Fashion faux pas in editing

FASHION FAUX PAS:  Beware of trends

It is the nature of language to change continually and the most successful inventions will become correct English after a time.  Interesting mistakes include a narange becoming an orange. The same happened with a napron (linked with napkin) becoming an apron.

Because a final consonant is difficult to hear, it is dropped: you’d better do it, becomes you better do it. We can see this happening today with ice tea becoming the norm, rather than iced tea; first come first serve, rather than first come first served.

So many people say, “He did real good” that in the future it will probably be correct and “really well” will die out.  In fact all adverbs may die out.

Spoken English is invariably less correct than written English. An editor must judge how appropriate the language is for the paper that’s being written.

Q: When is it okay to say, "stuff," instead of describing the stuff you are talking about?

A: When stuff is stuff, though off the cuff, you may huff and puff, but no matter the bluff, your editor will always know when enough is enough.

As an editor, you have to judge when the word or phrase is common enough and included in enough dictionaries to be at least acceptable and possibly correct.  These examples have come from academic papers up to the master’s degree level.

Qualifiers: The writer is not allowing the adjective to stand on its own, thus reducing its power and meaning, when actually s/he intends to increase its power.  It was a very unique party.  It was very relevant…very significant…very integral part of the group…very essential…very available… very extreme… very crucial… it was truly uncommon… almost axiomatic…fairly commonplace…

Redundancy: the vast majority, a sorry tragedy, the final conclusion, a future forecast, past history, foreign imports…

Oxymoron: unbiased opinion, clearly confused, exact estimate, original copies

Comparatives: The passage was more clear after he edited it. (No, no – clearer)

Split infinitives are becoming very popular. Examples include: to better understand, to narratively inquire…to critically examine…to optimally support…to significantly change…to successfully adapt…and yes, of course, to boldly go…

Strings of synonyms: This usage seems to be an oratorical trick used in written language. To change and evolve…with honesty, candour and openness…

Verbosity: Again, these phrases could well have come from speeches, but avoid them in written work. To have an appropriate level of awareness (to understand); expanded further with the addition of…who are charged with considering…approximately in the neighbourhood of…along the lines of…on the basis of…with a view to… in and of itself…each and every…at this point in time…

Lived: lived stories, lived experience… (a favourite expression in the Department of Education)

Jargon: highlighted or underscored (emphasized); to address (to deal with, to solve); to align (to agree); downside (negative factor); waterwalker (expert); input/output (comment); prominent piece of feed (important advice)…

A reader reports that when the patient died, the attending doctor recorded the following on the patient's chart: "Patient failed to fulfill his wellness potential."

Fuzzy prepositions: through and across other areas… focused around… enter into the room… return back… continue on… attached together

Pomposity: utilize (instead of use); encompass (include); paramount (very); within (in)

Exists: the problem (as it exists) is difficult to solve…

Farewell to adverbs: Remind them to drive sober (AMA catchphrase).

Verbifying: It has just got to frost Martin that Chrétien is the only Liberal…career pathing; journalling/journaling; to blossom the person; to grow the company…

Unnecessary plurals: behaviours, language abilities, technologies, understandings, fruits, foods…

Adjectifying: key is overused at the moment, which will no doubt lead to reducing its usefulness and strength as a word…is key to the problem…a key aspect (an important aspect)

Overall: Overall is chucked into a sentence to mean “in conclusion,” much like basically. (Meaning I’ve run out of steam and now I want to stop.)

Faculty: This term should include members or staff.  The faculty members decided…or the staff of the faculty was up in arms… Unfortunately, it’s just used as: The faculty decided to have a meeting; the faculty were in agreement…

Then: What is so magical about this word?  Don’t include it in formal or academic documents – it sounds too folksy.

Use of the present tense: It’s normal in French to use the present tense to tell a story, but not in English…until now.  Many TV programs use the present tense even when the story is historical.  “Moses brings the tablets down the mountain.”  The aim is to make the story seem more immediate and exciting, I presume.  Highly annoying.

Ugly English: “I haven’t been writing that much” should be “I haven’t been writing very much.”  “Much different” should be “very different.”  “Different than” is less elegant than “different from…”

Patois: These modified expressions may be acceptable in local speech but not in writing.  Anyways (for anyway)… get a hold of (for get hold of)…

Transatlantic verb confusion: To dive: he has dived (in North America dove is common)

To fit: she has fitted (in North America the past participle is just fit)

To bite: he has bitten (In North American it’s frequently just bit)

Behove: it behoves her (American behooves)

With the huge reliance we place on Microsoft WORD and the Internet, American English (vocabulary, expressions and spelling) is creeping in everywhere.  What’s the editor to do?  It’s a judgement call.

Amount and number: Confusion between these two concepts is very common.  Amount is for uncountable things (sugar, concrete), but number is for countable things (people, mountains).

Less and fewer: less sugar or concrete, but fewer people or mountains.  Light Becel margarine has less calories when it should have fewer.

A note on rules

The source of several of our most pungent grammatical rules is Robert Lowth, an English clergyman who wrote A Short Introduction to English Grammar in 1762.  He was not didactic, but suggested:

  • Sentences should not end in prepositions
  • You should day different from not different than or to
  • Two negatives make a positive
  • You should say the heavier (not heaviest) of the two
  • There is a difference between shall and will
  • Between can apply to two things, but among is for many

His suggestions had somehow, quite unreasonably, become engraved in stone by the 19th century.

Another rule that is considered monumental is that you should not split an infinitive.  You should not say: to boldly go, but to go boldly.  This rule has no basis in regular English but was based on Latin, which never split its infinitive because it didn’t have “to” in front of it anyway.  Don’t ask.

Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue, English and how it got That Way is an excellent source for grammatical and linguistic gems of this nature.

David Crystal’s The Stories of English is likewise fascinating.