Inside Bethany House: Fun with Grammar!

To prove how nerdy we are here at Bethany House, I could tell you about the time a cake arrived to a work celebration bearing the word “Congatulations,” and how one of the editors had inserted the appropriate letter complete with proofing mark, using frosting stolen from one of the decorative rosebuds.

I could mention the number of charity pamphlets, flyers, and yes, even an out-of-order bathroom sign that have been marked up with red pen within the Bethany House walls.

I could even link to the article that was circulating around editorial last week to add fuel to a heated debate on the Oxford comma.

But I figured I’d ask a few co-workers some grammar-nerdy questions and share their answers with you instead. Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite punctuation mark, and if so, what is it?

Elisa, editorial: My favorite punctuation mark is the em dash—it’s so versatile! My runner-up might be the period. It’s not fussy and packs plenty of meaning. It’s also very hard for people to misuse, which makes my job easier.

(Note: the em dash was recently discussed at the Bethany House lunch table, and many people spoke in glowing terms about how much they loved it and why. “It’s like a miniature cliffhanger,” “Sometimes I catch myself using three in one sentence,” and “Are we really discussing this?” were all actual quotes from the conversation.)

Noelle, marketing: For sure, the semi-colon. Correct usage for it is so little understood (even fully by me), but I somehow feel cooler attempting to use it. Only real grammar nerds try to use it over a plain old regular period. I am also a huge Dickens fan, and boy does he work those semi-colons.

Jessica, editorial: I really love parentheses. I use them a lot in casual, personal correspondence (reading my emails is basically like reading The Princess Bride). However, parentheses are not really allowed in formal fiction, so I have to fall back on my second favorite punctuation mark, the em-dash, which lets you sneak in parenthetical phrases without using parentheses. Score!

Is there a mistake you find yourself making over and over again?

Sharon, editorial: Hors d’oeuvres. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes wrong—but I always have to double check to be absolutely sure, because sometimes I transpose the e and the u. (And yes, I just looked it up before writing it here!)

Amy, marketing: I can never remember how to spell medieval. Also, I’m pretty sure I have yet to correctly format an ellipse, including on this blog.

Is there a grammar or usage mistake that is particularly painful for you?

Anna, marketing: YES! The Oxford comma should always be used. That’s all I have to say about that.

Jessica, editorial: This isn’t really a question of grammar, but one of my greatest editorial pet peeves is people referring to characters as “the man” or “the woman” instead of just using a pronoun. Especially when we know the character’s name! For example: “She opened the door to find Jake standing on her doorstep. Today the man wore jeans and a plaid shirt…” It’s SO AWKWARD. Just say “he”! Please! For me!

Elisa, editorial: I cringe when I see “apart” when the writer means “a part,” especially in situations where the writer is thanking people for the opportunity to be a part of something, because it comes across as being grateful for the opportunity to be standoffish.

Are there any grammar rules you don’t think should be rules?

Noelle, marketing: Let’s talk about smart quotes. They are like the Kim Kardashian of grammar—newsworthy for who knows why but always mentioned in copy editing. What’s wrong with my non-smart quote quotation marks and apostrophes? They get the job done.

(Note: If you want to know what smart quotes and straight quotes look like and why copy editors care, take a look at this explanation.)

Not something posted at Bethany House, thank goodness, but it still made me laugh.


Bonus round! Many of our editors save amusing typos from manuscripts and proposals. Here are a few collected by Charlene, a former acquiring editor for Bethany House:

She’d left the backpack containing her personal values in a locker at the Y.

When his wife died, he was housebroken.

Thank you for taking time to read my letter and your deep consideration on my behind.

There’d been a rumor she was loose and a maybe a trumpet.

Logan and his friends would drive to Pizza Ranch to gouge themselves on the buffet.

Our family is invisible if we stand together and believe the same things.

He ran across the street cat corner, still dogged by the man in black.

Even as a publicist, I see some funny ones. Here are two of my favorites:

  • A Facebook message with this query: “I had a dream about the raptor and I think it would make a great book.” (When I read this—it was early on a Monday—I was actually picturing a Christian dinosaur book for a second.)
  • A woman who spent three paragraphs criticizing the dress on the cover of one of our books as “horrendously inauthentic,” then ended with this: “Would you like to employ me to poof your cover designs for credibility prior to publication? I would do it for very low rates, just to keep from cringing in horror at most of your inept art.” I almost replied, “Thanks for the offer, but you might want to poof your email before sending.”

Needless to say, if we took a poll of Bethany House staff based on last week’s checklist, everyone would score pretty high, even those of us who don’t edit books on a daily basis.

Okay, grammar nerds out there, time for you to chime in! What grammar or usage error makes you cringe? Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?

30 thoughts on “Inside Bethany House: Fun with Grammar!

  1. I cringe at misplaced apostrophes!!! It’s when it should be its, you’re when it should be your–or vice versa. (And I really love em dashes, too, Elisa!)

    AND–I vote to ALWAYS use the Oxford comma!

  2. “She’d left the backpack containing her personal values in a locker at the Y,” along with her phone, ID’s, and all other memorabilia of the supposedly normal life she’d created as a Russian sleeper agent. She was a sleeper no more.

    That is a brilliant typo! I wish I’d thought of it.

  3. I am very expressive when I write – usually either in my scrapbooking or in a note to someone. I use a lot of “!!!!!!” and love the comma “,”. This makes me wonder if I should set apart the symbols with quotes or ( )??? I love English, but really see all the ways we use words when I do crossword puzzles! They never seem to be using the same synonyms as I use. My mother ( a teacher) always corrected our English, making sure we said things right. So, of course, I did the same with my children – but somehow it seemed to get lost with the grandchildren. (Of course, they use terms & words we would have never been allowed to use!) Of course, then there is the typos that we don’t notice before sending. INTERESTING ARTICLE! Thank you, Barb C.

    On Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 9:22 AM, Bethany House Fiction wrote:

    > bethanyfiction posted: “To prove how nerdy we are here at Bethany House, I > could tell you about the time a cake arrived to a work celebration bearing > the word “Congatulations,” and how one of the editors had inserted the > appropriate letter complete with proofing mark, using fros” >

  4. So funny! I laughed out loud more than once.

    Pet peeves: Misuse of your and you’re; their, there, and they’re; and the recent wave of comma bashing. I love commas. I love em dashes. And I love ellipses.

    Yes, I know, my age is showing. Now you all know I’m “two old too cut the muster.”

  5. Switching “then” for “than”. She’s taller then I remember. Finish dinner than load the dishwasher. It resonates in me like fingernails on a chalkboard but, because grammar police are more annoying to most people THAN the infractions, the epidemic spreads………. thank you for providing a safe place to vent 🙂

  6. I think I get most frustrated not with common grammar errors but with inefficient writing. For example, when someone has five prepositions in a single sentence, I get annoyed. When this happens repeatedly throughout a book . . . well, let’s just say I need to pray for patience and practice some deep breathing. Particularly if I’m not editing and thus have no power to fix the problem.

    I love the em dash, but lately, it’s the comma that has my respect. It’s so simple, so common, yet so powerful. Its presence can clarify a meaning or change it all together. I just wish that writers treated it better. Too often, commas are neglected or abused. A well-placed comma is as admirable as a well-placed word.

  7. I love Charlene’s list of typos! Hilarious. Just today I wrote about a heroine who was getting ready to “blot out the door.” I hope I catch those before you all do, but if not, enjoy! 🙂

    • That’s great, Regina. Typos are the best! It makes you realize how crazy language is when you can transpose two letters and have an entirely new meaning!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  8. Hahaha! Love this post, and that there are so many fellow em dash lovers here! I have all sorts of pet peeves, misplaced commas and apostrophes being a major one, along with the usual there/their/they’re issues.

    Speaking of bloopers, I was amused to read of a character’s eminent death in one novel recently. 😳 Not a Bethany House publication, of course! 😉

  9. This made me smile! I love language, warts and all. (And I’m totally with Anna — #teamoxfordcomma. Ooh. . . and #teamemdash. WAIT! And #teamellipses. Or would it be #teamelipsis? Fun, fun!

  10. In the olden, pre-digital days, I worked at a conservative think tank designing, illustrating and proofing a monthly magazine. Outside ads came in camera ready from agencies. One issue, we were to run a full-page ad for a new book by a noted theologian, entitled The Naked Public Square. Had I not examined the negative from the agency before sending everything off to print, we’d have had quite the typo, as it would have run as The Naked P u b i c Square!

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