of us wondered: As we face an existential threat and a massive shift in how we live and function, does it really matter if a compound is open, hyphenated, or closed?

Nitpicking about commas and applying house style seem like such trivial undertakings in the grand scheme of things, especially when compared with what essential service workers do. It’s easy to feel useless and even expendable, particularly when some clients are cancelling projects because of the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.

But what these recent weeks have highlighted for me is that clear and accurate communication is more important than ever. We have the skills to help public health officials, health researchers, and policy makers get critical information to people who need it and, importantly, to strike the right tone.

This crisis is an excellent reminder that editing is about improving communication, not mindlessly applying rules. We have an opportunity to reassess how we approach a text and separate the edits that help the message reach its audience more effectively from those that do nothing other than uphold arcane notions of language, feed our ego, or waste our time.

Poor communication excludes, and when we all have to solve a problem together, we can’t afford to exclude anyone.

Thank you for coming back month after month! I’m grateful I still have a way to connect with colleagues even though I’ll miss seeing you at the Editors Canada conference this year. I wish you all good health.

11 thoughts on “COVID-19”

  1. Thanks for this, Iva. Gave me a much needed smile to start my day! Hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy. xoxox

  2. I agree with you completely, Iva. As editors, let’s concentrate on the big important issues, not fuss over the minutiae.

  3. I think the cartoon is great, and if it’s “amateurish,” you couldn’t prove it by me. And I completely agree with your blog post.

  4. I don’t mean to be a douche, but the hand position of the guy on the left could be misinterpreted. I read somewhere about a rule of editing, something along the lines of ‘could it be misinterpreted by a 14 year-old boy?’…

  5. No, really. I saw a sentence where “COVID-19” had been given a spaced em dash, and I honestly read “COVID” as the complete noun and “19” as the subject of a new clause. Not a big deal, but a small misread.

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