If ‘they’ is singular, does ‘themself’ naturally follow?

Respected reference sources have signaled a modicum of acceptance of the pronoun they in a singular sense. The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style
relaxed their prescriptions for singular they in recent months, allowing it in limited Image showing Chicago Manual of Style entry (5.48) on singular "they."
circumstances.
This is another step in a trend toward accepting they when referring to a single individual, usually an individual who is hypothetical, someone who is real but of indeterminate sex, or someone who doesn’t personally conform to the binary genders of male and female.

If we accept the singular they, the slippery slope argument suggests that we soon will have to accept the singular pronoun themself. If they is OK as a singular pronoun, it follows that we should at least consider themself as a reflexive pronoun:

The person who wins the prize will find themself set for life.

Themself has been used that way for hundreds of years, though it rarely appears in writing these days. If you are writing or editing in Chicago style, you have that guide’s blessing start bringing it back. AP style is not there yet. Continue reading

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Great writing informs great copy editing

The ending lines of The Great Gatsby make any good list of the best closings in literature. The last line is perfect while the penultimate paragraph is perplexing:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms
further . . . And one fine morning —

Savor that paragraph for a moment divorced of the final paragraph. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s impeccable wording seems imprecise, uncertain, elusive. The punctuation, defying convention, serves as visual poetry, echoing the grasping thought process of the narrator. Its uncertainty contrasts with the final line, one of realization and acceptance, the end of youthful optimism:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

It’s hard to consider the penultimate paragraph without the last. But I wonder how many people stop at it and think, “Gosh, this could use a good editor.”

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Possessive of a title in quotes? Just don’t

English has a lot of conventions—best not to call them rules—that sometimes fall apart when we try to apply them in all possible situations. Sometimes, it’s best to just not go there.

If we want to make a noun possessive, we typically add an apostrophe and an s. Mark’s wise words, for example.

It was pointed out to me by a fellow copy editor that Amy Einsohn, in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, recommends making a phrase or title in quotation marks possessive in the same way. The result is not pretty. Continue reading

In standard usage, ‘daylight saving time’ wins out

The end of daylight saving time offers an opportunity for people prone to correcting to remind us the middle word is singular—”daylight saving time”—although in casual use, it’s just as often rendered plural.

The form “daylight savings time,” exists for no particular reason except for our predilection to pluralize “saving.” There is little harm in the variant form, and most good dictionaries record “savings” as an alternative.

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Bard Day celebration offers much to read about

It’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, more or less, and all of Twitter is a stage for stories about the immortal one.

There is no time for me to read of Shakespeare morning until night, so I created a list of links pulled from Twitter today for your leisurely reading enjoyment, The first one is my own, so I may be a poor jurist. But all the others I have read or intend to read.

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ACES 2014 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest entries

A little bit of what I’ve learned on Twitter

The following column originally appeared on Copyediting.com in two parts. As I have no space limitations, here it is in its entirety for your convenience.

The first part is here: http://www.copyediting.com/dont-be-intimidated-twitters-learning-curve#sthash.3kcwQN11.dpuf

And here is the second part: http://www.copyediting.com/twitters-place-engage-wordies#sthash.IXRo0pir.dpuf

Twitter is technically simple, but conceptually difficult. When I started, I tweeted useful tips and followed people who I thought might be interested. Eventually, I started following people I thought were interesting. It took me a long time to understand that people talking to me weren’t necessarily talking to everybody and that when I said something, people weren’t necessarily listening. I think I’ve experienced all the Twitter epiphanies, but it took me a long time.

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