Monday, June 13, 2011

‘cq’ This!


Newspaper copyeditors traditionally work at a horseshoe-shaped desk, sitting around the outside, on what is called the “rim.”  Inside the U is the news editor, known as the “slot,” who doles out assignments to the editors around the rim.

In the days when copy was edited with a pencil instead of electronically, copyeditors developed a style of notation that typically involves unorthodox spellings.

When they wrote on a piece of copy "HTK," it meant "hed to kum”—or, in regular orthography, “headline to come” (later). A "dek" was the deck or sub-headline, and the "lede" (lead) the first "graf" (paragraph) of a news story. An update of a continuing story was called a “nu lede.”

These usages supposedly originated as purposeful misspellings of the editors' comments, so that linotype operators would know they were not part of the copy that was to be set in type.

One term of mysterious origin is "cq," a notation by a word or name with unusual spelling. It means essentially "this is correct—it has been double-checked, so don’t question it, even though it looks odd.” Some say it is from the Latin cadit quaestio meaning "the question is to be dropped." Others say it is a phonetic spelling of sic or "thus"—a notation used after a printed word or passage to mean “that is what is intended.”

Among radio operators "CQ" (ostensibly from the French pronunciation of the first syllables of "sécurité") indicates a general call for help, which was also interpreted to be a phonetic rendering of “seek you.”  But it's hard to make a connection between that usage and the editor's "cq."

At the paper where I worked, we also had to deal with the dreaded “B.O.M.”—initials for “business office must,” meaning a story that treated an advertiser in a favorable light and which the advertising department insisted on placing in the newspaper.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has done time on the rim, and has the slot man’s scars to prove it.

            The Copyeditor’s Dream

            Let me sit on the rim,
            My cup filled to the brim
            With coffee that’s pungent and hot.
            For a story I’ve red,
            I will write a nu hed
            And pass it right back to the slot.

            When he sees what I’ve done,           
            He’ll make over Page One
            With my ninety-point, eight-column banner,
            And when it hits the street,
            I’ll have the crowd at my feet
            And I’ll be the lord of the manor.

Note: Both the Bard and I will be taking next two weeks off. And I’m taking the names of those of you who are muttering that we should make our vacation permanent.  We hope to return, unscathed, to this space on July 4 with rousing Independence Day blog. Or not.

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