Federal copy editors run amok

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There isn’t much breaking news about copy editors, but a recent article from The New York Post, “$27 million to change NYC signs from all-caps,” is straight from the are-you-freaking-kidding-me file, sure to warm the heart of the most strident grammar pedant.

At the risk of offending any of my friends or readers who happen to have one of these federal copy editor jobs (Really? Such a position exists? What’s the annual salary, I wonder…), I have to say this is asinine. It’s worth reading the whole thing to get a sweet taste of the pure, harebrained wastefulness, but here’s a quick excerpt:

Federal copy editors are demanding the city change its 250,900 street signs — such as these for Perry Avenue in The Bronx — from the all-caps style used for more than a century to ones that capitalize only the first letters.

Changing BROADWAY to Broadway will save lives, the Federal Highway Administration contends in its updated Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, citing improved readability.

At $110 per sign, it will also cost the state $27.6 million, city officials said.

For starters, when is an editor allowed to “demand” anything?

Mind you, I am no fan of all caps. It is harder to read. It looks like you’re shouting. I’m also no fan of signs that are misleading, misspelled, misaligned or mis-whatever. I’m sure it would be awful to have people looking for “Broadway” and driving right past a sign for “Brawdweigh.” Replacing signs at the usual rate of 8,000 a year, OK, whatever.

But as Jason Alexander’s character in Shallow Hal says, let’s just cut through the old crap cake here. This is money being spent on an accelerated basis in a weak economy on the weakest of premises. Upper-lower formatting and changing from standard-issue highway font to Clearview is going to SAVE LIVES? SAVE FREAKING LIVES? (Yes, this is me shouting.)

Maybe I’d feel better if they would simply be honest about this and admit it’s a make-work (please don’t call it a stimulus!) program to keep starving copy editors and signmakers off the dole. But if they insist on trying to spin it as some sort of do-gooder way of preventing old people from getting into fender benders, I’m having none of it.



And another thing: This National Review article points out that many people learning English learn the capital letters first. So, what we may save in old people getting into car wrecks may yet turn into ESL smashups. I’m certain there’s a government editor on top of this, as we speak. (My modest proposal? Dual signs that are upper-lower on top and all caps on the bottom, kind of like the English/French signage when you’re driving in the bilingual province of New Brunswick, Canada. Replacement will start in 2018. Please make check for $27 million payable to Dr. Freelance.)

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  1. Mike says

    $110 per sign sounds low to me, particularly if this is a union job. Does that include everything, including design, materials, manufacturing and installation?