Friday Fun Facts: The Ballpoint Pen

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 C.

The Russians used a pencil. the days of ballpoint pens, we used fountain pens made of wood, metal, and even quill, which all use capillary action to put ink to paper. The problems with this method include slow-drying ink, easy-to-clog pen nibs, and the need to meticulously clean the nibs for continued use. Then came the ballpoint. It works by having a small metal ball in a socket. Behind the ball, inside the pen, lies a reservoir of ink. The ball rolls in its socket and then distributes the ink onto the paper, controlling the flow. Because the ball also acts as a cap, keeping the ink from drying out, the ballpoint is less likely to clog and is easier to maintain than a fountain pen. Pretty ingenious, right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go play with some pens now.

The Secrets of the Copyright Page

An advertisement for copyright and patent preparation services.
An advertisement for copyright and patent preparation services.

One page you’ll find in nearly every published book is the copyright page. It’s often full of small text, legalese, strings of numbers, and something called CIP data. So what is this stuff? And why is it so important?

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, the Copyright Act of 1989 actually makes such pages unnecessary. This act “does not require that published works carry a copyright notice in order to secure copyright protection.” However, most publishers feel they are actively discouraging infringement if they continue to lay out the terms of copyright clearly. Beyond serving as warnings to would-be plagiarists, the copyright page also makes citing books and seeing a book’s publication history easier.

Most copyright pages include the following (see CMS 1.19 for more information):

Continue reading “The Secrets of the Copyright Page”

Friday Fun Facts: The Perfection of the Paper Clip

Published by Simon & Schuster
Published by Simon & Schuster

Our desks are littered with office supplies. Each fills an important niche—the correction tape, the range of ballpoint pens, the stapler, the paper clips. We use them without thinking about the little bits of genius behind each.

Fortunately, James Ward has taken notice. Ward, cofounder of the Stationery Club and the Boring Conference, explores the “curious tales of invention, accidental genius, and stationery obsession” in his new book The Perfection of the Paper Clip.

Here are a few fun facts:

Continue reading “Friday Fun Facts: The Perfection of the Paper Clip”

What Editing Should Be

reading sculptureAs a quick follow-up to the post on the magic of Maxwell Perkins, I want to share an article titled “The Better Angels of Our Writing” from The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, Rachel Toor, associate professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University’s writing program, writes of two modern-day Maxwells: Carol Saller and Mary Norris.

Saller is best known for her work on Lingua Franca and the CMS Q&A (as well as the book  The Subversive Copy Editor), and Mary Norris is the author of  Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. These women are shining examples of what Maxwell Perkins showed us editing could be, what editing should be.

Instead of becoming nitpicking bullies who are offended by the mistakes of authors, editors should work to understand authors’ choices. After all, suggestions and corrections can be made without drawing blood. Author and editor must work together to achieve the mutual goal of a good book. As Toor notes, “Our duty is to the reader.” Editors should strive to be what Mary Norris describes as “a person who who can correct us, point out mistakes we all make, and manage not to make us feel bad, because . . .  [we make] the same mistakes.”

Toor reminds us that making art and making friends are not mutually exclusive.  After all, she says, “good copy editors see me not just for who I am but for who I want to be, and they help me get there.”


Maxwell Perkins: The Author’s Editor

Maxwell PerkinsWe live in a world of instant gratification. We can watch our choice of television shows whenever we feel like it, cue up the specific songs stuck in our heads, and order nearly anything on Amazon and receive it within two days. This instant world has had interesting effects on writing and editing. As soon as I finish this blog post, for example, I hit publish, and it will magically be ready for the world to see. There’s a word for this: disintermediation. It means skipping the middle man, or in the world of publishing, going straight from writing to the distributor and skipping the editorial steps completely.

Such massive changes in the creation and delivery of information makes me wonder what Maxwell Perkins would think. For those of you unfamiliar with Perkins (1884–1947), he is considered—according to Matthew Bruccoli—America’s most famous literary editor. While working at Charles Scribner’s Sons, he went against the grain of popular opinion and revolutionized American literature by discovering the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway.  Continue reading “Maxwell Perkins: The Author’s Editor”

Friday Fun Facts: The Printing Press

When wandering the Freedom Trail in Boston, Rachel came across a colonial-era printing press shop known as the Printing Office of Edes & Gill. The shopkeeper, who was using the printing press, took a moment to explain the history of the machine and share a few linguistic gems as well.

  • One theory regarding the coinage of the phrase “mind your p’s and q’s” is from printers telling their apprentices to not mix up the two lowercase letters when sorting the moveable type.
  • The capital letters were kept in a case above the small letters–hence the terms “upper case” and “lower case.”
  • If you weren’t careful and the letters weren’t sorted in the case properly, you were said to be “out of sorts.”

If you’re ever in Boston, check it out!


The Forest Stewardship Council

Cardinal NestHave you ever noticed a little logo of a tree and a check mark on the copyright page of a book? It means the publisher and printer of that book are dedicated to the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) mission “to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.”

The FSC is a non-profit organization actively protecting forests for future generations. All FSC-certified paper is created from trees grown in FSC-certified forests, which as of April 2015, covered 166,079,560 acres in the US and Canada. This designation encompasses a lot–from environmental impact to the rights of indigenous peoples in the area. The FSC has many strict regulations regarding forest management, including the following:

  • Protection of water quality
  • Refusal to harvest rare old-growth forests
  • Protection of natural forest cover
  • Prohibition of highly hazardous chemicals

One really cool feature of the Forest Stewardship Council is that it relies on community engagement. It is a membership-led organization, and members have the power to vote on organizational policy and governance.

So, next time you crack open a cover, check the copyright page to see if folks are doing their part to protect our natural resources!

Friday Fun Facts: English

We all know English is the mischievous child you just can’t help but love, but did you know these fun facts? According to the English Club, the following is true:

  • The word bookkeeper (along with its associate bookkeeping) is the only unhyphenated English word with three consecutive i-am-461820_1280 (2)double letters. Other such words, like sweet-toothed, require a hyphen to be readily readable.
  • More English words begin with the letter s than with any other letter.
  • The word uncopyrightable is the longest English word in normal use that contains no letter more than once.
  • The shortest complete sentence in English is “I am.”

See the full list of Interesting Facts About English.

Chicago Manual of Style Q&A | July 2015

Every month, the Chicago Manual of Style folks answer questions they’ve received. Following are a couple excerpts from the Q&A of July 2015. To read the full month’s Q&A, visit

buy metformin canada Q. Do you use a or an before a word that begins with the letter S?

you can try this out A. If the S is pronounced with a hissing sound (“sss”), use a: a snack. If the S is pronounced as the letter S (“ess”), use an: an SVGA cable.

Q. I’m hoping you can clarify the meaning of this line in 8.22: “Queen Elizabeth; Elizabeth II; the queen (in a British Commonwealth context, the Queen).” What counts as a “British Commonwealth context”? I’m editing a novel that takes place in the UK but refers to a meeting between the sovereigns of the UK and another country. Should these be styled as “the Queen” and “the king,” or “the queen” and “the king”?

A. If you are editing a novel for a UK publisher primarily for UK readers, or a novel that takes place in the UK with characters or a narrator who wouldn’t dream of lowercasing their queen, uppercasing is appropriate. For consistency, you would style all kings and queens in that document in the same way.


kairosAn important overlap in the Venn diagram of writing and editing is choosing the perfect word. Each word has its own shade on the connotation continuum, and finding just the right shade can be difficult but rewarding. Consider the difference between “a full moon” and “a swollen moon.” Which is more visceral?

Sometimes, instead of filling the hole in an existing sentence, a word can be the impetus for a whole new piece of work. One of my favorite words is kintsukuroi, which, according to the found poetry of Otherwordly, means: Continue reading “Kairos”