“Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain”
What’s missing from this sample text? A set of subjects, n = 180, were surveyed using a predetermined questionnaire. Statistical analysis of the responses revealed a statistically significant pattern of association of low-frequency polysyllabic lexemes with greater intellectual value. It’s not short on words, nor on syllables per word, nor on grammatical complexity. It’s an […]
But what about plural “they”?
Singular “they” is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. There is no decent reason to require that third-person singular pronouns — and only third-person singular pronouns — always specify gender. “He” has never truly covered men and women equally, though starting in the 1800s some people tried to insist that it did, and […]
Ask an Award Winner: An Interview with James Harbeck
The Editors Canada student relations committee recently completed a series of interviews with Editors Canada award winners. Each month, we’ll bring you the highlights of our interviews in the hopes that those featured may inspire student editors beginning their careers, as well as editors who are already established. This month, S. Robin Larin shares the committee’s interview with […]
Don’t Look Busy
It’s a good thing I’m not working in-house anymore. I’ve been far too busy lately to look busy. Those of you who have worked in corporate environments know what I’m talking about: You can spend an awful lot of time and effort looking busy instead of getting things done. There are a few reasons for […]
The Performance of a Text
If someone says, “How about some music,” and you say, “Sure — Beethoven’s Fifth?” do you think they’ll be happy if you just hand them a printed copy of the score? A musical score is intended to be performed, and you don’t have a performance without musicians, a conductor, and the stage and lighting crew. […]
Sure-fire Opening Lines
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a novel in want of readers must be possessed of a good opening line. A book is a relationship — many of us spend more intimate time with books than with people — and it is important to start the relationship off on a good foot. So, naturally, […]
But Is It Art?
Is writing art? And if it is, what is editing? If we say writing is “artful,” or “artistic” or “an art,” we mean that we appreciate it aesthetically and admire it for the skill it evinces. But if we say not “writing is an art” but “writing is art” — or “this text is a […]
Words We Love Irrationally Much
I asked people on Twitter about words they love irrationally much. I got quite a few responses. Actually, I got so many that when I tried to retweet them all, Twitter finally told me I had reached my daily tweet limit. And did again the next day. The words that people love irrationally much are […]
Novel Medical Treatments
People with serious health problems are often subject to novel treatments. But that shouldn’t mean being treated like they’re in a novel. Health problems are human problems, and they can be important stories about real things affecting real people. But often, in telling them, we create another problem, because we make the story conform to […]
Digital Enhancement for Numbers (Go Figures!)
At the ACES conference in Providence, Rhode Island, in late March, the Associated Press announced changes to their recommendations for handling numbers and debated some others. About sixty percent of those present gasped when one of the recommendations was made — in fact, it might have been 70 percent. No, I’m going with 80% of […]
Yeet Citationality: Yippie-ki-yay!
The voting is in, and the American Dialect Society’s Slang Word of the Year is… yeet. Yeet is not so well known to oldsters, but it is in vogue among the youth. Its popularity demonstrates a central fact of how vocabulary spreads. It also leads us to Bugs Bunny, Clark Gable and Judith Butler. People […]
Eye Rhymes and iRhymes
Or: Can You Rhyme Emoji? An eye rhyme is when two words that only look like they rhyme are used for a rhyme. This was an early annoyance from my childhood, when elementary poems rhymed good with food. Another famous one is from Shakespeare: If this be error and upon me prov’d I never writ, […]
The Roots of Disagreement
It was one of those crises that end up in the parentheses of memoranda; it concerned the geneses of several referenda among alumni (and alumnæ) about addenda to their indices: the criteria for the termini of Greek- and Latin-derived words. By what formulæ should we choose, for instance, schemata or schemas? The competing sides saw […]
Do you want to use a Germanic feature, or do you prefer using a Celtic one?
Learning other languages is fun. And to learn another language is to learn more about your own language — especially when it takes on the aspect of learning more about your family tree. You’ve probably had the experience of meeting new relatives or learning about ancestors and thinking, “Oh, that explains something.” Well, consider this: […]
Does Verbing Impact the Language?
A favourite crank for language cranks to crank is the demon of verbing. It wrecks our language, they protest! They target such usages as impacted and referenced in business-speak and medalled in broadcasting. While liberal-minded linguists may see these words as just more of the odd flowers that bloom in the spring (and spring up […]
A Macaronic Feather in Our Cap
English is gloriously macaronic. I don’t mean that it’s like a big bowl of elbow noodles, not exactly. But I also don’t mean that it’s like a macaron — well, maybe I do, but that’s not what the word means. Macaronic, linguistically, refers to something that’s a mixture of languages. Macaronic poetry, for instance, may […]
Currying Favour With Your Readers
Editing and writing have a lot in common with cooking. For one thing, people come to a text, as to a restaurant, with certain expectations and ideals, and you should satisfy them. You don’t have to give them something completely predictable — especially if you’re in a line more artistic than industrial — but you do want […]
The Hardest Language
What language is the hardest to learn? The hardest for whom to learn? The world has many languages of many different kinds, but one thing they all have in common is that kids grow up speaking them fluently and think of them as the natural way to say things. Some languages have many inflections — […]
Calling Them What They Want
We’re all professionally attentive to detail, so I’m sure we all appreciate that, having earned a PhD, I am technically Dr. Harbeck, and it could be rude to call me Mr. Harbeck. My wife, having a master’s, is Ms. Arro — not Miss Arro, because she’s married, and not Mrs. Arro, let alone Mrs. Harbeck. […]
The Ongoing Demise of English
English just isn’t spoken as well as it used to be. As people who have to deal every day with the abuses of common users, we will surely all agree with this sentiment: “our unfortunate ears are doomed not only to excruciate in the torments of bad grammar, but to agonize under the torture of […]
Omitting Periods? It’s About Genres.
“Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style,” declared a New York Times headline. Noted linguist David Crystal had made some comments observing that the period is not requisite in text messages, and as such is used only “to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression,” as article author Dan Bilefsky […]
A Whole Nother Thing
As editors, we pay attention to the written form of our language. Its relation to the spoken form is a whole other thing. The spelling is odd, we know. But even our hyphenation doesn’t really break according to pronunciation. Consider the word breaking. Where do you hyphenate it? Break-ing. But where does the syllable break […]
Wherefore Pleaseth Archaic English?
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Are these not beautiful […]