Newsletter musings, part 2
Two weeks ago, I reviewed some queries raised in the editing of the October-November Copyediting newsletter. Today, I’ll share a few more items that were raised by Copyediting’s stellar copyeditors.
One way editors trim copy is by cutting unnecessary thats, yet sometimes a that is needed. Here’s an example we batted around in this issue:
This is not to say [that] the situation is hopeless.
Garner’s Modern American Usage states that it’s OK to drop that when it’s a relative pronoun or conjunction, unless you’re dealing with formal writing. Garner’s also recommends keeping that after such verbs as ask, say, believe, and claim. Copyediting’s writing style is professional rather than formal, but in our example that follows say.
To further complicate the issue, at Copyediting we try to balance our writing style with the author’s. So do we take a hard line and keep that after a verb like say?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (MWDEU) offers another opinion. When we omit a that, it calls the results a contact clause: “a dependent clause attached to its antecedent without benefit of a relative pronoun.” MWDEU notes that contact clauses have been common in English for over 600 years; even Shakespeare used them in his writing. Yet 18th-century grammarians knew that contact clauses didn’t exist in Latin, so they outlawed them in English. As a result, formal registers of speaking and writing eschew contact clauses.
Certainly there are situations where suppressing the relative pronoun would result in a miscue or ambiguity. If suppressing a that would result in ambiguity or miscue, keep it. If you’re editing formal writing, include all your thats. Otherwise, you can safely omit a that acting as a relative pronoun or conjunction.
Problems with parallelism
Here’s a sentence from the newsletter that has a parallelism problem. See if you can spot it:
For most of us, either someone above us or before us has already made the choice or has decided to follow the dictionary that the chosen style manual uses.
The phrases between either and the second or should be grammatically identical, creating parallelism. Yet if you break down the phrases, you’ll see that the first phrase has a subject (someone above us or before us), a verb (has already made), and an object (the choice), but the second phrase has only a verb (has decided to follow) and an object (the dictionary that the chosen style manual uses).
There are two easy fixes for this sentence. We can move either to follow the first has and delete the second has, creating two verb phrases that share a subject and a helping verb, or we can move either to precede the first has, creating two phrases that share one subject but that have separate verbs. (You’ll have to check the issue to see which we finally went with.)
Why is it webmail?
The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has adopted the lowercased web, webmail, webmaster, and so on, though it retains the caps in World Wide Web. Why? According to the manual, “generic terms that are capitalized as part of the official name of a system or an organization may be lowercased when used alone or in combination. … Chicago now considers web to be generic when used alone or in combination with other generic terms.” Copyediting follows Chicago and, frankly, this is where styling for web-related terms is headed. The AP Stylebook follows this style (I know, many of you are still grumbling about its change to email), as do APA’s Publication Manual and many others. The AMA Style Manual and The Gregg Reference Manual are holding the line, however.
What questions stump your editing team? Share your questions in the comments section below.
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