More Blog Posts

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 10:48am
Mark Allen
Prescriptivist vs. Descriptivist is a Battle of Straw Men

Today, National Grammar Day, is a day to celebrate the language we share, its structure and its quirks. Along with the grammartinis and grammar-themed baked goods comes an old debate over how much we should meddle with the language.

It's a tiresome debate, between prescriptivism and. descriptivism, a battle between two straw men. It’s not a real debate, because as with many areas of dispute, no one really subscribes to the absolutist view they are accused of holding. 

Every descriptivist is describing a norm, and no matter what disinterest researchers might profess in outcomes, descriptions of our language shape how we use the language. We don't observe language because it's there.

Those who find fault with...

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 6:45am
Erin Brenner
Tip of the Week: Grammar’s Double Identity

Happy National Grammar Day, everyone!

In our February–March newsletter, Grammar on the Edge columnist, Jonathon Owen, discusses the fact that there are two definitions of grammar: one that language professionals use and one laypeople use.

This sometimes happens with industry-related terms: within the industry, the term has a very specific meaning. But in the general language, the meaning is broader, no matter whether the term started in common or industry usage.

For example, in the medical field, critical means:


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Monday, March 3, 2014 - 12:55pm
Dawn McIlvain Stahl
Featured Job Posts: Editors at Giant Creative Strategy, San Francisco

Giant Creative Strategy is seeking an editor and assistant editor to join its team in San Francisco. Established in 2002, Giant is a healthcare advertising agency that specializes in creative development, branding, and positioning for biotech, medical device and diagnostic, and pharmaceutical companies.

The editor and associate editor will copyedit, fact-check, and proofread promotional materials, including complex medical text, through all stages of production; annotate layouts and references for FDA submission; develop and maintain style guides; and manage the editorial workload for clients [editor only].

These full-time positions require a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or a related field; 1 year [...

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Monday, March 3, 2014 - 11:27am
Mark Allen
Preserve the Subjunctive? Would That We Could

Whither the subjunctive? The subjunctive mood is what we use—what we sometimes use—when we are expressing what is possible, what we wish to be true or imagine to be true but is not. If it is true, the mood is not subjunctive.

The thing is, not everyone uses it, and most people are OK with ignoring it in casual writing. The subjunctive may be going the way of thou and thither and whence and whither.

Ellen Degeneres organized an Oscar-telecast selfie with a bunch of front-row celebrities, and she tweeted it, asking viewers to break the record for retweets. The photo soon broke a 16-month-old record set by President Obama when he tweeted a photo of himself with the first lady and the words “Four more years.”

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Friday, February 28, 2014 - 4:31pm
Dawn McIlvain Stahl
2014 AnaGrammar Contest for National Grammar Day

Update: The winner has been chosen and the answers have been posted. Thanks to all the participants!

What would National Grammar Day (Tuesday, March 4) be without fun contests and prizes? Mark Allen has the scoop on the tweeted haiku contest. And here’s everything you need to know to win a basic membership to (includes a 12-month subscription to the Copyediting...

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Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:10am
Mark Allen
Copyeditor / Using a Few Words, Telling / a Worthy Story

There is something safe about the simple form of haiku. Structure can give the poet freedom, a simple structure especially so. Free verse forces the writer to create the rhythm as well as the words. Haiku forces us into a familiar pattern, one that is fairly easy to exploit.

With March 4 around the corner, entries are growing in the National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. Judges for the contest have been traditionally lenient about how they interpret haiku, and purists would say most of the entries don’t quite fit the Japanese form. Many of the entries are only sort of Haiku; they are closer to the variant senryu, but with a stricter adherence to the idea of five, seven and five syllables (from which entrants seem loath to depart). No matter. They are...

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Editing, News
Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 5:53pm
Dawn McIlvain Stahl
Questions for a Copyeditor, Author, Grammar Chatter: June Casagrande

June Casagrande will be our #GrammarChat guest for National Grammar Day on Tuesday, March 4. June is the author of It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences and Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. She writes and podcasts about grammar and language in the weekly syndicated column “A Word, Please” and at

What path have you taken to get...

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Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 11:32am
Mark Allen
If Hair is Involved, 'Tousle' is Probably the Word

It’s unclear when or why the words tussle and tousle divided into different meanings. A tussle is a physical struggle that suggests shoving and pulling. When you mess up someone’s hair, the word is tousle. If you’ve tussled with police breaking up a language debate that got out of hand, your hair might end up tousled. The words are close cousins, but for some reason we have two spellings for similar concepts.

We’ve been tussling since at least the 16th century. The noun form of tussle came later. Tousled hair might have come earlier, but we’re probably talking about spelling variations on the same word. Both words are from touse, which means pull.


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Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 12:55pm
Adrienne Montgomerie
The 4 Stages of Editing

These are not the production steps, but the stages that each editor goes through when editing. I learned this at Jim Taylor’s workshop on Eight Step Editing, one of the most popular offerings of the Editors’ Association of Canada. These stages rang so true that I’ve had them posted on my wall for nearly two decades:

  1. paralysis
  2. contempt
  3. superiority
  4. acceptance

He was applying this to individual assignments, I think, but it may apply to one's whole professional career.

Those who have attained the status of “mature editor” may happily find themselves in the fourth stage, which I sometimes think of as “resignation” — wherein you just...

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 11:17am
Mark Allen
Don't Make it Hard: Party with Heart

A friend asked me to settle a language debate argued countless times at bars everywhere: Is it party hardy or party hearty?

My short answer is anyone who writes party hardy is working too hard at it. You’re not chopping firewood or going for a walk in Minneapolis in February.

But the debate is far from settled. Either word makes sense for different reasons, and either has the better claim to rhyming correctly depending on how party is pronounced. For me, the later at night, the more likely for the t in party to be turned into a d sound.

Appetites are hearty; so is a jovial or energetic person. Hearty means full of heart, and we’ve been using...

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