Category Archives: Editing

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George Curme, 21st-Century Grammarian

A century ago this year, just before the First World War began, the grammarian George O. Curme published a short but remarkable paper entitled “Origin and Force of the Split Infinitive” (Modern Language Notes 29 (2), 41–45). It has deep roots in the 19th-century tradition of critical analysis of English grammar. And it is sobering to compare his paper’s meaty content with the thin gruel that passes for discussion of English grammar today.

Curme is following up works such as the splendidly acrid

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Why I Don’t Use Track Changes on Students’ Papers

icon256They arrive now, in a flood, the end-of term papers. For the most part, they are beyond revision at this point, and the task ahead consists mostly of assessment. Still, I find myself clinging to my Luddite position of accepting papers only in hard copy, regardless of the risk of germ transmission by paper, regardless of deforestation, regardless of the printing costs or the various excuses the demand engenders. The main reason for my old-fashioned insistence is that I still find some students he…

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Writing Instructors: Your Pain Is Felt

Anthony Trollope we are not.

Readers of my polemics against incompetent passive-disparagers (for example, this paper, and this Lingua Franca post) often suggest that I would sing a different tune if I had to grade the student papers they see.

Well, don’t be misled: I teach courses, and I grade papers. And I have to admit that when I saw this opening paragraph in a student paper last week, I did get a sense of what the passive-haters are talking about:

Throughout this essay, the various theories …

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Got ‘Gotten’?

Lena Dunham

Would Lena Dunham really have written “I had got”?

I can imagine the scene. Christopher Beam, a young writer based in China, excited to be publishing his first piece in The New Yorker (a very good one about the sometimes violent conflict between doctors and patients in the country), looks at the edited version of the article. There it is, in just the third sentence, a reference to the maladies of the story’s main character: “During that time, his illness, an excruciating inflammation of the spin…

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Why Well-Formed Nonsense Doesn’t Matter

I’d like to add one more point on the topic of my post “Computer Says B-Plus.” My modest suggestion was this: If a computer program trained on essays graded by humans could learn enough about the superficial form of academic prose to reliably assign suitable grades to newly presented essays (where “suitable” means “close to what a qualified human grader would have assigned”), that could put a useful tool in the hands of a diligent student who wanted to get anonymous, private, and patient assessm…

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‘Tis Nieuw to Thee

On August 26, 1664, the urban ancestor of the town in which I live changed its name. The English arrived, only four years after the restoration of their own monarchy, and threw out the Dutch. New York was born, sort of.

That was 350 years ago. On August 25th, the day before the anniversary, The New York Times reported this:

“Finally, on Sept. 8, the largely defenseless settlement tolerated a swift and bloodless regime change: New Amsterdam was immediately renamed New York. It would evolve into…

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Computer Says B-Plus

The mouth-filling abuse of Kathleen Anderson’s post on automatic grading (“Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?”) is such a delight to read that I’m almost sorry to confess that I disagree with her.

Anderson was approached by an educational publisher’s representative about a plan to (i) gather a corpus of several thousand student essays, (ii) hire experienced instructors to grade them, and then (iii) apply machine-learning techniques to train a computer program that will grade further ess…

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All Done Copyediting/Copy Editing/Copy-Editing

copyeditingHallelujah. The copy edits have gone back. Hallelujah.

I’m referring here to the 350-page manuscript for my new novel, A Sister to Honor, forthcoming in January 2015, which I received in copy-edited form 18 days before my wedding date, with a two-week deadline. Between negotiations with the caterer, travel arrangements for various relatives, and the borrowing of baby stuff for my fiancé’s grandkids (the complications of senior nuptials), I cranked on the edits.

These now come, as anyone who has …

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Little Help, Please?

John Updike once commented in a letter to his editor William Maxwell, “It occurs to me that the world would not be significantly poorer if I stopped writing altogether. Only a bottomless capacity for envy keeps me going. That, and the pleasure of reading proofs and designing book jackets.”

I know what he meant, though I would never presume to design a book jacket, or, indeed, anything. One exercise I do get pleasure from is fussing with what to call a book. My forthcoming history of American …

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Verb Agreement and Hurdling

Sally Pearson, Australian medalist in the 2012 Olympics

It isn’t easy to admit being wrong in front of thousands of readers, but Ben Yagoda took it on the chin.

He had written this clause (I mark it with the asterisk that linguists use to signal ungrammaticality):

*The meaning of words inevitably and perennially change.

The incident reminded me of one of the worst features of the grammar advice so many university writing instructors hand out to students.

Certainly Ben’s sentence was ungrammatica…