Editors' Markup Language

Before text was sent off to be printed, certain people - proofreaders - would be charged with painstakingly poring through each and every letter and punctuation to make sure everything was in place, to avoid any errors in grammar, spelling etc. in the final output.

In making their changes to the text, these proofreaders would use certain signs and symbols as directions to the typesetter - delete this letter, add this word, move the text back, make sure it’s aligned, close up the extra space, please capitalise etc. These signs and symbols came to be known as Markup, and is a language of its own.

One would think that a utilitarian code such as Markup, used between professionals, would remain the same across countries and continents. But of course, as all things human, we have to make something our own by changing it. So, we have markup instructions that differ by countries:

  1. American

  2. British

  3. Canadian

  4. Australian

  5. German

… and these are only the ones I am familiar with! Doubtless there exist many more variations in other languages.

And one might think that with the presence of digital tools these days (track changes-type features in most text editing software) there wouldn’t be a need to know or learn the markup language. But you would be wrong. I often find myself editing PDF texts for various types of projects and various types of clients.

So editorial markup lives on. And although not a universal language, it has some strong regional dialects, mostly understood across borders. Until, of course, something gets lost in translation…