How to Choose Words Wisely | Copy Editing & Proofreading

These Aren't the Words You're Looking For

Words Have Power

There’s a lot of gray area in the world of editing. For every proofreader who likes the serial comma, there’s one who doesn’t. For every copy editor who hates the word that,” there’s one who loves it. The same holds true for writers, designers, people in general. But when you’re working with content that will be seen by thousands—sometimes millions—of people, it can be a minefield of words, phrases and idioms much more important than commas.

A group of DS-ers has been tasked with looking at ways to bring diversity and understanding not just into our building, but into our work. And the words we choose—and choose to edit out—play a big part in that.

Take the word woke.” It’s 2019, so you’ve probably said it. If not, you’ve seen the hashtag. It’s everywhere, and it became especially trendy in 2014 among people who wanted to self-identify as aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice.” 

It would be easy for us to slap woke” on billboards, ads, social posts, anything that speaks to a target audience. But doing so would miss a big point (this is where editors come in): Woke” might not be yours for the taking.

It was the Black Lives Matter movement that brought woke” back into common use, but it first appeared in the 1960s to define black political conscious. There’s a powerful history behind those four letters. And they belong to the people who need them.

So why shouldn’t we all use woke” now? Well, because cultural appropriation: the adoption of cultural customs, practices or ideas by people outside of that culture. Think headdresses on non-Native Americans, crosses on non-Christians, Korean tattoos on non-Koreans—you get the point. It applies to words as much as actions.

Woke” is just one familiar example. Cultural appropriation runs deep, and while it’s impossible to sidestep every single culturally or politically charged word, we can run them through a filter (ahem, editor) to be sure what we do borrow is done so respectfully. There’s a fine line—but a big difference—between appreciating a culture and appropriating it.

No doubt, avoiding every possibly offensive, stolen or just insensitive word in our language is a massive task—one nobody can be perfect at. So when the wrong word inevitably does slip through, think of it as a chance to read up, do some homework and learn.

What a great way to appreciate the cultures that inspire our work every day.

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