The Associated Press Stylebook sent a summary of recent updates to its online subscribers this week, the first since March. The nine new or updated entries were mostly routine (jack-o’-lantern is so spelled), but there was at least one change of significance:
justify: Smith justified his actions means Smith demonstrated that his actions were right. If the actions are still controversial, say Smith sought to justify his actions.
When I edit for business clients, I rarely see them refer to anything anymore; they reference.
Reference is usually a noun. When it is used as a verb, it traditionally meant to add references. I’ve referenced an article or two in my day, but I never called it that. To reference a scholarly article, by this definition, is not to read it or cite it, but to add citations to it.
The language wars are alive and strong, and Steven Pinker is in the middle of them this week. Pinker, a psychologist and cognitive scientist, wrote The Language Instinct, about the acquisition of language, 20 years ago. Now, he offers advice on what to do with language once you’ve acquired it in The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.
One of the more common changes I make in copyediting is replacing i.e. with e.g and sometimesthe other way around.
I.e. is the abbreviation for the Latin id est. Id est hardly needs an abbreviated form, but it’s far too late for that battle. It means “that is,” and it’s used to restate a concept, usually in simpler or more expansive terms:
“We started with the charcuterie (i.e., the cold meat and cheese plate).”
Subject-verb agreement is a notoriously tricky problem. As Geoffrey Pullum, a professor of linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out in a Lingua Franca blog post, it’s easy to say that verbs should agree with their subjects, but it’s a lot harder to draw up a foolproof list of rules that one can follow to ensure grammatical agreement. There are simply too many gray areas and exceptions to the rules.