What the NSA would find in my Google searches

by Libby Sternberg

I’m innocent! I swear, officer!

Well, yeah, I was looking up stuff online about weapons and explosives and getaway cars and….

But if I don’t get it right, my boss will be awfully mad, see? They double-check our work all the time. No, no, my boss isn’t involved in anything nefarious. I’m telling the truth here! Yes, I had to get accurate info on Colt 1911s and 9mm guns and powerboats and Humvees for her. I wasn’t intending harm at all. Just the opposite…. Yeah, Plexiglas, too. I confess—I looked that up. No, no, I had no intention of…  Well, yes, I do keep referring to Chicago. No, I’m not planning to go to Chicago. I live in Pennsylvania. Image

I’m just a suburban housewife, I swear, with no ties to terrorist….well, yes, you’ve got me there – I was Googling al Qaeda recently. And, yes, I did look up information about Navy SEAL operations. But I wasn’t building any connections or networks or…. I don’t even know how to speak the terrorists’ language, for crying out loud!

Uh, what’s that? You have records of me using online translation software to look up some Pashto phrases and some Spanish ones, too? Um, yes, I’d forgotten about the…but, hey, since when is it a crime to speak Spanish?

As I said, I’m just a housewife…a grandmother, for Pete’s sake!  Well, uh, yes, I admit it, I also searched more than once for information about SIG SAUER guns! But…I couldn’t remember if the name is hyphenated.

No, hyphenated isn’t a weapons-making process! It’s a dash, see, like an en-dash… No, en-dash isn’t a code. It’s a typography designation for, well, something like a hyphen. Oh, good grief, I just told you that the hyphen doesn’t mean anything! No, “hyphen” isn’t the code word giving a green light to some plot to take down a Chicago building.

Chicago is the Chicago Manual of Style, see? No, no, it’s not some handbook for terrorist plots. It’s a book for copy editors. Like me. I copy edit novels, and some of them are suspense books, thrillers, and…we use Webster’s 11th, too.

No, no, Webster’s 11th isn’t a special cadre of bad guys. It’s a dictionary! I swear. Look it up!

Anyway, these are our tools—copy editing tools! Not real tools! For the love of…. And sometimes I need to refresh my memory to see if words like powerboat are closed compounds or open compounds or hyphenated….

No, no, I’m not talking about compounds for training terrorists! I just told you about hyphens, right? And that’s part of being a copy editor, making sure you have the compounds right…. Oh, Lordy, can’t you understand, I’m a writer! And an editor! Nothing important!

When I research Colt 1911s, it’s to see if it’s a semiautomatic, as the author indicated. When I look up SEAL training, it’s to validate the author’s description of those programs.

And Plexiglas…I bet you thought that was an un-trademarked word spelled “plexiglass,” didn’t you, mister? Nope, trademarked. Lots of common words are—Band-Aid, Dumpster, Jacuzzi, Formica, Styrofoam, even Realtor….  Yeah, that’s right. Realtor. Start uppercasing it, buddy. And lowercase the “x” in x-ray when you use it as a verb. But uppercase it when it’s a noun. Got that?

And dash that dash in lighthearted—it’s a closed compound while light-headed is hyphenated…Write it down so you don’t forget, sweetheart. And when you’re taking down a suspect’s words, use hyphens to indicate stuttered letters, but em-dashes—longer hyphens—to indicate stuttered words, okay, bub? And watch out for those dangling modifiers, Smartypants, you with your “Googling all this violent stuff, we need to ask…”  “Googling all this” has to agree with the subject of the sentence, see, which you meant to be me. Get yourself some Strunk & White and memorize that section, Muscle Head. And stop using “like” when you mean to say “as if.” I might seem as if I’m engaged in suspicious activity. Not like I’m engaged in same. Got it, Officer Krupke? Don’t get me started on punctuation, either, junior. We take the Oxford comma very seriously around here….

Are you yawning?

As I said, I know you found all these things on my computer through random NSA searches, but I swear, I’m not a terrorist. I’m nothing! Really. Nothing. I’m a copy editor. Nothing…..

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. She also copy edits for a major romance publisher. Her latest book, After the War, is now available in print and digitally.

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