When you’ve worked for ever under the guidance of a steel-trap expert, it is hard to realize that there may be situations where other publishers might make the wrong decisions on how this or that aspect of language should be handled in their books. Judith Butcher, without being at all assertive or bossy, determined how a manuscript should be subedited at Cambridge University Press. Her approach was light, deft and accommodating. What we will do is whatever makes most sense: if the author’s referencing system works, use the author’s system. One of the directives I liked most was that a subeditor should be prepared, if the situation warranted it, to get onto their bike and go to the University Library to check a fact or two.

Her expertise, conveyed in a series of internal memos, was, luckily, more permanently recorded in 1975 in Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for editors, authors and publishers. I copy this carefully from the title page of the “Third edition. Revised and updated”, as the hyphenation, capitalization etc. will of course be correct. It was subsequently reissued under the title Butcher’s Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders. (I notice that the capitalization has been updated too.)

The distinguishing feature, for me, of AJB’s Cambridge style, is the way it assumes intelligence in the user, allowing you, mere mortal, to decide whether to do this or that in a particular instance, informed as you will be by Judith’s view of the matter. If a Press hires intelligent people, you should trust them to make the right decisions on whether to go off to the library to check a manuscript assertion, whether to follow the Harvard system of referencing, whether to query the way this character is being referred to, or of course whether to seek advice. As she herself put it, “The main aims of copy-editing are to remove any obstacles between the reader and what the author wants to convey and to find and solve any problems before the book goes to the typesetter, so that production can go ahead without interruption or unnecessary expense.” The Chicago Manual of Style tends to be more prescriptive: if they say it, then all American university presses will reflexively do it. I confess to a sneaking love of Hart’s Rules — even though they do come from Oxford. They give off such an aura of the harried apprentice running around the labyrinthine Press, copping a quick look at the book on the stairs so he can answer all the trick questions constantly being thrown at his head.

Judith Butcher died on October 6, 2015.

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