Monday, September 20, 2010

Copy Edit du Jour

While both Jane Doe and John Public grew up in South Florida, their love story
began in Los Angeles.

This writer managed to use two of my biggest peeves in the first two words of an article!

For one, I hate loose uses of "while." As a synonym for "though" or "although," it can be sloppy and confusing. As for "both," that's more a personal prejudice. Often it's just wasted ink. In the cases in which "both" is useful, like this sentence, writers often put it in a less-than-ideal location. Here's what I did to the passage.

Though Jane Doe and John Public both grew up in South Florida, their love story
began in Los Angeles.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Copy Edit du Jour

Some proofreading catches send a chill down my spine -- usually because I almost didn't catch them at all. Only on a second reading did I notice the error in this passage. Even then it felt like a fluke that I caught it. Here's the sentence:

Guests sipped signature cocktails and nibbled hors d'oeuvres into the wee
hours until the evening winded down and they went home with gift baskets teeming
with treats from local merchants.

The catch ....

I changed "winded" to "wound."

"Winded," 99% of the time, means out of breath. The proper past tense of the verb "to wind" is "wound." Webster's New World does allow "winded" as a past tense, but calls it "rare." And in copy editing, we never opt for secondary dictionary choices, much less "rare" ones.

That was almost the one that got away.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Loopy Linguistic Logic

Love this quotation from an Economist interview with Bernard Lamb, president of the Queen's English Society, which I learned about from Stan Carey's blog/tweet:
"If I see a correct semicolon, that makes my day! They’re so useful!"

Um, dude: If they were so useful, sightings wouldn't be so rare.

As I mention in my new book, I'm an antisemicolonite. In-the-trenches copy editing can do that to a person. Once you've seen enough writers composing ridiculously long and awkward sentences solely to create opportunities to show off their semicolon prowess, you see how semicolons can do more harm than good.

Stan makes some great counterpoints to the English-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket coalition. But, to me, the most striking thing about their mentality is this: The Chicken Littles bemoaning the decline of English never seem concerned that, if there is evidence that English is in decline, that could be a sign that education is in decline across every discipline.

Increased ignorance about "affect" and "effect" is, to me, much less alarming than a decline in the number of students qualified to become engineers, physicists and mathematicians. Yes, these skills may go hand-in-hand with language learning. But that's the point: If they do, why are the Chicken Littles concerned only about the language part?

By emphasizing only language and by failing to put alleged language skills declines into context with possible declines in math, science and history, the English alarmists tip their hand. They're not about concern. They're about control.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Copy Edit du Jour

From an article I'm editing:

Santa Cruz also offers year-round golf, riding the dunes in a four-wheel ATV, horseback riding, surfing, body boarding or fishing from its 1,100-foot pier.

There's an issue here that's cropping up so much lately I'm starting to wonder: Is it happening more? Or did I fail to notice it before?

The issue I'm talking about: "or."

The town doesn't offer surfing, body boarding or fishing. It offers surfing, body boarding and fishing. I wonder whether this happens because the list got so long that the writer forgot how the sentence was structured.

Just an interesting little mental blip is all. I changed "or" to "and."

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

LA Times: Electrodes Translate Brain Waves into Words

Researchers from the University of Utah recently made strides toward helping severely disable people communicate. They placed some electrodes directly onto the brain tissue of one subject, had him speak some simple words, and interpreted the data from the electrodes.

Researchers reading the brain waves were able to identify some of the words.

Pretty cool.

The story's here.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Form Letters for Dealing with Unwelcome Facebook Friend Requests

Dear ____

Thank you for writing to me. I do not hear from many friends since my brain problem. Im feeling alot better, even though I don’t remember too good what all happened that night. Hey, now that I hear from you I think I remember: Weren’t you driving my car that night? Please give me your phone number so my mom can call you and ask what happened that night and if you were drinking.

Also, come over for fluffer nutters.

Dear _____

It’s wonderful to hear from you, though I cannot say it was a surprise. I knew that one day Jesus would draw you close enough that I could help you find his light and help guide you toward His one true church: Uniscientarianism, which teaches that the one true path to God is through overseas missionary work combined with a carb-restricted diet, door-to-door testifying and shedding yourself of all your material shackles. I look forward to helping you come into his light over the months and years to come!

Dear _____

What a trip hearin’ from you. Man, if it weren’t for this Facebook stuff I tell you I’d go nuts in this place. By “this place,” I’m sure you know I’m talking about the San Tancredo State Correctional Facility, where I’m stuck serving fifteen to twenty just for downloading a few hundred pictures “the man” says I shouldn’t be allowed to have.

Having someone like you on the outs can definitely make my life in here a lot easier. And if you can follow my directions for baking me a very special kind of birthday cake, maybe you can help me make my time here a lot shorter, too!

Write back soon. I mean it.

Dear ______

How are you?!? It’s great to hear from you! I guess you found my Facebook page through the dating site where I linked it. I bet you were surprised to see me on a site that hooks up people who don’t meet society’s standards of beauty. But, as I’m sure you saw in my photo spread, I’ve let myself go these last few years. But, hey, you were never one for dentists, either, now were you!?! And we unattractive folks enjoy discreet encounters, too. After all, that’s what the Bumping Uglies website is all about!

Please write and let me know where you’d like to meet and what you want me to wear.

Dear ______

Thanks for friending me! I’m doing good -- really excited about getting started with Amway. Do you know about Amway? Well, it works like this …

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Copy Edit du Jour

I came across this sentence (which I slightly disguised here) in an article I'm editing.
The popularity of fashion eyeglass frames began to spread, becoming so popular
in the late 1920s that the Sears catalogue dedicated an entire page to them.

I'm still noodling over it. Does popularity spread? Or is it more idiomatic to say it grows or perhaps increases? And I almost overlooked that dangling participle, which seems to suggest "popularity became so popular."

Here are some alternatives I'm toying with.

The popularity of fashion eyeglass frames grew. By the 1920s, the Sears
catalogue dedicated an entire page to them.
The popularity of fashion eyeglass frames grew so much that in the late 1920s
the Sears catalogue dedicated an entire page to them.

Fashion eyeglass frames started to get popular. By the late 1920s the Sears
catalogue dedicated an entire page to them.

Fashion eyeglass frames became so popular that by the late 1920s the the Sears catalogue dedicated an entire page to them.

Hmmm. I think I'll go with that last one.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Words that Should Get a Divorce (One in a continuing series on words whose relationships have grown tired)

for and naught

Poor naught. While its partner, for, runs around with every other word under the sun, naught can't find a single other preposition that will give it the time of day.

You'll never see from naught, to naught, with naught, or at naught. And no way will naught ever get to strike out on its own, heading up a sentence like "Naught is what you've got."

Nope, naught is hopelessly codependent.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Part of Speech is the "Due" in "Due To"?

Came across this interesting usage note at Webster's New World's online dictionary. I hadn't realized that "due to's" function was disputed. Here's what I learned.

due to preposition: Because of

Usage Note: Due to has been widely used for many years as a compound preposition like owing to, but some critics have insisted that due should be used only as an adjective. According to this view, it is incorrect to say The concert was canceled due to the rain, but acceptable to say The cancellation of the concert was due to the rain, where due continues to function as an adjective modifying cancellation. This seems a fine point, however, and since due to is widely used and understood, there seems little reason to avoid using it as a preposition.
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