Okay. Iâ€™m going to describe a particular fact-checking problem to you all. Some of you may be shocked that I donâ€™t know all this information right off the top of my head, but, well, I donâ€™t. (Not that I donâ€™t know a lot of information off the top of my head–I do. Thatâ€™s partly due to having attended six different colleges for my undergrad–Iâ€™ve mentioned Iâ€™ve moved a lot–and hence having graduated with damn near forty hours that I didnâ€™t need, all in core-curriculum requirements at some damn school or another. [Good stuff, too–Iâ€™m one of the only English majors I know who came out with As in trig and precalc.])
So, anyway, I occasionally–okay, often–have to verify something. Now Iâ€™m actually accustomed to calculating the length of days and years on various fictional planets, and Iâ€™m pretty damn good with gravity and how multiple moons affect tide cycles and whatnot, because, yanno, itâ€™s what I do.
However, Iâ€™ve been working on a chick-lit book with a protagonist whoâ€™s a flight attendant, and I have had absolute hell figuring out for sure the proper spelling of something thatâ€™s just…ridiculously common. Iâ€™m going to describe the process, but yâ€™all are going to laugh at me. *sigh* Even if you laugh, though, if you donâ€™t sympathize, I can pretty much promise you that you arenâ€™t cut out to be a copyeditor.
So hereâ€™s what it is, just so you can get the giggles over with: La Guardia Airport. (And Iâ€™m using that spelling because thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve chosen–if you want to correct me then by all means PLEASE point me to a definite answer.)
This should be extraordinarily straightforward. The airport is named after good ole Fiorello, and his last name, according to Web11 (Merriam Websterâ€™s New Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition–the standard in the industry) has a space between the â€œLaâ€ and the â€œGuardia.â€ That should be it.
But…itâ€™s nagging at me. Iâ€™m certain Iâ€™ve quite frequently seen the airport listed as â€œLaGuardia,â€ and I want to verify because place names arenâ€™t always as they should be.
Thatâ€™s where the trouble starts. First, of course, I Google. With quotes, I get 935,000 hits for â€œLa Guardia Airportâ€–and Google tries to correct me by asking if I mean â€œLaGuardia Airport.â€ Hmm.
With quotes, I get 1,010,00 hits for â€œLaGuardia Airport.” These seem to be much better-quality hits, too–like the official Port Authority of New York site. But it still ought to be like Fiorello, right?
Wiki has â€œLaGuardia,â€ but while Wikiâ€™s okay for factual stuff (I try hard not to cite them as a primary source when making a correction), they suck for spelling or capitalization or hyphenation. To prove it, they also have â€œFiorello LaGuardiaâ€ on that same page (with no space). Damn.
At this point, I do what Iâ€™ve done on many previous occasions–such as checking the names of bars in obscure hotels of cities Iâ€™ve never been to. I pick up the phone. I dial the airport in question and begin apologizing to the person who answers: â€œIâ€™m a copyeditor working on a novel, and I know this is an odd question, but Iâ€™m wondering if you could tell me…â€
The woman who answers has heavily accented (though very good) English, and she assures me that the proper spelling is â€œLaGuardiaâ€–without the space. â€œBut,â€ I say, â€œFiorello has the space, so it seems odd.â€
â€œWell,â€ she says, â€œI know it may be odd, but thatâ€™s how it is. Iâ€™ll double-check, though.â€ She riffles through some papers and comes back with, â€œWell, it looks as though we have it both ways on our paperwork.â€
â€œOh.â€ I sigh. â€œIs one more prevalent than the other?â€
“Well…” She riffles some more. “I think it should be two words.” (Yes, this is a contradiction to what she told me earlier.) â€œWe have it both ways, but I think it should be two words.â€
Shit. I thank her politely and hang up.
Now, Iâ€™ve mentioned that this is a book with a flight attendant as a protag, right? And therefore flight attendants might be more likely to buy the book, and I just think itâ€™s thus even more important than with some other book to have this right. (Yeah, Iâ€™m anal. Again, itâ€™s what I do.) But at this point Iâ€™m thinking, How much does this publisher really want to pay me to verify this? Damn.
What I need, I think, is a native New Yorker who mightâ€™ve actually seen the signs.
And then I notice that the production editor is on AIM. Well, sheâ€™s in NYC. So, even though I hate to bug her, I do so because of these dollar signs flashing in front of my eyes. I query her apologetically, though, and sheâ€™s not actually there. Dammit.
Then I get the bright idea to go to Google image search. Maybe I can find a picture of the sign at the airport!â€
So I search, and not twenty seconds after I find this sign (which, yay! gives me an answer), the production editor comes back with a quick note that although she hasn’t verified it yet, she’s almost positive it’s “LaGuardia.” “It ought to be like Fiorello,” she says, “but it’s not.”
“It’s not?” I ask, now bewildered again. “But I just found this sign!”
“That’s a pretty crappy sign,” she answers. And she’s right, of course–I don’t even know it’s official, or if I could trust it to be spelled right if it was. It’s not like the actual airport sign at the front of the airport–if such a thing even exists. She then adds, “I asked my coworker, and she thinks it’s ‘LaGuardia too.'” Two New York editors think it’s “LaGuardia.”
Well, the cusswords my mind is forming (at the problem, not at her) are getting increasingly stronger, and since you guys know me somewhat, you’ll know I was at the “Fuck!” stage by now–and starting to string.
“I just want to verify it for certain,” I say (or something like that–I don’t have the log, so all this dialogue is approximate–hoping like hell while I’m saying it that I’m not being incredibly annoying, because it’s not like production editors have time to deal with this shit; they don’t).
But she’s an editorial type, too, of course, and her interest is piqued. She comes back and notes that even the NYT has it both ways!
Damn. I hadn’t even thought of looking there!! How stupid could I get! I do a quick search through, and she’s right–but “La Guardia” is favored by a very large margin.
Now at this point, I decide on “La Guardia” (which is also, btw, what the author [mostly] has). However, I bother her with one last favor: “You don’t commute by there, do you? Do you think you could take a look at the signs if you do? I’m sorry to have bugged you with something that’ll drive you nuts, but it’s going to drive me nuts if I don’t figure it out, too!”
She answers that she does occasionally go by there, but it might not be for several days. I mark “La Guardia” on the style sheet and continue on.
So I got another IM from her, several days later: “I drove by the airport on Friday. You’re not going to believe it. The green signs all point to LaGuardia, but the brown Port Authority sign welcomes you to La Guardia!”
And may I take this opportunity to point out once again that the Port Authority website favors “LaGuardia”?
“I am so blogging this, ” I tell her.
Honestly. This is what it’s like, being a copyeditor!
(And what I suspect is going on, frankly, if anyone cares by this point, has to do with my post on compounding–I’m willing to bet that most native New Yorkers pronounce and think of the term as one word even though it properly isn’t.)
There. Now you know the process by which I drive myself crazy. Aren’t you glad you were curious? ;-P