Archive for September, 2011

Copyediting Tip of the Week: Newsletter musings, part 2

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011


bullet-glyph21Newsletter 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.

Suppressing that

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.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: National Punctuation Day

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011


bullet-glyph21National Punctuation Day

This Saturday, September 24, is National Punctuation Day. Founded by Jeff Rubin, the holiday seems readymade for copyeditors. Rubin’s site offers a few ways to celebrate his holiday, but for word professionals, the best way is to correct punctuation in your editing every day—not just on Punctuation Day—and instruct your writers on better punctuation usage. Gently, of course. Here are a few resources for punctuation lessons:

If you want to read more about punctuation, check out:

Here’s one more way to celebrate the holiday: send Copyediting an example of a punctuation error found in your editing travels. We’ll publish some of our favorites in an upcoming blog post and choose one entry at random for the winner’s choice of one of these audio conference CDs:

  • Punctuation Bugbears, Part 1: Colons, Semicolons, Dashes, and Hyphens
  • Punctuation Bugbears, Part 2: Commas/Possessives
  • Punctuation Bugbears, Part 3: All About Quoting
  • Punctuation Bugbears, Part 4: Capitalization/Trademarks

E-mail your entry to One sentence per entry, one entry per person. Names and personally identifiable information should be changed to protect the guilty.

Happy Punctuation Day!

How will you celebrate National Punctuation Day? Share your ideas in the comments section below.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Newsletter musings, part 1

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011


bullet-glyph21Newsletter musings

Each issue of the Copyediting newsletter grants me a view into other copyeditors’ minds. The newsletter is fortunate to have two rounds of copyediting with two editors reviewing it in each round. I get to peek into three different editors’ minds (one person looks at both rounds), seeing how issues can strike several people differently. Here are a few questions that arose during a recent round of editing the newsletter.

When to use a colon to introduce a list

I want to use a colon to introduce a list that’s on a separate line than its introductory sentence, even when the introductory sentence isn’t a complete sentence. I’m not sure where I picked up this habit, as it’s not something many style guides recommend. Copyediting has followed this practice in some places in the newsletter as well.

But one sharp-eyed copyeditor noted that this shouldn’t always be the case. According to The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), you don’t always need a colon before a series or a list. “If a colon intervenes in what would otherwise constitute a grammatical sentence—even if the introduction appears on a separate line, as in a list (see 6.121–26)—it is probably being used inappropriately.” This is a style choice, however, so check your style guide for its ruling on colons and lists. We at Copyediting will try to follow Chicago’s rule a little more closely.

A vs. per

Often, editors will change a to per or vice versa, but I’ve never noticed much difference between the two. The question came up with this sentence:

The project saves the company $8 million to $9 million a year.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (MWDEU) shows that since the 19th century, usage experts have rejected per because it was “a mystical sort of word,” not English. In the intervening time, however, people have increasingly used per anyway. Garner’s Modern American Usage (Garner’s) notes that using a is more formal (likely because of the centuries of usage experts saying it’s the right choice) but that per has become idiomatic.

As usual, it doesn’t matter what the experts say. If people consistently use a word to mean a certain thing, that word comes to mean that certain thing. Unless you’ve got a good reason for making the change one way or another, leave the author’s preference. He probably wasn’t even aware of the choice and used the one that sounded natural to him.

All vs. all of

Choose the correct word:

Even if a dictionary could capture all/all of a word’s current uses, language doesn’t sit still.

The choice between all and all of is a small point because including or excluding of doesn’t change the meaning. But it’s a point that many copyeditors think about—and that language mavens have argued about for centuries. Garner’s notes that all of is more common, especially in American English, but all is considered more formal. Says MWDEU: “The all users seem to be a bit stronger on the literary side. The choice is a matter of style and it is likely to turn on the rhythm and emphasis of your sentence.” Again, unless you have a good argument for one form or the other, leave what the author wrote.

I’ll review a few more newsletter queries in a couple of weeks. Next week, I’ll do something special for National Punctuation Day.

Which side of these questions do you fall on? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: More one-or-two-word confusables

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011


bullet-glyph21More one-or-two-word confusables

In July, I examined a dozen pairs of words that make copyeditors ask, “Should that be one word or two?” I asked for suggestions from readers for additions to the list, and you didn’t disappoint. Today, I look at another half-dozen word pairs that you wanted to know more about.

Note: not all of these word pairs’ definitions are listed here. When in doubt, check your house dictionary.

all right, adjective. OK; acceptable. adverb. Satisfactorily; certainly.

alright, adjective (nonstandard). OK; acceptable. adverb (nonstandard). Satisfactorily; certainly.

Is it all right to park my car here?
Everything will work out all right if you just have patience.

Many dictionaries and usage guides have entries on alright, and they mostly say the same thing: it’s a nonstandard variation of all right. Even though already for all ready and altogether for all together have become accepted words, alright has not. Bryan Garner puts it at stage 2 of his Language Change Index: “The form spreads to a significant portion of the language community, but it remains unacceptable in standard usage.” That significant portion includes journalism and business writing, says Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which includes many citations, as does the Corpus of Contemporary American English (1,913 at press time). Your best bet is to use all right and only use alright where it is already acceptable and when you can’t talk your author out of it.

any one, noun phrase. Whichever person.

anyone, pronoun. Any person.

Any one of us could take the call.
Anyone could take the call.

how ever, adverb + adverb. An error for however, although Oxford Dictionaries Online notes, “When ever is used as an intensifier after how, what, when, where, or why, it should be separated by a space,” as in “How ever did you find her?”

however, adverb. In whatever way; on the other hand; despite. conjunction. In whatever way.

I would like to see that movie; however, I doubt I will have time.
That painting is ugly however you look at it.

left over, past participle verb + adverb. If something is left over, it is extra.

leftover, noun. Remainder of something; in the plural form, usually the remaining uneaten food. adjective. Related to remainders.

I have enough yarn left over to knit another sweater.
My leftover yarn is threatening to consume my house.

log in, verb. To enter one’s ID and password into a computer system.

login, noun. The process of entering one’s ID and password into a computer system; one’s ID and password for a computer system. adjective. Related to the process of entering one’s ID and password into a computer system or to one’s ID and password.

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on going, preposition + progressive verb. Error for ongoing.

ongoing, adjective. In the process of happening, continuing.

I have an ongoing struggle with my kids to get them to clean their room.

Keep your suggestions coming, and I’ll cover them in a future post. Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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