Things My Copy Editor Taught Me

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I recently worked through the copy edits for Book 3, The Shores of Spain. Now, a copy editor is essentially paid to correct my grammar. As such, going through the copy edits are often a strange and irritating process. No one likes to have their grammar corrected. But I’ve also found it an informative process.

I’ve worked with 3 different copy editors so far, easily differentiated because each one has different grammar pet peeves. What one corrected, the other two often didn’t notice.

One of the three dinged me on the word drapes, consistently changing it to draperies.

I found this bizarre, but when I looked into it, it was, technically, correct.

Like many of my other grammar foibles, this turns out to be geographic.

Image source.

I found this excellent explanation at
Chances are, if you live anywhere close to a major metropolitan area, you identify soft window treatments as draperies. If you live in the South or Midwest, you probably describe them as drapes. And if you live in the Northeast or on the West Coast, most likely you refer to them as curtains.

Yep, I grew up in the South (Southwest, actually.) Therefore, I call them drapes.

Fortunately, the site went on to give the topic a more in-depth treatment:
Regional differences aside, each of these terms has a historical claim to being a common expression for soft window coverings. Curtains and draperies have the oldest pedigree, with the word “curtains” cropping up numerous times in the Bible as a term referring to the fabric hangings that were used to veil the tabernacle in early religious temples. The word curtain is derived from the Latin word “cortina,” which means a partial veil or covering.

The word “drapery” is relatively newer and seems to have originated among the weavers of Great Britain in the 14th century. Drapery is based on the word “drab,” which at that time meant woolen cloth; weavers of that cloth were referred to as “drapers.” By the 17th century, the term drapery was the common usage for soft window coverings.

The word “drape” began its etymologic journey as a verb: to drape meant, very simply, the process of hanging draperies. However, we can thank retailer Montgomery Ward for turning the verb into a noun in an 1895 catalog, referring to drapery silk as being suitable for “sash curtains and mantle drapes.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. got into the verb-as-noun act in its 1908 catalog, calling a Nottingham lace curtain “one of the most stylish and attractive drapes one could possibly desire for the parlor window.”

Drape has had somewhat checkered history, however. Up until the 1950s, usage of the term “drapes” was considered fairly low-class—indeed, in the 1950 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, she calls the term drapes an “inexcusable vulgarism.” Politicians, never ones to shy away from a good vulgarism, use the phrase “measuring for drapes” as a way to ridicule their opponents: most recently, during the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain said his opponent Barack Obama was so sure that he would be moving into the White House that he was already “measuring the drapes.” Similarly, during the 1968 campaign, Hubert Humphrey said of Richard Nixon, “Why, he’s even been to Washington to look at the White House and measure for drapes.” (Interestingly, both Humphrey and McCain turned out to be right!)

So I learned something in trying to figure out why my copy editor objected to what was a perfectly normal usage where I come from….I now try to remember to use ‘draperies’ in my writing, hoping to spare the suffering of any future copy editors who might have this pet peeve.

Do you use drapes? Or is it draperies to you?


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