The Compulsive Copyeditor

August 24, 2016

Me Meme: Pedantry of the Day

Filed under: grammar,language degenerating,pedantry of the day — amba12 @ 10:33 am

Me, me, me.

We have banished this little word. Sent it to its room for an indefinite time-out.

Maybe it’s spiteful overreaction to too many stern corrections of “Joey and me went to the store.” Or maybe it’s that “me, me, me” is used to mock and shame selfishness in children, to the point where the word itself sounds piggy, whiny, grabby. We think we sound more dignified and grown-up when we say “Joey and I” — in ALL contexts.

But in some contexts, it’s just wrong. “Me” serves a grammatical purpose. Technically, it’s the dative and accusative form of the first person singular, the form that is the direct and indirect object of transitive verbs.

Huh? (I know. I wouldn’t know a dative from a dating app either if I hadn’t studied German in high school with a very stern, authentically German teacher.)

Well, just as (after age two) you wouldn’t say “Me went to the store,” you wouldn’t say, “Make sure to visit I next time you’re in town,” or “Mom is throwing I an anniversary party.” But that’s exactly what you’re saying when you say “Make sure to visit Joey and I” or “Mom is throwing Joey and I a party.”

There’s a simple trick for knowing when to say “Joey and I” and when to say “Joey and me”: get rid of Joey. Not for good, of course. Send him to his room for a brief time-out, and try the sentence with just you in it. Works every time.

March 28, 2016

Usage Find of the Day

Filed under: ambiguity,language degenerating — amba12 @ 3:20 pm

 

“Gunfire rang out inside the Capitol Visitor Center on Monday when a police officer shot a man with a gun.”                                                          ~ The Daily Beast headline, 3/28/16

Oh, I thought he shot him with a slingshot.

February 1, 2016

Sigh

Filed under: grammar,shop talk — amba12 @ 1:44 pm

grammarnazi

January 22, 2016

Usage Finds of the Month

“As I’ve eluded to above the three key advantages are . . .”  ~ Antibody Review Blog

“Love him or hate him, Trump is one of the most consistent people you will ever meet. He changes his political opinions over time, which is normal, but his patterns of behavior rarely seem to waiver.” ~ Scott Adams, The Dilbert Blog

Like “tow the line” and “pour over [the document],” these are symptoms of a culture that has become oral and visual rather than literate. What’s wrong with that, you ask? When the spelling of written English is so perverse that it selects for people with a genetic polymorphism that links the sound of a word to the precise look of it? What is the use of being able to master English spelling for conveying meaning? It communicates like a social code to other elite freaks, that’s all.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I’m one of those freaks, so I don’t want to just assume we’re right and those who can’t do this trick are wrong. I happen to love written English spelling because it’s a playground, or graveyard, of etymology. How words are spelled tells you not only the words’ root meaning but the language they came from (Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Latin, and French having all poured, ahem, into the brew that became English in the first place) and the way their ancestors were pronounced. “Through, thought, rough, dough, plough” send me into paroxysms of delight because I can image phlegmy Anglo-Saxons hawking them up. One doesn’t need to know that to write a blog post that gets its point across, but a language with amnesia for its antecedents is denuded of earth and depth.

 

January 9, 2016

Usage Find of the Day

From a purported “Dr. Oz” skin cream ad:

On his show he said he was thrilled when after months and months of pain staking tests and research, his team came across 2 products that when combined literally took 10 to 20 years off women?s appearance in just a month.

Ouch!

And while I’m at it . . . the new way of expressing enthusiastic agreement is, “Here, here!” That goes with “tow the line” and “pouring over” — signs of a culture that watches and listens far more than it reads.

January 6, 2016

How Copyeditors Crack [Themselves] Up

Filed under: punctuation,shop talk — amba12 @ 12:47 pm

I had just finished a science book job with lots of endnotes, two or three or more per text page in places, almost all of them referring to scientific journal articles with long, complex titles and subtitles, full of technical terms and sprinkled with Greek letters. They were in bibliography style—lead author’s last name first, periods separating the infobits—and needed reformatting into note style. And they were unnumbered notes, so the key phrases that anchored them had to be located in the text; modified if they were too long, short, or generic; and revised if the text had been revised. At midnight the notes seemed neverending, as if every time I finished a page two more popped up, like sharks’ teeth. At 12:30, unbelievably, the last one came in sight. Then came the proofreading in Final to clean up the bits of stray punctuation that get stranded in strange places when you’re moving things around. You can’t see them all among the blue and red of Track Changes.

It was the kind of work that demands the utmost in self-restraint, patience, and attention. You have to sit. You have to sit still, with your eyes fixed on a screen, for hours at a time. You cannot allow your mind or body to wander or you’ll miss stuff. Yes, I do have the Moon in Virgo but this is not my favorite part of copyediting. What really interests me is grammar and diction, the refinement of expression (i.e. I’m really an editor, not a copyeditor, but I don’t want the responsibility of being an editor—the part that’s a euphemism for “ghost writer”). The next morning I did my “sweeps”—going through the manuscript doing a “Find” on every digit from 0 through 9 to make sure I’ve treated numbers (and anything else in question) consistently. (How did we do this before computers?) Then I organized the stylesheet, under time pressure since the job was a day late.

After it was all in, I kicked back and, in the mindless way you do while decompressing, read the first thing in front of me, which happened to be my own stylesheet.

I was appalled.

  • Spell out 1–99, with exceptions:
    • dollar amounts: $1, $
    • millions, billions: 12 million, 3 billion,
    • percentages: numeral with the word “percent” (“11 percent,” “100 percent”

If you’re a copyeditor (or a copy editor) you will see that I went straight to hell in exactly the ways it was so important to stay buttoned up on the job. Nobody cares about this stuff on the Internet anymore, as long as readers can understand what’s being said (for science nerds only: I just read a WIRED article on the CRISPR-CAS patent dispute that misspelled the name of Jennifer “Dounda”), but if this incriminating document ever came to the attention of a copyediting department, especially someplace supercilious* like the University of Chicago Press (where an editor once made me copyedit my own résumé, then still didn’t hire me), I’d be drummed out of the profession.

I sent an embarrassed apology to the receiving editor, only to embarrass myself further:

The stylesheet itself needed copyediting, but I didn’t take the time. . . .

It’s just littered of unclosed parentheses and quote marks, the occasional missing example, etc. . . .

“littered of”?! How copyeditors crack up. ;)

(In my lurching fatigue I’d gotten only halfway through changing “full of” to “littered with.”)

Reviewing this as I walked through the park to karate class to get the kinks out, I could not stop laughing.

 

*The word “supercilious” derives from the Latin for “raised eyebrow.”

November 17, 2015

Dangler for an Angler

The Coelacanth

“Thought to have been long extinct, scientists discovered these ‘living fossils’ in 1938.”

Coela

September 24, 2015

Dangler of the Day

“Destined to be called an instant classic, I could not put this stunning book down.” ~ Julie Klam, author of Friendkeeping and You Had Me at Woof, on Erica Jong’s new novel Fear of Dying.

Okay, in the spirit of “Call me a cab.” “You’re a cab,” I’ll fulfill her destiny: Julie, you’re an instant classic!

(I wonder if she did that in her books, and if there was anyone to catch it.)

August 23, 2015

For true grammar nerds only

Filed under: grammar — amba12 @ 2:16 pm

This grammar article (an example of what we might call “demotic snobbery”) is not only gracelessly written itself (shame on JStor, a scholarly archive); it takes on the straw men of stuffy grammar “rules” that have long since fallen (the august Chicago Manual of Style gives its approval to the judicious, natural use of split infinitives and prepositions ending sentences); and, it fails to make the key distinction between SPEAKING and WRITING. We do not observe the same rules in speaking as in writing, nor should we. The critically endangered rule on dangling participles and dangling appositives — avoid them, because they are literally misleading — does not apply to speech because in speaking, you never even get there. Who ever uses an appositive or participial phrase in speech?! It’s a formality of writing to begin with, and one that is designed to lay out thought with an unambiguous precision and clarity that is particular to writing. Why do people who themselves are WRITING write only about SPEAKING?! /rant

April 25, 2015

Dangling Slowly in the Wind

All right, all right. I get the message:

Charged with involuntary manslaughter, a jury ultimately acquitted the film’s director, John Landis, of the charges.

It’s past time to tackle the issue of dangling participles, appositives, and what-have-you. The only reason I haven’t done it yet is that I actually don’t know the terminology. This is embarrassing and prevents me from being a certified expert. I live and breathe grammar, but I don’t really know what its parts are called. I can conjugate and decline with the best of them, but I can’t remember which is the operation you do on verbs and which on nouns. I know that a dangling participle is a phrase beginning with the -ed or -ing form of a verb that is not properly attached to the subject it’s meant to modify. But what’s a dangling appositive? Like the judge with the porn, I know it when I see it. I know it’s wrong, and I know why, but I don’t know it by name. I had to Google it. This is a dangling appositive:

A lawyer by training, her intelligence was keen, her commitment to health care reform and poverty unwavering.

Here’s another one:

Known for his sound character, military service, and political reforms, his passing came as a shock nationwide.

OK, millennials (my favorite straw man and woman, shorthand for the hapless victims of successive generations of progressive education, fading out like Xeroxes of Xeroxes), here’s a simple rule that will keep you from ever dangling a participle or an appositive again:

A participial or appositive phrase is like a baby duck: IT FOLLOWS THE FIRST THING IT SEES.

In the case of dangling participles, not knowing this rule often leads to unintentionally comical results, such as the above example of the jury charged with involuntary manslaughter, or yesterday’s example of the homeless men on their way to see Les Miz. The dangler simply attaches itself to the first thing it sees, like one of Konrad Lorenz‘s baby geese: [jeez, I had to copyedit the quote to make it fit for polite company!]

What he’s best known for and [what] led him to become internationally recognized was his classic experiment with newly hatched goslings (baby geese). For this experiment, Lorenz [divided] the eggs from the same goose into two randomly picked groups. Group A hatched in a natural environment and immediately began to follow mother goose around. Group B hatched in an incubator and the first living being they saw was Konrad Lorenz. So they immediately began to follow Mama Lorenz around… All the time.

In the case of the dangling appositive, the poor thing often has nothing to follow. The subject of the sentence has gone AWOL, and there’s no one to take its place. (In the above examples, you’d really have to work at the misreading “her intelligence was a lawyer by training” or “his passing was known for his sound character.”) The appositive just stands there, bewildered, like a teenager in a foreign train station, a follower without a leader and without marching orders. The grammar maven who provided the example also provides “one possible fix”:

A lawyer by training, she had a keen intelligence . . .

Or, in the second case,

Known for his sound character, military service, and political reforms, Beau Biden was mourned across a nation shocked by his passing.

In the opening example, the participial phrase can only be saved from the noose by a resort to the passive voice:

Charged with involuntary manslaughter, the film’s director, John Landis, was ultimately acquitted of the charges by a jury.

You might choose to rewrite those sentences differently But the point is, participial and appositive phrases both follow the very first thing they see when they turn the corner of the comma. So make sure it is what you want them to follow, the subject you intended them to describe. /sermon

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