Julie Henderson

The entomology of an editing group

dragonflyWhen Dragonfly Editorial founder and president, Samantha Enslen, named her company, I suspect her choice was based on the enduring allure of dragonflies: Their simple shape, beautiful jewel-tone colors, wings like leaded glass, and seemingly effortless flight have inspired art and folklore for thousands of years.

I don’t think Sam had in mind parallels between the physiology and behaviors of these beautiful insects and the art and science of editing. As a Dragonfly editor with a background in entomology, however, I am uniquely placed to contemplate such connections. Okay, some are a stretch, I admit, but others are surprisingly accurate and make the dragonfly an apt symbol for editors.

1. The dragonfly can see in almost all directions with its large compound eyes. Its four broad wings are held horizontally and beat independently of each other, enabling the dragonfly not only to fly forwards and backwards but also to hover. Thus, the dragonfly scans its surroundings for predators and potential mates, and darts quickly toward prey.

Similarly, editors scan text, then delve deeper to examine meaning, eyes moving right, then perhaps back left to evaluate word choice, grammar, and spelling, hovering over punctuation marks. Fingers dart to the delete key or perhaps to add a serial comma.

2. Dragonflies adapt to different niches during their life cycle. Dragonfly nymphs are aquatic; the adults are aerial acrobats that patrol temporal and spatial territories. Several dragonflies may occupy the same bit of streambank but at different times of day or at different altitudes.

Likewise, editors may occupy different niches, specializing by task (e.g., copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing), by subject matter (e.g., medical editing, technical editing, fiction), or by type of publication (e.g., newspapers, books, periodicals, web content). Editors may work in a traditional office setting during daylight hours. Dragonfly editors telecommute and work day or night, or, occasionally, day and night!

3. Dragonflies are called different common names regionally: In the United States, they may be called snake doctor, devil’s darning needle, mosquitohawk; in Germany, hunting horse and water peacock; in Norway, eye poker; in Romania, devil’s horse. This last name actually may be the etymological origin of the word dragonfly: The Romanian word for both devil and dragon stems from the Latin for those same words: draco.

It is possible that editors also are called names. We hope not.

Julie Henderson is an editor and writer for Dragonfly Editorial, and has an M.S. in entomology. She points out one significant difference between dragonflies and editors: Dragonflies are found around water on warm sunny days, whereas editors would like to be in such places on pleasant days, but you’ll have more luck finding them in front of their computers.

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