Grassroots Wisdom for the Copyeditor

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Making of an editor, Uncanny Connections

Picture this: A majestic, towering structure reaches towards the sky, its verdant tendrils swaying in the breeze. Birds flit in and out of its emerald embrace, sunlight filters through its leafy tapestry, and shadows dance at its feet. Is it a mighty oak, an ancient redwood, a sentinel of the forest?

Nope. It’s just … drumroll please … an overgrown weed. Yep, a grass.

A really, really tall grass.

We’re talking bamboo here, folks, the plant that could make a hobbit feel like a thumbtack next to a skyscraper.

Imagine stumbling upon such a behemoth, expecting the wisdom of ages whispered in its rustling leaves, only to discover it’s all bluster and blades. You could almost hear the disappointed sigh of the squirrels, the scoffs of the sparrows, the snickers of the wind as it tickles the giant’s leafy toes.

Now, this bamboo charade isn’t just a punchline to a garden goblin’s stand-up routine. It’s a metaphor for life, isn’t it?

How often do we get fooled by appearances, mistaking labels for identities?

The oak we envy for its grandeur might be riddled with rot, the smooth rock we admire might be slick with hidden danger.

And you know what? That oversized grass, that bamboo imposter, might just be the most resilient, adaptable plant on the planet, shooting up faster than your monthly bills.

So, next time you encounter something that doesn’t fit the mould, don’t just chuckle and move on. Take a peek beneath the surface and explore the roots of its story. You might just discover that the most unexpected things hold the most unexpected wisdom, the most surprising strength.

Who knows, maybe even that bamboo has a thing or two to teach us about reaching for the sun, bending in the storm, and growing taller than anyone expects, even if you started life as a glorified weed.

Now you might be wondering why this copyediting blog is blowing the trumpets for the bamboo. That’s because, folks, copyeditors and bamboo have a lot in common. Be it spreading roots slowly but strongly, growing faster and taller later, remaining underappreciated, there is a lot in common.

Grow your roots; grow

Do you know how long does it take for the bamboo to actively grow?

In the first 3 to 4 years, the bamboo invests in establishing its root system. These underground stems function as storage organs and anchor points, creating a dense and expansive web that supports future growth.

During these initial years, you might not see much happening above ground. Instead, the bamboo is silently building its foundation below the surface. Although species such as Moso bamboo show some signs of above-ground growth, species such as golden bamboo takes nearly 4 years for recognizable growth.

Once the root system is well established, the bamboo enters a phase of active above-ground growth. Shoots emerge and can quickly reach their full height within a season (usually two months). While some species can grow up to 15–30 feet, a majority of species grow up to 50–65 feet (translating to a growth of nearly 2 feet a day)!

Copyeditors are not overnight success, either.

The foundation stage takes around 2 years for a typical copyeditor. During this period, copyeditors invest in strengthening the foundation; learning advanced grammar, punctuation, and copyediting style; and practising on tools such as MS Word or LaTeX. They learn about different writing styles and the art of editing someone else’s work.

Once they have created a sturdy foundation, their growth is nearly unstoppable.

The tallest bamboo variety, the giant timber bamboo, reaches as much as 130 feet, at a rate of more than three feet a day. The reason, my dear copyeditor, is that it has spent nearly 3 years in strengthening its foundation.


Not all bamboo varieties are respected similarly. Some of them are in demand; some of them are ubiquitous.

Golden bamboo or giant bamboo is in high demand because of its limited availability. You may recall that these two varieties are among the ones that spent the longest duration during foundation. Economically, higher demand translates to higher prices. Even other varieties that are not in high demand naturally can become more valuable when they undergo processing after they were felled.

Running bamboo, on the other hand, is ubiquitous and its supply outweighs demand. Naturally, it is priced lower.

What do you want to be, golden bamboo or running bamboo? Your choice decides what you need to do.

Keep growing

Have you ever seen the root system of bamboo?

It is highly dense with plenty of rhizomes for future generations. Even while pushing upward, the bamboo continues to expand its rhizome network, ensuring ongoing stability and access to resources. Once the main stem (or should I say the “blade”) is felled, new saplings emerge from the rhizomes.

In a way, the bamboo plant keeps growing forever – even if one stem is cut, new ones grow.

Isn’t it true for us, too?

In the ever-evolving world of language and usage, copyeditors need to be up to date. It could be about ever-changing perspectives (such as the use of terms Negro, Black, African American, people of colour) or disruptive technologies (for example, AI in, well almost, everything).

Loosely applying the law of diminishing returns, their utility reduces if they do not invest in unlearning and relearning.

Find your bamboo master

Not all bamboo varieties grow in a given place. Each variety is unique and needs different attention.

But with a bamboo master, the species becomes special – some find their place in furniture; some find their place in utilities; some are used to build a house; some are grown for the fortunes they are believed to bring.

The bamboo master knows all about bamboo!

Not only does she know which ones grow where, she also knows how to grow them properly. With the magic touch of a bamboo master, the bamboo plant undergoes metamorphosis.

Find your bamboo master – the one who can understand what you can do and what you cannot do.

More importantly, your bamboo master – your mentor – should be able to find what needs to be done to make you a great editor.

Good to great is a long and arduous journey. With a bamboo master, you can make it an enjoyable yet rewarding journey.

Be in a community

The rhizomes of the bamboo root deliver new stems. But the more crowded the plant, the more it reduces the nourishment. Unnecessary stems need to be removed.

But remember, bamboo doesn’t grow as a single tree – it still grows together.

Your community can help you grow together.

With good-hearted fellow editors, you grow in a symbiotic environment. You learn from them; you share your learning with them.

Both of you grow together, ever stronger.

Keep going

Despite all this, the bamboo is not appreciated in general for what it is – a giant grass, making humans dwarfs.

People use the bamboo for all their needs, but usually fail to appreciate it for what it is.

But the bamboo is oblivious to this and keeps doing its duty – growing and being a useful part of others’ lives.

Many a times, copyeditors do not get the appreciation or respect they deserve.

Most editors often lament that copyediting is a thankless job.

Not all editors are paid well, they may not receive a testimonial that will bring them more clients, or they may not see their name on the acknowledgement page.

But copyeditors keep doing their work with perhaps the motto of “Make it easy for the reader.”

Keep going.

Bend, Don’t Break

Most importantly, dear editor, even at a height of 135 feet, the bamboo doesn’t break.

It bends and sways, but it doesn’t break!

The bamboo bends when there is headwind and sways during a hurricane; seldom does it break.

It gains its strength to remain from the strength of its roots.

Remember, life is not a label, it’s a jungle.

So, grab your machete of curiosity, hack through the stereotypes, and discover the hidden wonders in the overgrown corners of your world.

You might just find a bamboo giant among the blades or, even better, discover your own inner giant ready to burst through the soil and touch the sky.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a trowel and some seeds. It’s time to plant my own metaphorical bamboo, one tiny sprout at a time.

See you in the tall grass!

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