When I covered auto racing, I had to remember that Daytona International was a speedway, but Darlington was a raceway, and Charlotte was a motor speedway. It was the same way when I worked news side — I had to remember when I was talking about a railway, not a railroad.
Then there are the products that need to be uppercased, like Muzak, Frisbee, Xerox and Styrofoam. They're all products made by specific companies. The word Xerox has become part of the lexicon, and you might say that you need to xerox a copy of your letter, but you should spell it Xerox.
I even had to remember that not all champagnes are champagnes. Some very good bubbly wines are from places other than the Champagne region of France.
The trick then was to know where to look for information. When I worked in the sports department of a newspaper, people would call, asking this or that. One guy wanted to know when the NHL started play. I guessed around 1918 because of World War; it was the 1917-18 season, and I think we found it in a media guide.
Another guy asked what Rocky Bleier's first name was, but no one could find it in a Pittsburgh Steelers media guide. I looked in a Notre Dame football book — Rocky Bleier played for the Fighting Irish — and found Bob Bleier among the alumni of the late 1960s.
Yet another guy asked a question, and I told him I had no idea. He said: "Can't you just look in your computer?" "No," I said. "This isn't the Starship Enterprise computer, with all of the information from the known universe." He laughed and hung up.
Little did I know that we'd have something like the Enterprise computer just three or four years later, and it's gotten easier to find information with the Internet. I constantly use Google to make sure that a product is correctly spelled, with the correct case. It can also be a curse, if you happen to Google the wrong web site, with incorrect information.
So, copy editor, beware. Don't take the easiest answer for an answer. It may not be easy, but find the best source of information.
More EDITOR@WORK blog entries
Entries from The Dog Blog
Blog entries from The Auto Racing Journal
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)
More blog entries by Tom Gillispie
Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie