Category Archives: Editing

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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…

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Overhypoed Typos

To spell-check or not to spell-check? Many people would find this question absurd: Of course you run spell-check on anything longer than a text message. Take some pride in your work! But I wandered away from that moral high ground recently after fiddling around with software called Lingofy that lets you run style-guide checks on your writing using The Associated Press Stylebook (or a style book of your own making).

It was tempting for me because I write for both British and American publications…

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Valid Pronoun-Ambiguity Warnings

Dogmatic opponents of using they  with singular antecedents don’t argue for its wrongness; they simply assert. William Strunk called it a “common inaccuracy” 96 years ago; the revised version by E.B. White never revised this; and journalist Simon Heffer opines without argument in Strictly English (2010) that singular they is “abominable.”

Rebecca Gowers, in her revised update of her great-grandfather’s classic usage book Plain Words, is different. Exhibiting a sharp eye for ill-chosen pronouns, …

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The Etiology of Turgid Drivel

On July 10, chief executive Satya Nadella sent all Microsoft employees an inspirational memo (a prelude to sweeping layoffs, of course). The business sections and technology blogs were inspired to come down on it like a ton of bricks. I’ve struggled through it, and I have to say it deserves its damning reviews. The writing is truly dire. Look at this astonishing 10-sentence episode of verbal flatulence:

Organizations will change. Mergers and acquisitions will occur. Job responsibilities will evo…

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Yesterday’s Errors

Last week I listened to a conversation on “All Things Considered” between National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel and author Ammon Shea about his new book, Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation. It was fundamentally a discussion of language change and attitudes about language change, running the gamut from—to quote Siegel—“linguistic scolds to the most permissive writers on language.”

Shea, who puts himself at the permissive end of the spectrum, explained how some words that we now cons…

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Bad Spell

Rayse your hand yff you prefer reedying olde wrytynges in olde-fashionede spellyng. Anyone for Shakespeare’s Sonnette 73?

That time of yeeare thou maist in me behold,
When yellow leaues, or none, or fewe doe hange
Vpon those boughes which shake against the could,
Bare rn’wd quiers, where late the sweet birds sang. …

No, thank goodness we usually get it in modern spelling. Same words, different look:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those…

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Language Anarchy

Twitter_logo_blueWhat happens when a language is cast adrift? When there is no one to keep the language in line?

As we all know, these aren’t idle questions for the English language today. True, there are countless software programs, books, websites, teachers, editors, and just plain busybodies straining to keep our language within bounds. They endeavor to make sure the sign in a supermarket reads “15 items or fewer” instead of “15 items or less; to make sure it is whom you are addressing, but who addresses; to …