Rock. Copy editor. Hard place.
One of my greatest dreads as a copy editor is that I will change something to make it wrong. Introducing an error trashes the copy editor’s oath, which is “First, don’t screw it up yourself.” (I just made that up. Don’t bother googling.)
But what happens when in making it right–that is, changing something to conform with Associated Press style or to agree with the first-listed dictionary spelling–you have to spell something in a way most people think is wrong?
My colleague Bev Meyer said she feels that way every time she replaces “advisor” with “adviser” or “protestor” with “protester,” as required by AP style. Lest you think AP is wedded to the -er ending when most readers and writers would prefer -or, there’s the example of “impostor.” It is correctly spelled with the -or ending, but I frequently see it written “imposter,” with an -er ending. I have to change it even though I know it will look wrong to many readers.
A related problem came up last night when I was proofreading a page. This one involved pluralizing the surname Nyerges. The story (it’s on C5 in today’s paper) was about Warren and Maureen Nyerges, who paid cash for a Naples, Fla., house in a foreclosure sale. The bank that sold them the foreclosed house messed up the paperwork, then turned around and foreclosed on Warren and Maureen, who didn’t even have a mortgage.
Only, we can’t just call them “Warren and Maureen,” as if they were our best pals.
The wire story referred to them as “the Nyerges.” Well, that’s wrong. Warren or Maureen, referred to individually, is Nyerges on second reference. But when you’re referring to two related people with the same last name, you’re supposed to add “s” or “es.” The Smiths. The Joneses. (Not “the Jones” or, God forbid, “the Jone’s.”)
So the correct construction here would have been “the Nyergeses.” And you can see how bad that looks.
I took the easy way out, or so I thought.
Original: “Eventually, the Nyerges found Allen.” My version: “Eventually, the couple found Allen.”
But damned if I didn’t miss one.
“After the moving company and sheriff’s deputies get their share, the Nyerges should receive the rest of the money this week.”
That’s wrong. The Nyergeses should receive the money. The couple should receive the money. Not the Nyerges.
On the other hand, if most readers think “the Nyerges” is correct, how bad is this mistake, really? OK, pretty bad.
And this is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.