Friday, January 14, 2011

Libel against grammarians in today's Times

"As Mr. Loughner has tried to explain it in Web postings, English grammar is not merely usage that enjoys common acceptance. Rather, it is nothing less than a government conspiracy to control people’s minds. Perhaps more bizarre, even potentially troubling, is that he is not the only one out there clinging to this belief. Some grammarians say they hear it more often than you may think."
-- Clyde Haberman in today's Times.

N.Y. / REGION January 14, 2011
NYC: Subjects and Verbs as Evil Plot
Even before the Tucson shootings, Jared L. Loughner acted weirdly and darkly in many ways. Nonetheless, for bizarreness, his rants about grammar stand out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"While" -- a comma makes it mean "whereas"

From today's News Sentinel:
Power forward Alex Tyus led the way for the Gators with 18 points, while shooting guard Kenny Boynton scored 17, including five in overtime.

From Ruge Rules:

The Rule: "While" can be used to mean "during the time that," and it can be used to mean "whereas."
In the former case, while is not preceded by a comma.
In the latter case, while must be preceded by a comma.

So: I can't study while my little brother is beating on his drum.
And: The Blue Ridge mountains are beautiful, while the Rockies are grand.

Purists and copyeditors tend to frown on the use of "while" to mean "whereas," because the meaning depends upon the comma and points of punctuation have a perverse way of not being where they should be.
If you choose to use "while" to mean "whereas," it's important to be assiduous in your punctuation.

Minimize prepositional phrases

Today we pass along Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

The Preposition Quotient.

In lean writing, it's a good idea to minimize prepositional phrases. In flabby prose, a ratio of one preposition for every four words is common; in better, leaner writing, the quotient is more like one preposition for every 10-15 words.

Five editorial methods can tighten sentences marred with too many prepositions.
  1. The prepositional phrase can be deleted as surplusage; for example, it's often possible in a given context to change a phrase such as "senior vice president of the corporation" to "senior vice president" -- if the corporate context is already clear.

  2. Uncovering buried verbs often eliminates as many as two prepositions each time; thus, "is in violation of" becomes "violates."

  3. It's sometimes possible to replace a prepositional phrase with an adverb; so "she criticized the manuscript with intelligence" becomes "she criticized the manuscript intelligently."

  4. Many prepositional phrases resolve themselves into possessives; thus, "for the convenience of the reader" becomes "for the reader's convenience."

  5. And finally, a change from passive voice to active often entails removing a preposition; so "the ball was hit by Jane" becomes "Jane hit the ball."

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