Monthly Archives: January 2012


From Aa to Zydeco, It’s in DARE

It’s a long distance from A to Z: 26 letters, and in the case of the Dictionary of American Regional English, 26 years plus a few months between publication of Volume I (A-C, 1985) and Volume V (Sl-Z, 2012).

But at last the time for celebration is at hand. Volume V is in production now at Harvard University Press and will be published in March. You can read all about it here.

It’s a daunting, indeed a daring accomplishment, as the editors quite deliberately implied when they chose a title with…


Deciphering a Redlined Manuscript

RedliningMore and more often, the editing stage of a book or journal article headed for publication is entirely paperless. Copy editors work on screen with the use of the tracked-changes feature of their word processor, and writers receive the edited version either as an e-mail attachment or as a link to a site where they can download it.

Depending on the amount of editing and the word-processing skills of the copy editor, the results will be more or less easy to read and respond to. In this post, I’ll…


Whomever Knocks on the Door

In his January 5 New York Times column about Mitt Romney’s political fortunes, Nicholas Kristof writes, “For the general election, Intrade predicts that the Republican nominee (whomever it ends up being) has a 46 percent chance of winning the presidency in November.”

Grammatically, that “whomever” is wrong. “Being” is a linking verb whose complement would be in the subjective case. That rule was the reason I was trained to answer phone callers who asked, “May I speak with Lucy?” with…


What’s So Hard About Reading a Cover Letter?

Photo: Jessica Lucia

Honestly, what is it about writers of scholarly books that makes 33.4 percent of them* think they’re above reading instructions—never mind following them—when they receive an edited manuscript or page proofs? Don’t they ask their students to follow directions on exams? Don’t they sit on dissertation committees that require conformity with a set of instructions? Haven’t they been told since kindergarten to follow the rules?

It’s not as though proofreading instructions are a…


Banished and Revived

Among the usual resolutions evoked by the optimism of a new year—to lose weight, gain family time, stop smoking, start helping, get organized—are those to banish or revive words, courtesy of institutions of higher learning.

Lake Superior State University distills a year’s worth of aggrieved e-mails into its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness. And in the opposite direction, Wayne State University’s Word Warriors announce their a…


Pee-ee-ee-vin’ (on a Monday Afternoon)

Trolling around in the comments to one of my Lingua Franca posts a few weeks back, I came on one that said (in roughly these words), “I can never tell if Yagoda is peeving. He seems to be, but he always has plausible deniability.”

Well, yeah.  When critical masses of people gravitate to a certain kind of verbal expression, or deviate from standard English in a particular way, I’m interested, first, in figuring out precisely what is happening and, second, in coming up with a hypothesis or two as …


The Year of ‘Occupy’

The educated general public tends to confuse linguistic evolution with everything from personal depravity to societal collapse. Tiny modifications and innovations in the language are greeted not just with a shrug but with actual fury. On Language Log it’s sometimes called word rage. The Word of the Year, chosen and publicized by the American Dialect Society, is a small effort at outreach to the wider world, aimed at reminding people that language evolves even between one year and the next, and…


Endnotes or Footnotes? Some Considerations

Photo: Liz West

In response to my invitation to send questions, Albert in Indiana asked about the relative merits of endnotes and footnotes in books. Mr. Meyer prefers footnotes, which allow him to “converse with readers,” over endnotes that “require leafing backward and forward through the pages.” In general I agree—but there are other considerations.

First, writers don’t always get to choose. Many university presses now more or less require endnotes, since typesetting notes at the bottom of …


Dogma vs. Evidence: Singular They

I promised I would return to the vexed topic of using they or them or their with singular antecedents. Your holiday homework was to re-read the first act of The Importance of Being Earnest and comment. Richard Grayson (see the comments) saw the point immediately: Lady Bracknell remarks that at her last reception she wants music “that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end of the season when everyone has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably…


Rewrite Man Takes Flight

You have to understand about my family and The New York Times. My father told only one World War II story about his service as a personnel specialist at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. It was about the time he was so absorbed in reading a copy of the Times that he didn’t hear an officer tell him to place his hat on his head. He didn’t hear it the second time, either. And so he ended up in the brig.

My mother was equally enthusiastic about the paper—at least all its writers other than Wi…