Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Copy Editing: Medal of Honor

I've learned as a copy editor that if there are two things wrong in a sentence, generally a copy editor will catch one. This is in part why you have slots.

It becomes more of a problem when the errors are of different types. Two misspellings in one sentence stand a better chance of being caught than do one misspelling and one factual error. It's the way we're all taught on tests; look for "the error" in this sentence.

Now I have to further amend it to: If you are looking for one thing that might be wrong, you may miss another. We ran a story last week on a winner of the Medal of Honor. Like every good copy editor, I have been told for decades that it is a factual error to call it the Congressional Medal of Honor, even though nearly everyone in America calls it that. As the Wikipedia entry notes, "the Medal of Honor is presented by the president on behalf of the Congress. Although commonplace, the term 'Congressional Medal of Honor' is not correct.'"

So I was making sure that we didn't ever say "Congressional Medal of Honor" and in doing so fell afoul of the other phrasing that often accompanies it, one that also veterans are always quick to point out and which I also knew, but was not looking for and thus overlooked. We referred to the soldier as a "Medal of Honor winner." Medal of Honor etiquette calls for the verb to be "awarded" or "given" or such, not "won," as opposed to service medals. So we got some calls about that.

In my experience, after retired English teachers, retired military are the quickest to call about factual or phrasing issues. Warning to all copy editors: Never, ever call anyone an "ex-Marine." (Anyone except Lee Harvey Oswald, that is.)

3 comments:

Simon Owens said...

They irony is that you make the same error in your blog post about making the error:

"We ran a story last week on a winner of the Medal of Honor."

Davisull said...

I'd like to say it was purposeful irony. But I doubt you or I would believe that.

Anonymous said...

You wrote, "Medal of Honor etiquette calls for the verb to be "awarded" or "given" or such, not "won," as opposed to service medals."

I'm a copy editor and Army vet, and I say that ALL military medals (service, valor, etc.) are earned.