Bill Walsh’s Favorite Quotes About Editing and Writing

Bill Walsh, a much-admired Washington Post copy editor who died March 15, wrote three books about his craft. The one he published in 2004, The Elephants of Style, starts each chapter with a sentence or two about editing and writing that he particularly liked. Many editors have wanted to quote the last one to many writers.

Who needs action when you’ve got words?

—The Meat Puppets
I just sit at the typewriter and curse a bit.

—P.G. Woodhouse on his writing technique
A burro is an ass. A burrow is a hole in the ground. As a journalist you are expected to know the difference.

—The UPI Stylebook
She felt in italics and thought in capitals.

—Henry James
One word of caution about the use of acronyms is in order. The apparent stranger at a cocktail party who slaps you on the back with a jovial “Where’ve you been all these years, you old son-of-a-gun?” is a disconcerting chap. You should know him, but you can’t place him for the life of you. Strangers like this occasionally grin at readers out of magazine articles and news stories.

—Theodore M. Bernstein
It’s a wise dog that scratches his own fleas.

—William Strunk
What we require is neither a language that is cramped nor a language gone wild.

—Theodore M. Bernstein
The Three Rules for When to Use Apostrophe’s
1. To Indicate Contractions.
Example: “This childbirth really hurt’s!”
2. In Herpetological Phrases
Example: “There’s snake’s in the Nut ’n’ Honey!”
3. In Letters to Customer Service.
Example: “Dear Moron’s:”

—Dave Barry
Math is hard.

If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad.

—John Benbow
Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style.

—Woolcott Gibbs
That’s not writing, that’s typing.

—Truman Capote, on the work of Jack Kerouac
Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.

—T.S. Eliot

For more editing wisdom from Bill Walsh, see this earlier post: Bill Walsh, a Copy Editor Who Could Make You Smile.

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