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Interwoven: The Etymology of Editing Vocabulary

Interwoven: The Etymology of Editing Vocabulary

Author: Johannah Bomster

This tutorial encourages readers to view the field of editing in a fresh, inviting way. 

The tutorial explores the etymology of words related to both textile and textuality. Also discussed are metaphors related to electronic communication and editing. A relationship between computers, the Jacquard loom, and the Industrial Revolution is presented. 

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For some reason, proofreading makes people think of head lice.

  • People describing how carefully they have reviewed their writing will say that they have "gone over it with a fine-toothed comb."
  • People describing how carefully someone else has flagged the errors in their writing will say that the editor has been "nit-picky."
  • And when looking for something specific, people might "comb through" a document. 

Still, there are far more metaphors related to text and textiles than there are metaphors related to text and vermin.


Source: Wordle doc

In Sanskrit, the word "sutra" means both "book" and "thread."


The kanji, that is, the Japanese characters, for "edit" and "knit" are the same


Back in 1801, the Jacquard loom marked the beginning of the computer and the Industrial age

This YouTube video shows a Jacquard loom in action.

The cards used for the shuttle are generally recognized as the first computer punch cards. The workers in the textile factories are recognized as early protesters and advocates for workers' rights.

Here is a picture of the traditional wooden sabot worn by the earliest factory workers.


Indeed, the word "sabotage" comes from the word "sabot"

  • Early French and Flemish textile factory workers would throw their wooden shoes, their sabots, into the looms, causing property damage and a halt to the work.  
  • You can fact-check this statement easily by looking at the word origin section for the word sabotage in a good hard copy dictionary.
  • A hard copy dictionary is an essential tool for good editing. 

"Twisted Yarn" by AS Byatt

AS Byatt wrote a very thoughtful essay exploring the "tangled threads between text and textiles" (The Guardian, 2008). Most of the essay's examples are drawn from the Western European canon, with some examples from the Greek and Roman. Well worth a read.


This tutorial does not provide instruction on how to edit. Rather, it invites you to see the language arts, including the invisible art of editing, in a broader context. 

  • It's fun to pick up literary allusions and word origins.
  • The first computer was a weaving loom.
  • The etymological link between text and textile appears in several languages.