Sunday, January 29, 2006

From the files

Some quick hits, many of them via Nicole at A Capital Idea who has been harvesting the good stuff while I've been finishing up the first three weeks of classes, you know, the one where in copy editing we say: "This is a comma. It is your friend."

Speaking of commas, John McIntyre has a good post at his Baltimore Sun blog about the little bugger and some of its ins and outs. I'm afraid, however, the day of the proper use of a comma to join two independent clauses is rapidly setting. Pick up about any Wall Street Journal for the evidence.

John has another good post on the use of "they" with those troublesome indefinites, everybody/everyone and anybody/anyone. I agree with the folks at Language Log (and a second post here) that the traditionalists are going to have to rethink their rigidity on this. But, dang it, I will not allow the ad/PR spinmeisters (or sportswriters for that matter) to shove down our throats that a company or a team (as in "Clemson" or "Chicago," as opposed to the nicknames) is a "they." One must occasionally take a stand.

(A side note: A comment by "Bill" to John's posting that "It's tempting to justify a questioned usage by pointing to the work of great writers ... but my experience with very good writers is that they are likely to be lousy editors" is worth noting for its ring of truth. The "descriptivists" like to cite literature, and the points are well-taken. But as with pedants on the other side, the practice should be leavened with the kind of common sense Bill's comment brings.)

Also, check John's good post on the misuse of false ranges, although, sadly, this is another area where I think common use is overtaking logic. (A related post from several years ago on Bill Walsh's The Slot.) (Now, one question: Should that be "irritations," John, or "annoyances"? Don't revoke my copy editor's license. I'm just being playfully pedantic. This is another one where I think we probably need to let it go, although Brooks/Pinson/Wilson maintain the distinction in their latest edition of "Working With Words.")

Also check out the Barbara Wallraff column Nicole points to. Wallraff takes a second to prick what is one of my annoyances -- the unthinking use of "thanks to." As she notes:
While we're on the subject of expressions that are often used in unthinking ways, another one is "thanks to." For instance, we might read, "The company closed thanks to a downturn in the economy." No need to thank anyone for that!
But thanks to Wallraff for that observation.

Now if we could just do something about the unthinking use of "reform," thus buying into the spin of every politician ...


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