Archive for the ‘Writing/Grammar’ Category

An Editorial Tip from An Editor, Free of Charge

Ellipsis points, you know them? These things:  . . . They are three and always only three. It’s not up to the writer to decide how many there are………….Especially when…….they are not….consistent. And especially abhorrent, don’t use just two! It’s..awful! What is that? Two periods? Should I stop or keep going? My eyes hurt! But Mr. Smartypants over here says that sometimes you should use four. WRONG! That first one is a period, indicating a complete thought and the elision of either the rest of the sentence or one or more sentences, as in “The Revolutionary War was brutal. . . . Washington saved the day.”

You’re welcome.

This Is for Work so Bear with Me

Two independent clauses joined with the conjunction because should have a comma before the word because, right? Not always. If the independent clause following the word because is an adverbial modifier, it is actually a dependent clause, and the word because is actually a subordinating conjunction. Whether or not it requires a comma depends on whether the clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive. One of the telltale marks of an adverb (or adverbial modifier) is mobility, so if you can move the because part of the sentence to a different place and the sentence still makes sense, you’ve got yourself a dependent (adverbial) clause. But determining whether the clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive can get fuzzy. Nonrestrictive clauses are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence and therefore require a comma (or commas) to set them off. In other words, the information in the nonrestrictive clause is already implied or included in the phrase the nonrestrictive clause is modifying. A restrictive clause, then, is necessary to the meaning of the sentence and therefore does not require a comma (or commas). Often these are conditional in nature, restricting the meaning of the sentence to the conditions set out in the modifying clause. But it’s not always so cut and dried. I can’t even make sense of all the examples in The Chicago Manual of Style (14th ed.) 5.34.

I just had to sort that out for myself. I’d use examples to make things clearer, but (1) I am far too lazy and (2) there are plenty of other sites that explain this grammar much more fully and with many more examples. Also, I am lazy. And again, this is primarily for my benefit. Writing these things down allows you to think through it more thoroughly.

Just Split the Infinitive, Alright?

Several times recently I’ve come across prose that is worded awkwardly in order to avoid splitting an infinitive. And I’ve had it. The phrase that tipped me over the edge and sent me running for my computer just now was,  “. . . appropriately to engage . . .” And what initially spurred this monomania a few weeks ago was a professor’s remark to a student, in one of only four “errors” in his student’s entire fifty-page thesis, was that a split infinitive should be fixed. Several episodes in the intervening time set me to foaming at the mouth and spinning into fits of apoplectic rage with increasing intensity. Back to the example at hand: “appropriately to engage.” Nobody speaks like this. It sounds weird, archaic, and stilted. But thankfully it’s not just my own soapbox. While searching out an answer to another tricky grammar rule, I was leafing through Patricia T. O’Connor’s helpful little book, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, when I came across a section of “dead rules,” each of which had a tombstone in place of a bullet point. Lo and behold, one of the first dead rules was that of avoiding split infinitives. She explained, first, that the to in an infinitive (e.g., to go) is not technically a part of the infinitive to begin with but is a preposition to let you know that an infinitive is coming. (N.B. In most languages, the infinitive form is built into the word itself, and you don’t need anything to tell you it’s coming.) Second, she explained that most of the zeal for fusing the to and the infinitive stemmed directly from Victorian grammarians who wanted the English language to closely resemble Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive. In fact the rule doesn’t even show up until 1866 in a book titled A Plea for the Queen’s English.

So let’s be reasonable, people. Is it generally good to  avoid splitting infinitives? Yes, of course. But when splitting an infinitive produces crappy prose, I ask, Is the tail not in fact wagging the dog? The rules of grammar are our guides, which enable clarity and facilitate communication. If they blind us to the good, they have stopped serving their purpose; they have become our masters, we their slaves. Therefore let us split our infinitives with alacrity! And let not any of the poopypants who assume that taking grammar seriously means memorizing a set of rules tell us otherwise!

Editing Contest Winner

Well, I have now read that stupid sentence way more times than I ever wanted. What was I thinking?

The winner I have chosen is whichever Cochran actually edited the sentence. Circumstantially I would guess my good friend Ryan, who regularly reads this blog. But his wife Katie is the wordsmith of the Cochran household, so I’m thinking either Katie (who I don’t think ever reads this blog) heard about it from Ryan and tried her hand, or Ryan pulled in a ringer. Either way the prize goes to the same place. Here’s the original sentence:

Many Asian American biblical scholars have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to biblical interpretation, drawing upon postcolonial theory, diasporic studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, Asian American studies and theology, in addition to traditional biblical exegetical and hermeneutical tools, to craft new, hybridized Asian American biblical hermeneutics that are attentive to the issue of reenvisioning Asian American ethnic-racial identities within their diasporic existence in the United States.

And here are the (now two) sentences as edited (with one typo that the Cochrans introduced edited out!):

Many Asian American biblical scholars have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to biblical interpretation in order to craft new, hybridized Asian American biblical hermeneutics that are attentive to the issue of reenvisioning Asian American ethnic-racial identities within their diasporic existence in the United States. This multidisciplinary approach leads these scholars to draw upon postcolonial theory, diasporic studies, anthropology, sociology, Asian American studies and theology, in addition to traditional biblical exegetical and hermeneutical tools.

All the entries were definite improvements, but the many-headed hydra of qualifiers and subordinate clauses that I originally posted surely works better as two sentences. So I’ll mail you your signed book, it’ll get to the Canadian border in a day or two, and then Canada Post will take care of it for the next six or seven weeks before they deliver it to you. Enjoy!

Contest: Edit This Sentence

“Many Asian American biblical scholars have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to biblical interpretation, drawing upon postcolonial theory, diasporic studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, Asian American studies and theology, in addition to traditional biblical exegetical and hermeneutical tools, to craft new, hybridized Asian American biblical hermeneutics that are attentive to the issue of reenvisioning Asian American ethnic-racial identities within their diasporic existence in the United States.”

Best edit gets a signed copy of my book (i.e., the one with yours truly gracing — or disgracing — the cover).

Proofreading Contest: Solved

Well, somebody came up with the correct answer quicker than I anticipated. Somebody, I might add, who I have never met and runs his own freelance writing and editing business. Go figure. So congratulations, Mark, of On the Mark Writing. Your reward is free advertising for your business on this weblog (i.e., the link above). Mark’s answer is below:

“Without reading any of the other comments, on my honor, Kids should have an apostrophe after the s, right? The word following is a ‘gerund’ in form, and therefore the word before it must show possession.”

Thanks for playing!

Proofreading Contest

For my first content-laden post on my new weblog, I’d like to reel in all the sharp-eyed grammarians who visit my site. The following sentence has a subtle grammatical error. Can you identify it?

“Consider the value of kids developing their own internal mechanisms for recognizing when they’ve had enough.”

To be fair, the grammatical flaw is in fact so subtle that it has started slipping into normalized usage. Nevertheless, the rule still stands. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, Jess and I spent a good fifteen minutes discussing and diagramming until we finally had to pull out my advanced grammar textbook from college. Also, in the interest of a much more reluctant full disclosure, Jess noticed it, I challenged her, and she ended up being right.