RE-RUN: I give a lesson in copyediting using the “where are they now” blurbs at the end of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”

I wasn’t going to do this, but maybe just one old post.


Brad Hamilton

Brad Hamilton Made manager of MI-T-MART June 12

Brad is our lead-off guy, so we look to him to act as the template for the rest of our captions. We’re a little disappointed here. For one, if you must keep a hideous synthetic place name in all caps, at least render it in small caps so it doesn’t lord over the text. Next, we can see that the kerning needs to be adjusted after mart (see how nice that is?) because there’s ugly extra space before the J in “June.” Capital-T and capital-J is probably a common kerning problem, but the space character between them would make it difficult for auto-kerning to catch this. That’s why you’ve got to be on the lookout. Finally, note on your style sheet (you’ve got to keep a style sheet for each project, or else how will you know which rules you’ve decided to go with?) that the caption doesn’t end with a full-stop period. That’s fine, of course—this isn’t running text or anything and there’s no ambiguity that the thought is over.

Mike Damone

Mike Damone Busted for scalping Ozzy Osbourne tickets. Now working at 7-11.

We never expected much from Mike, so the minor offenses here rate just a head shake. Still, notice that the line spacing is inconsistent—the “Now…” line is closer vertically to “Ozzy…” than “Ozzy…” is to “Busted….” We see this a lot on the Web when lines of text contain elements (like inline graphics or drop caps) that are of a different size than the surrounding text, but browsers can be forgiven this because they’re rendering on-the-fly as best they can with an untold number of variables. When you’re placing everything by hand, take care to balance things out—drop that “Now working” line a few points.

Next, see “7-11”? Are you sure that’s how it’s spelled? Even if you are, you should do some rudimentary fact-checking when it comes to proper nouns. In 1982, the copyeditor may have had to go as far as the yellow pages or a short trip outside, but we can just look at the Web presence of the company and find out in seconds that it’s spelled “7-Eleven.”

You noticed the periods, didn’t you? It’s hard to call them wrong, seeing as how there are two full sentences here, but it means we need to revise our style sheet and put periods at the end of our sentences. So now the Brad caption is wrong again.

Mr. Vargas

Mr. Vargas Switched back to coffee.

Everything seems to be in order in spelling, usage, and grammar, but you might want to ask your layout artist why all of a sudden he’s switched to centered text when he had been using left-justified. It’s probably the designer’s prerogative on these sorts of things to push the text around in order to complement the frame, but you should still note it.

Linda Barrett

Linda Barrett Attending college in Riverside. Now living with her Abnormal Psych Professor.

Just a couple points here. “Now” in the second sentence is unnecessary, and even confusing. How is the “now” being referred to different from the present implied by the first sentence? (This is different from the case of Mike Damone, where the use of “now” acted as a transistion from the past tense of “Busted for scalping” to the present of “Now working.”) Just get rid of “now” unless you want to leave open a big philosophical box of worms. Second, lower-case that “Professor.” “Abnormal Psych” is (sort of) a proper noun, but unless “professor” is being used as a title, it’s as common as “lab assistant.”

Rat & Stacy

Rat & Stacy Having a passionate love affair.
But still haven't gone all the way.

Again, make a note that the text is centered, but don’t worry about it. The question here is one of consistency—why is everyone else referred to by first and last name or, in the case of the teachers, by courtesy titles and last names, while Stacy is just Stacy and poor Rat doesn’t even get his real first name, but just his nickname. It’s kind of nice to show our familiarity by just writing their commonly used names, but it doesn’t seem to make sense in the context of everything else we’re doing in this sequence. Once you talk this out, the director or publisher or postproduction editor or whoever makes this decision may well come down on the side of leaving it “Rat & Stacy” because this vignette is about them as a couple, and it’s a perfectly good moniker for the couple. But you still need to point it out.

Mr. Hand

Mr. Hand Convinced _everyone_ is on dope.

A nice “that” after “Convinced” would have avoided the ambiguity that left me at first wondering what he convinced everyone of. Typographically, we usually prefer italics to underlining, but our font here is already italicized and the trick of setting what would have been italicized in roman text when in the middle of already-italicized text seems pedantic and labored for our nontechnical purposes here. And this face may not have a roman variant anyway. You can still talk it over with layout.

Jeff Spicoli

Jeff Spicoli Saved Brooke Shields from drowning Blows reward money hiring Van Halen to play his Birthday party

Okay, we’re back to no periods—and it unequivocally needs fixing because we have two sentences—and “Birthday” has no business being capitalized. But the real problem here is tense-shifting. We saw the Mike Damone caption handle it okay, but this goes from definite past-tense (“Saved”) to some weird performance of the present tense that I’ll leave to the grammarians to figure out. Whatever subtleties are being played by the language, it’s still an awkward juxtaposition that can be fixed by simply changing “Saved” to “Saves” or “Blows” to “Blew.”

If you really want to get into it, the mood, tense, and aspect shifts between captions are pretty impressive—from Brad’s having something done to him (somebody else “made” him manager) to Mr. Vargas having performed a discreet action himself (“switched”) to Linda’s constant present-progressive aspect (“attending…living”) to Mr. Hand’s state of being (“Convinced”) to whatever we can make of Spicoli’s anticipated antics. However, unless you’re going to list all of them together on one screen like I’ve done here, the effect on the reader should be minimal, and I wouldn’t worry about standardizing them because in some cases it would ruin the joke. But there’s obviously plenty of room for improvement here.