I like commas, perhaps a little too much. I like the way they give me more control over readers' pacing, forcing them mentally to pause when I want them to pause and go when I want them to go. I like how they can break a sentence into discrete chunks while showing how those chunks relate to one another.
But, like I said, I might like them a little too much.
The Chicago Manual of Style gives editors a decent amount of guidance on the proper use of commas, but sometimes it offers open-ended guidelines instead of strictures. Take section 6.36, for example:
You can find it in alleyways, in bathroom stalls, and on the walls of prehistoric caves. It’s often ugly, but sometimes beautiful. It can be rude, funny, disgusting, and occasionally even poignant and thoughtful. A few people have somehow even figured out how to make a good living from it.
The Plain English Foundation, an educational (and sometimes support) group based in Sydney, Australia, that is devoted to eradicating corporate and government doublespeak, has announced its choice for the worst word or phrase of the year 2015.
The “award” goes to the phrase “possible emissions non-compliance,” used by Volkswagen’s American group CEO Michael Horn when he sort of admitted that top executives at VW knew about problems with the car manufacturer’s diesel engines.
Are you still observing the careen/career distinction? Were you rattled when The Associated Press Stylebook dropped the over/more than distinction? Are you worried that the imply/infer distinction or the loath/loathe distinction is a lost cause?
In the thick of editing we can be caught between fear that we are spending time on nuances that no one else can hear and anxiety that we are letting the standards of literate usage slip away from us.
Today, more often than not, people use the words celibate and celibacy to refer to an abstention from sex. This has some language "purists" calling foul.
From its earliest written use in the mid-17th century, celibacy, from the Latin caelibatus, meant simply a choice not to marry. Only as a consequence of that unmarried state would a celibate person remain sexually pure. What's more, a person could enter celibacy later in life, even after having children.
Writers and editors frequently confuse passive voice with other syntactic structures, including those in which the main verb to be takes a subject complement rather than a direct object. Because these structures operate outside of the hierarchical paradigm of the transitive-verb phrase, creating more lateral relationships between subject and predicate, grammatical authorities often ignore them or judge them as weak. Few discuss their many significant virtues.
Most people use phrases like "verbal agreement," "oral exam," and "verbal abuse" without really stopping to consider what they mean. As copy editors, we don't have that luxury.
Sometimes, as these examples show, oral and verbal are used as synonyms. But should they be?
Purists (aka Grammar Nazis, errorists, grammaticasters) will tell you that verbal refers only to being composed of words (or, for linguists, of verbs) and can never be used simply to mean "spoken." If you mean "spoken," they'll tell you, use oral.
The word then is a common and useful word for connecting ideas in a sentence. Unfortunately, problems can arise from not understanding exactly what role — or what part of speech — then plays in a given situation. There are four options for then, though some writers try to shoehorn it into a fifth option.
Skill level: Intermediate Instructor: John McIntyre
Are the metaphors coherent? Do they fit the subject without drawing undue attention to themselves? Do they work properly within the tone and structure of the story? As writers attempt more ambitious effects, editors have to apply more demanding standards.