March 27, 2008

Editor geeks, rejoice

The New York Times' director of copy desks answers readers' questions about the aracana of copyediting in a feature that'll probably seem incredibly boring to non-writers, but makes me superhappy.

Always wanted to know why a copy desk chief was called the "slot," and Merrill Perlman comes through. Just wish someone would ask her where the -30- at the end of articles came from.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug!
No one seems to know -- definitively -- where "30" comes from. I have a 1925 editing book that calls it "the telegrapher's end mark." A few months ago, a reporter ended a story "The trial is expected to begin by February. 30" and someone made it "Feb. 30" without actually applying any brain cells. Our correction a few days later noted our embarrassment and said: "Although many no longer use it or even know what it means, some journalists continue to debate its origin. A popular theory is that it was a sign-off code developed by telegraph operators. Another tale is that reporters began signing their articles with '30' to demand a living wage of $30 per week. Most dictionaries still include the symbol in the definition of thirty, noting that it means 'conclusion' or 'end of a news story.' "

merrill perlman

Your escalator operator said...

Thanks for reading, Merrill! I appreciate the story and the info. I studied and taught editing at Northwestern, and none of the professors seemed to know the history of the 30. Even if it remains a mystery, it's neat to read some of the theories.