12 grammarians and copy editors drunk with power

(Sorry for the irony of a copy editing post when I haven’t yet fixed the spacing issues in this new theme.)

Do you concur?

Grammarians must be coming out of winter hibernation or something. BuzzFeed recently posted “30 Copy Editors Tell Us Their Pet Peeves” and The Guardian just published an opinion piece entitled “Achingly unacceptable: the bad language that bugs me.” I consider myself a bit of a grammarian, so I clicked on these stories expecting to sympathize with the peeved. In some cases, I did. After all misuse of en dashes, em dashes, and hyphens is rampant, splitting infinitives is okay, and ending sentences with prepositions is usually fine. Many of the annoyances, however, were utterly absurd. Here are the ones that got my goat:

American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference:

“Impact” as a verb.

Many copy editors are apparently wholly opposed to the use of “impact” as a verb. Even if we agree that business shouldn’t have made this word synonymous with “affect” (which I’m staunchly unwilling to do until Silicon Valley recognizes that “social” is not a noun), impact IS STILL A FREAKIN’ VERB with a meaning in the vein of “to strike” or “to compress.” Take, for example, the impacted bowel. It is not a colon that has had a change of heart.

Use “who” in place of “whom.” Yes, a purported copy editor actually suggested this.

Are you kidding me?? They’re different parts of speech! “Who” is a subject that can act; “whom” is an object that is only acted upon. The easiest test for correct usage is to substitute “he” for “who” and “him” for “whom” (and the m’s at the end of the latter will help you remember the pairing). e.g. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for him!

Alright is not a word.

Hate to break it to you purists, but it is a word (Language isn’t static, folks!) and it does/should/can have a different meaning than “all right.” e.g. “On the practice test, Lucy’s short answers were [alright / all right].” Either Lucy is a star student or she needs more practice.

“Arguably” is problematic.

Okay, fine, it technically is. People usually mean it in the sense of “I could make a good case that _____,” but it can technically be used to call something into question, too. To be safe, I guess you should avoid it when actually arguing something. That said, there are lots of words in the English language that have opposing meanings (auto-antonyms) and this is by no means the most confusing. The one that drives me crazy is “pitted.” Wtf is a “pitted” olive? Does it still have a pit? Did it used to have a pit?

Avoid using “that.” I swear… You can’t make this shit up.

I’m not even going to write anything meaningful about that because it’s CLEARLY not a valid life choice.

“Stop using ‘probe’ when talking about an investigation. It’s just wrong…”

Um, do you mean as a verb or a noun? Not like this woman, as a presumed copy editor, is supposed to pay attention to details like parts of speech or anything…

I suppose I can see how “the federal probe into the Council’s misappropriation of funds” would cause uncomfortable feels for anyone who has a medical background or has consumed a lot of alien abduction media. “The next step is to probe the limits of the space suit by subjecting it to extreme temperatures,” however, makes perfect sense. The researchers are investigating by metaphorically feeling around for an answer.

“Due to” =/= “because of.”

Also technically true, but if the point of language is to communicate in a mutually intelligible fashion, who cares?

“Issue” =/= “problem.”

Ditto the above.

Don’t use “comprised of.”

While it’s true that “included of” makes no sense, “to comprise” can also be defined as “to make up [something]” because the lines between comprise and compose have blurred. “To be made up of [something]” is valid, so these grammar nazis need to compose themselves.

“Stop trying to make ‘said that’ happen. It’s never going to happen.”

This lady said that a phrase that has already happened would never happen. What a faux pas.

There was an anti-Oxford-comma activist among the copy editors. 

Please tell me she’s no longer a card-carrying member of ACES? The internet is rife with examples of embarrassing situations that can be avoided with Oxford commas. The battle has been won. Get over it.

One linguist’s  inner demons:

“To wed” is “ridiculous” and “archaic.”

Maybe it’s because I’m not British, but the only place I think anyone uses “to wed” and means “to join two humans in legal matrimony” is in those equally antiquated engagement announcements in the newspaper. It’s otherwise a fine verb that lets you save a few characters when describing a joining together. e.g. “The chef wedded Japanese and Italian ingredients in a brilliant fusion dish.”

“In terms of” signals a bad sentence.

Based on his awful example, I can see where he’s coming from. The phrase can often be swapped for “regarding,” but there are good reasons to keep both options open. e.g. “Regarding the financial projections, are we looking at profit in terms of money that can be reinvested or in terms of what’s leftover after we automatically reinvest some portion?”

I didn’t realize anyone hated all forms of the word “leverage.”

Um…? Seems to be part of a general anti-business-language trend, but I just can’t muster the same annoyance at most uses of “leverage” as I can at all relatives of “synergize.” The verb can get buzzwordy, though.

“Unacceptable” is wimpy.

Okay, yes, it is vague, but I think the beauty of it is that it invokes implicit social norms and lets everyone save a little face. Besides, no one just says “Your toddler’s behavior is unacceptable” and expects the parents to divine the problem, do they?

“To address” usually signals an intent to blather on about something with no intention of fixing any problems.

Fair enough. But the verb is still useful when describing a situation in which one person is speaking to a crowd, so let’s not ditch the verb altogether, eh? (Also, I’d like to point out that Butterfield uses “issue” to mean “problem” here.)

“Reach out” is a “gushing and pseudo-empathetic American metaphor.”

Sue us.

What are your thoughts? Am I a grammar hippie or do you agree that grammarians should be more careful in picking their battles?


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