One of the signs of maturity in an editor is the realization that she imposes different sets of “rules” depending on the client’s preference. There are few indisputable rules, the editor realizes, as she is exposed to more and more sets of preferences.
In the one camp are people who think that and which should be used in different circumstances, exclusively. They feel those differences are vital.
In this camp, that is a word that restricts meaning; which does not. Which adds information but is not necessary to understanding the main clause. Satellites will fall from the sky if the spec docs use which where that applies.
Here’s a question for all the business copyeditors in the room:
When your text deals with a business-to-business (B2B) relationship, who is the customer: the company that pays the bills, the individual who is the main contact point, or the team that ends up working on the project?
I see this problem a lot in business copy. Even the author isn’t always sure who customer (or client or something similar) refers to, and the result is a muddle of pronouns for one word. The customer is an it in one sentence and a they in the next.
Canadianizing a text often means converting measurements to the metric system. But it’s not as simple as plugging “6 ft to m” into Google. Converters are accurate, but they’re more like transliterations than translations.
First, outside of technical materials, measurements are usually imprecise. It’s often more appropriate to round a conversion. Six feet becomes two metres, not 1.83 m.
One of the language newsletters I read has a feature that gives quick lessons on usage problems. The feature is often informative, reminding readers of the difference between loath (an adjective) and loathe (a verb) or that descend doesn’t need to be followed by down.
But once in a while, the feature baffles me, as with this recent (paraphrased) lesson:
Recently, I initiated a mentoring program here at Copyediting. I put the call out for mentors and mentees and matched people up.
Over on Twitter, though, @MANUALOFHULK (aka Chicago Style Hulk) asked in Hulk-like fashion: "@Copyediting MENTOR PROGRAM SOUND PROMISING, BUT HULK ALSO CURIOUS—MIGHT 'PROTÉGÉS' HAVE LEG UP ON 'MENTEES'?" @MANUALOFHULK linked to an entry in Garner’s Modern American Usage as support.
In summer 2013, I wrote a series of articles on zombie rules for Visual Thesaurus. The series proved popular, and I was inspired to do more research.
The term zombie rule was introduced by Arnold Zwicky to describe a usage rule that we’re taught to follow but that doesn’t actually exist. It has no basis in fact or, sometimes, no longer does. But it shuffles along like a zombie, attacking us with its insistence.
The next issue of Copyediting newsletter is due out in a few days. The issue didn’t raise a lot of debate, as some past issues have. One debate we did have was whether the adjective alternate could be used to mean “alternative; referring to a choice.”
From The Business of Copyediting article:
If you prefer an alternate/alternative spelling, you may be able to secure it a spot in your style sheet.