Mighty Red Pen

June 6, 2012

A wink and a nod

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 6:39 pm
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If there’s one thing that makes me a somewhat peevish reader these days, it’s the weedlike way some books have grown (Freedom, “Twilight,” and “Dragon Tattoo,” I’m looking at you), seemingly without the careful pruning and nurturing of an editor. Relentlessly repetitive imagery, endless superfluous information, charmless language choices—the content just goes on and on.

Which is why it was such a joy to encounter The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes a few weeks ago, with its beautiful economy of language and loving restraint. Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye is another such book—although it wasn’t as revelatory for me as Barnes’s book, the gentle but insistent tidiness of the text wrapped up a direct and pithy story in under 200 pages. It’s not that I have any problem with a longer book, it’s just that some longer books I’ve read lately (Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you) are such exceedingly lengthy forced marches, they are more to be endured than to be read. Every once in a while, I appreciate a book that shows up, says what it has to say, and then bids a fond farewell.

Having said that, here’s a little tidbit from The Beginner’s Goodbye. It’s a scene that comes after Aaron, who is both a widower and an editor, has just been introduced to Louise, a fellow editor with whom he hoped a spark might ignite.  It’s a little wink and a nod to the editorial sensibility (although not an altogether flattering one). Enjoy!

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April 12, 2012

Your usage is delinquent: access vs. assess

Filed under: Spellbound,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 7:27 pm
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H/t to my West Coast correspondent for sending this little tidbit.

Okay, here’s the deal: If someone is late making a payment, you may assess (M-W: “to subject to a tax, charge, or levy”) a fine.

If you are uncertain about whether you have the correct word, you may need to access (M-W: “to get at”) your dictionary.

March 26, 2012

Into the breeches: breach vs. breech

Filed under: Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 6:35 pm
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This breach of proper spelling was spotted here.

Okay, here’s the deal. When you want to say an agreement has been violated or broken, it’s a breach of contract (M-W “1. infraction or violation of a law, obligation, tie, or standard”). When you sashay about in your new pants, you’re showing off the latest fashion in breeches (M-W “1a. short pants covering the hips and thighs and fitting snugly at the lower edges at or just below the knee. 1b. Pants.”).

Breech also means ” the hind end of the body, (M-W) and if you look it up, you’ll find a trove of synonyms for buttocks that would have the average six-year-old boy screaming with laughter. You know, if that’s your thing.

Well-documented we find Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage a particularly useful website, and on this matter, not only is it useful, it’s amusingly instructive. Citing the famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Brians lets us know: ““Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” means “let’s charge into the gap in the enemy’s defenses,” not “let’s reach into our pants again.”” Good way to remember, don’t you agree?

And, well, if you have a a breach in your breeches, then you have a whole other set of problems that’s beyond the scope of this blog. So good luck with that.

December 2, 2010

Keeping the Four Grammarians at bay

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:23 pm
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I’d like to direct your attention to a post by John McIntyre over at You Don’t Say, “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Barbarians.” In it, he addresses a topic I’ve touched on before: whether the misuse of language signals the approach of the Four Grammarians of the Apostrophocalypse. He doesn’t think so:

The people whose usages you deplore may be slovenly writers with questionable judgment, but they are not a threat to the language. Those of us who get our bread as editors need to keep this in mind. . . .

Take one of those deep, cleansing breaths. There is a great quantity of substandard prose out there that requires your attention. And there are choices by able writers that are open to question and subject to discussion. If you want to do a favor to Civilization, do your job without losing your head.

As you know, I share the point of view that it’s not necessary to rail heatedly against misuse of language, nor is it necessary to belittle others who have made a mistake. Language is flexible, and it grows and changes. For residents of Wordnerdlandia, discussions about language and usage should be fun and joyful, not a vehicle for showing your superiority over others.

Read the whole post. And then, as a bonus, read what happens when a colleague dares to submit a headline that uses the phrase “′tis the season.” A duel ensues. No joke.

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