Category Archives: Editing

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Did You Drop That ‘H’?

337-t1This past weekend I was preparing for a talk I’ll be giving next month in Washington, D.C. At some moment I decided to check the description of the seminar online to make sure that I would be talking about what I said I would be talking about several months ago. (I have learned not to trust my memory on this!)

In the middle of reading the description, I thought, “I didn’t write that sentence that way.” Now, if I wasn’t sure I could remember what I said I would be talking about, how could…

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Farmers and Cowmen in the Language Wars

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“The Old Editor,” John McIntyre

A common, maybe the most common, framing of the conflict between language prescriptivists and descriptivists puts it in personal and psychologized terms: anal-retentive schoolmarms on the one side, unkempt hippies (probably raised by Dr. Spock-toting parents) on the other. That view, while not baseless, is reductive and not especially helpful, leading as it usually does to name-calling and bile rather than to a forward path on mutual ground.

Maybe a more useful le…

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Semi(-)colon

way station copyIn response to my previous post on dashes, one of Lingua Franca’s readers, Dan K, sent me an email noting that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, spells semicolon without a hyphen. I had spelled it with a hyphen — because in my head, that word has a hyphen. And the editors clearly didn’t have strong enough feelings about the spelling to change it.

The fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language agrees with Merriam-Webster’s spelling, not with th…

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Direct Objects or Lack Thereof

71pLyLC3SELAs a memento of my visit to the London offices of The Economist I took away a printed copy of the 2013 edition of the magazine’s style book. Its 200 sides of heavy, high-gloss paper are spiral-bound to remain open on the desk at the user’s elbow: The book is intended for daily use.

It has a personality; you can sense it. Take a look, for example, at the beginning of the entry headed “transitive and intransitive verbs”:

The distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is often now disreg…

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Syntactic Self-Harm on St. James’s Street

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Economist Plaza, St. James’s Street, London

I love and admire The Economist; I itch for my copy to arrive each Saturday morning. But I have sometimes had to criticize the grammatical stipulations of that august magazine’s editors. At one point I actually ventured the opinion that they were deliberately trying to annoy me by using phrasings that they knew I would hate (Language Log, September 4, 2015). But I recently had a chance to discover whether such paranoia had any basis. Let me explain.

My…

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Dashing Through

Dash copyOnce you start using the dash in your writing, it can be hard to stop. I’m talking about the em-dash here — that punctuation mark that is so helpful at linking phrases and clauses that don’t seem well served by a comma, semi-colon, or colon.

I started wondering the other day whether — and how badly — one can misuse the dash. Most style guides provide a good amount of leeway in terms of how the dash can function — it can function like a colon (as it did right there), parentheses (as it did …

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Let Us Edit Your Article

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You have to laugh at some of the spam you get, don’t you? Or maybe weep. Today I received a spam email from a proofreading and academic editing company. “We majorly specialize in proofreading academic documents,” it told me, with a majorly eyebrow-raising adverb (wouldn’t “mostly” have been better?). But before I had finished reading it I decided this one was a laugher, not a weeper.

Bafflingly, the company that sent the email (and I have decided it would be kinder not to name the company here)…

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‘Room’ With a Point of View

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Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in the film version of Room.

If you heard I had posted on Lingua Franca about Emma Donoghue’s Room, you might justifiably expect that I’d written about the way  the narrator of the novel, 5-year-old Jack, uses language. Jack’s entire life has taken place in an 11-by-11 foot room, where he is confined with his mother. (That situation becomes apparent in the first few pages of the book, so this is not a spoiler.) And I could well have written such a post, as Don…

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All the Changes We Do Not Notice

3d47d20b2d9db0e4f86cbab4a5c19fbbI have been thinking a lot about button-down shirts recently. This is after many years of giving them — or at least giving the word for them — very little thought at all.

My mulling was sparked by an email from Dave Carlyon, an astute observer of language, who pointed out that something seems to be afoot with the term button-down shirt. Does the description refer to the collar or the entire shirt? The answer: Originally it was about whether the collar buttoned down, but now for many of us, it is…

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Editor Needed

squirrelIn a junior-high-school grammar lesson about misplaced and dangling modifiers, I was given this memorable sentence to correct: “Clinging to the side of the aquarium, Mary saw the starfish.” Poor Mary. It is exhausting to be asked to hang onto an aquarium wall that way.

I was thinking about that sentence recently when my sister, a lawyer, sent me a provision from the New Jersey Administrative Code. She and her husband are trying to deal with the squirrels in the attic, and so she had checked the …