My plan was to drive back to Grand Rapids, Mich., today and spend Saturday pounding nails and raising walls on a Habitat for Humanity home. But I’m not over a stomach bug that has been bothering me for a week now. I can’t risk making someone else sick, so I’ve sent my regrets, bitterly disappointed that I won’t be able to pay such a fitting tribute to my old boss and friend, Andy Angelo.
I’ve joined the blog team at Copyediting newsletter, so I’ll be posting there regularly and here maybe not as much. But I’ll try to add a link to those that are of interest, which I hope will be all of them.
Today, I wrote about my lifelong confusion about the rules of cricket and a cricket-related correction in the New York Times.
I was probably not yet 10 when I told a family friend visiting from England that I could not fathom the rules of cricket. The next 15 minutes were consumed with a detailed explanation of wickets, stumps, overs, and silly mid-offs that made me somewhat the wiser until the waiter brought my chicken and I forgot all that I had learned.
I have since read explanations of the game and watched amateurs play in a park, but what I manage to learn never stays. Cricket confounds my attempts to retain, like a dream just before waking. But I do know just enough about cricket to know I should never assume I know anything about cricket.
See the rest at Copyediting.com.
And please send me suggestions for things you’d like to see in future columns. Today’s is a sort of error-of-the-week format, so I’d love to hear about the brilliant saves or near-saves of other copy editors.
Columnist and language expert Ben Yagoda resorted to all caps in a brief Twitter exchange on the difference (if any) between “since” and “because.”
“There is NEVER confusion,” he said several weeks ago during a chat sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society.
That was in response to my assertion that “because” remains safer than “since” where there may be confusion with a time element.
I tell my copy editing students to beware of absolutes in writing. Absolutes in all caps are especially risky. Yagoda offers a defense of his position in the Lingua Franca column in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Copy editors, despite their best intentions, can come across as stuffy and pedantic because we sometimes perpetuate standards of English usage that may differ from the way people casually speak and write. “Because” vs. “since” provides a fair example. In the wild, “since” is used for “because” with aplomb and very few bar fights can be attributed to disputes over this usage. The distinction between “since” for time and “since” for cause is not something to fear, but I do think it is something to consider.
Sometimes in the debate between what is a real rule and what is a made-up rule (tricky, as there is no rulebook), we overlook the reality that “rule” can sometimes be shorthand for “good writing.”
I will grant that there is no “rule” of grammar that says “since” should be restricted to time elements and “because” used for causation. Blindly substituting can take away nuance and make writing more stilted. But there are cases where “because” is the safer choice.
In the Chronicle column, Yagoda suggests the example of confusion I offered was “ginned up.” My example was: “Europe suffered greatly since Hitler invaded Poland.” Yagoda said this “doesn’t sound like something that would actually be written.”
Well, no, probably not by a careful writer, which is the point. I disagree with his assertion that it wouldn’t be written in the temporal sense. He suggests “after” is more likely than “since” here. “After” might be better, but there is no shortage of examples of similar uses of the temporal “since.” A 1940 Montreal Gazette newspaper article speaks of “all losses suffered since Hitler invaded the Low Countries,” to mean “after” the invasion.
For causation, Yagoda suggests “as a result of” is more likely. But I can imagine the causal sense of “since” being so used in a high school or college history paper.
In historic terms, Europe suffered far more greatly after Hitler turned his attention from Poland. But one could suggest that after the invasion of Poland and because of the ensuing declarations of war, Europe suffered. “Since,” then, works in either the temporal or causal sense.
So, I do think my example works, but there are better examples. Yagoda takes issue with the response from Erin Brenner, the editor of Copyediting Newsletter. Brenner, who was the guest of the ACES chat, offered a much better rebuttal than mine to the assertion that “there is NEVER confusion.”
Brenner tweeted “Since he went out, I’ve been chatting.”
Yagoda suggests the ambiguity there is desirable. Literary ambiguity can be desirable, except in cases when ambiguity is not desirable. Saying confusion is a good thing is not a strong defense of the assertion that there is never confusion.
One more good example comes from Bryan Garner, author of “Garner’s Modern American Usage.” Yagoda cites Garner, who writes in his entry for “since”: “Despite the canard that the word properly relates only to time, the causal meaning has existed continuously in the English language for more than a thousand years.”
But Garner also goes on to say “be careful, though, of starting a sentence with since and then using a past-tense example.
Garner’s example, from the Sporting News: “Since Memphis exposed Louisville’s main weakness … the Cards have struggled.” Garner writes: “the reader wonders, at least momentarily, whether the Cards have suffered because of or just after the upset.”
So, Garner, the prescriptivist, says there is no rule, but be cautious where there might be confusion.
The lack of confusion is the goal of good writing and good copy editing. Even in cases where the meaning is clear enough, we don’t want the reader to wonder even momentarily which meaning we’re going for. It’s not always about rules, but it is about good writing.
Arika Okrent’s 17 syllables captured the hearts of the judges, but there were scores of worthy entries in the National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. The initial screening of 269 entries down to the top 10 resulted in 17 possibilities, and then judges asked to add another 11 back to the mix.
The five-judge panel then went into seclusion in the virtual grammar conclave for most of Sunday before they emerged with a winner, four runners up, and a mess of honorable mentions.
Arika Okrent tapped into a universal feeling of realization and dread when she wrote her winning entry for the 2013 National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest:I am an error
And I will reveal myself
After you press send
Soon after, she tweeted an amendment:
Make that “send”
“It became a self-fulfilling haiku,” Okrent said. “I wish I could say I planned it that way.”
Smug peevery is not the way to mark National Grammar Day, lexicographer Kory Stamper reminds us: A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day.