And so begins a mini-series, a sub-set of The Inner Editor by Virginia Durksen. Each “mythbuster” explores an assumption commonly made about editors or editing and offers a new perspective on that assumption.
Consistency matters when you’re adding a column of numbers.
Consistency also matters when you’re training your dog (or your kids, for that matter).
In writing, consistency matters most as it touches on the connection between words and the reality they refer to. Readers have a right to expect this kind of consistency: respect for truth, respect for ease of reading, and respect for the power of language.
But consistency matters much less when it comes to the series comma or the choice of American vs. British spelling styles. Most readers will not notice the shift, even though most editors will. That’s because house style matters more to editors than it does to readers. And it certainly matters more to editors who work where there is a “house” behind the house style, that is, an editorial style and voice that distinguishes one publisher from another.
Even so, most readers read past editorial inconsistencies. It is the editors in the crowd who still brake for unicorns and other creatures of myth.
WHAT TO DO?
Let the series comma go, just this once. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
- e.e. cummings, “anyone lived in a pretty how town,” Selected Poems
- Deborah Cameron, Verbal Hygiene
- Wendy Cope, “Emily Dickinson,” Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis