Things my Copy Editor Taught Me (or tried to)

Due to/Because of

The Copy Editor’s JOB is to correct my grammar (so I won’t look like an idiot in front of the readers), and thus they’re generally far more cognizant of what correct grammar should look like. Therefore, when one of them dings me on something, I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong so we won’t have to go through it again on the next book.

But this one?

I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone correct my use of ‘due to’ before.  I had no idea that it mattered, but according to a few sites I’ve visited, I do use the word pair incorrectly.

I had no clue.

It comes down to this: due to is only to be used as an adjective, not a preposition.  So it modifies a noun.

Grammar Girl explains it here:

The traditional view is that you should use “due to” only as an adjective, usually following the verb “to be” (1). For example, if you say, “The cancelation was due to rain,” the words “due to” modify “cancelation.” 

In other words, if you don’t have a was directly before it, you’re probably not supposed to use ‘due to’.

KU explains the traditionalist opinion here.  There’s even a little quiz at the end of the lesson.  (I got them all correct, simply by using the tip above.)

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The most interesting thing about this is that the two copy editors -before- this one never noticed that error.  In fact, on her second page, Grammar Girl pretty much says that this one is fading away.  But that tells me that because of/due to is one of this most recent copy editor’s particular bugaboos.

I have those, too, BTW.  Want me to throw your book across the room? Use further when you should be using farther. Further/Farther really bugs me. Also, I grit my teeth if you use prodigal incorrectly.  That word does not mean what you think it means….

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Definition of prodigal (Vocabulary.com)

recklessly wasteful, “prodigal in their expenditures”

Synonyms:
extravagant, profligate, spendthrift
wasteful

tending to squander and waste
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Nowhere there do you find the definition being “someone who goes away and comes back”.  So the “prodigal son” you’re talking about had to have wasted a lot of money before you use that adjective on him.  (Noun usage is a bit different, BTW.)

Yes, it irritates me…

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I’ve said all that because yesterday I posted an interesting correction wherein the copy editor who dinged me on my improper use of ‘due to‘ failed to notice that I use ‘different than.

Now you will see in this explanation that ‘different from’ is preferred over ‘different than‘.  (If you want to see real grammar sniping, btw, read the comments!)

Here’s a nice bit from the Oxford dictionary people where they shrug about the whole thing, but add different to to the equation (a usage apparently used more by the Brits.)

One of my previous copy editors -did- call me out on this one, yet had no objection to my ‘due to’ usage.

Basically, I think this is the same situation as my further aversion. Every copy editor will have the thing that annoys them, and they will notice every time you do that thing.  But what bugs one doesn’t bug the next, so it’s a challenge to try to write well enough to make them all happy.  A never-ending quest…

 

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ETA: Also, improper use of the word enormity bothers me.

 

 

Things my Copy Editor Taught Me (or tried to…)

Irregular verbs.  Not lie/lay.  I actually do that one pretty well.  But there are a few others that I’m still not sure of.

The Copy Editor’s JOB is to correct my grammar (so I won’t look like an idiot in front of the readers), and thus they’re generally far more cognizant of what correct grammar should look like. Therefore, when one of them dings me on something, I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong so we won’t have to go through it again on the next book.  Sometimes, however, I can’t wrap my head around the differences, and these are two of the verbs that still baffle me.

Awake/Wake

My second copy editor was the one who caught me on this. I don’t know the difference. After looking it up on-line, I -still- don’t think I know the difference. In fact, now I’m even more confused.

One source claimed that awake is an adjective, totally ignoring the verb awaken, some sites indicate that awaken is transitive while wake is not,  and other sites say that both can be transitive or intransitive.

I ran across an old Lutheran Hymn entitled “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” which does seem to use both as verbs  (for whatever that’s worth.)

Big Words 101 says:

“To sum it up, you can use pretty much whichever word you like, but in general, you will probably use wake more often than awake, except to use awake as an adjective (for example, I am awake now. )”

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(Image Source: Big Words 101)

So my research didn’t give me much of an answer as to why that particular editor changed things (and since his changes didn’t change the meaning of anything, I just let them stay.)

 

Might/May

Now this one was picked out by that same copy editor, and I know there’s a difference between the two words. Whether I can grasp the difference is still debatable.

Basically (And Grammar Girl explains this very well….across 2 pages) Might is for something that is unlikely, May is for something more likely to happen.

My problem with this stems from what might be a regional difference. For me, Might covers probabilities from 1% to about 90%, and May covers that slim area where you’re asking your mother for permission to go to the store. Seriously? If Mom says that you may after you’ve asked, then the probability that you’re going to go after going to the trouble to ask ‘May I’ is closer to 95%.

So for me it’s always been:

Might = 1 – 90% probability of occurrence

May = 91% +

(For me, May has always been more about permission, not possibility.)

 

What it’s really supposed to be is something closer to:

Might = 1 – 5%

May = 6% +

 

So in a lot of places in my manuscript I used Might when a more correct choice would have been May.

When you throw in that the past tense of May is Might (ACK!) and that there are some exceptions to the above standard (such as negatives, I might not is safer than I may not…which sounds like you’ve been denied permission) you end up with a bit of a mess.

Again, however, other sources say that Might/May is open to interpretation…

 

So I’m afraid that I don’t have a defined line in the sand for either verb. Therefore I’ll just suggest that writers continue to use the version that sounds right to them (and if their copy editor disagrees, it’s likely not worth fighting about!)

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Things My Copy Editor Taught Me (or tried to…)

Which/That

My most recent copy editor was big on correcting which/that, and I can hardly blame him, since it’s one of those writing things that I just cannot seem to figure out. I don’t know if this is a regional issue, but I often use which in conversation (and writing) when I should be using that. (Don’t get me started on people who use that when they should use who!)

Because I speak that way, I write that way.  And thus I give my copy editor a lot of fodder for complaint.

 

Grammar Girl, as always, has a Quick and Dirty Tip on how which should be used.  If you read through the first page of the post, you’ll find that a nonrestrictive statement (one that could be left off and not change the meaning of the sentence) gets a which.

My problem was, and still is, that I cannot seem to figure out when you can eliminate a phrase yet not change the meaning of a sentence.  My brain refuses to accept that you can delete words without changing meaning.

Fortunately for me, over on GrammarBook.com, they finish up their article with this statement.

  • The distinction between that and which, though a useful guideline, is widely disregarded:Which is routinely used in place of that, even by great writers and journalists, perhaps because it sounds more elegant.

 

WIDELY DISREGARDED.

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Whew! So, essentially, I won’t die if I don’t understand this one!

For the most part, when it came to my copy editor’s changes on this subject, I simply let them go. I didn’t feel like* I was on solid ground with this rule, so I assumed he was correct.  Not worth arguing over.

If you want to see whether you’re barking up the right tree on this topic, you can take this online quiz (which also includes the who option.) (( I figured I could use which there, since you would figure it out if you click over there anyway, and thus it’s not restricting the meaning of the sentence.))

ONLINE QUIZ

(FWIW, I got 10/10 right…so perhaps I’m not so bad at this writing thing after all!)

I think that most of us have an instinctive grasp of this rule due to our reading, but there are still times that we get it wrong. The good part is, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get caught since other people seem to struggle with this one, too!

 

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*We’ll get to that word some other week…

 

Things My Copy Editor Taught Me

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I recently worked through the copy edits for Book 3, The Shores of Spain. Now, a copy editor is essentially paid to correct my grammar. As such, going through the copy edits are often a strange and irritating process. No one likes to have their grammar corrected. But I’ve also found it an informative process.

I’ve worked with 3 different copy editors so far, easily differentiated because each one has different grammar pet peeves. What one corrected, the other two often didn’t notice.

One of the three dinged me on the word drapes, consistently changing it to draperies.

I found this bizarre, but when I looked into it, it was, technically, correct.

Like many of my other grammar foibles, this turns out to be geographic.

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Image source.

I found this excellent explanation at Curtainworks.com:
Chances are, if you live anywhere close to a major metropolitan area, you identify soft window treatments as draperies. If you live in the South or Midwest, you probably describe them as drapes. And if you live in the Northeast or on the West Coast, most likely you refer to them as curtains.

Yep, I grew up in the South (Southwest, actually.) Therefore, I call them drapes.

Fortunately, the site went on to give the topic a more in-depth treatment:
Regional differences aside, each of these terms has a historical claim to being a common expression for soft window coverings. Curtains and draperies have the oldest pedigree, with the word “curtains” cropping up numerous times in the Bible as a term referring to the fabric hangings that were used to veil the tabernacle in early religious temples. The word curtain is derived from the Latin word “cortina,” which means a partial veil or covering.

The word “drapery” is relatively newer and seems to have originated among the weavers of Great Britain in the 14th century. Drapery is based on the word “drab,” which at that time meant woolen cloth; weavers of that cloth were referred to as “drapers.” By the 17th century, the term drapery was the common usage for soft window coverings.

The word “drape” began its etymologic journey as a verb: to drape meant, very simply, the process of hanging draperies. However, we can thank retailer Montgomery Ward for turning the verb into a noun in an 1895 catalog, referring to drapery silk as being suitable for “sash curtains and mantle drapes.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. got into the verb-as-noun act in its 1908 catalog, calling a Nottingham lace curtain “one of the most stylish and attractive drapes one could possibly desire for the parlor window.”

Drape has had somewhat checkered history, however. Up until the 1950s, usage of the term “drapes” was considered fairly low-class—indeed, in the 1950 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, she calls the term drapes an “inexcusable vulgarism.” Politicians, never ones to shy away from a good vulgarism, use the phrase “measuring for drapes” as a way to ridicule their opponents: most recently, during the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain said his opponent Barack Obama was so sure that he would be moving into the White House that he was already “measuring the drapes.” Similarly, during the 1968 campaign, Hubert Humphrey said of Richard Nixon, “Why, he’s even been to Washington to look at the White House and measure for drapes.” (Interestingly, both Humphrey and McCain turned out to be right!)

So I learned something in trying to figure out why my copy editor objected to what was a perfectly normal usage where I come from….I now try to remember to use ‘draperies’ in my writing, hoping to spare the suffering of any future copy editors who might have this pet peeve.

Do you use drapes? Or is it draperies to you?

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Grammar Pet Peeves: Word Crimes and the Oxford Comma

Well, most people have seen this in the week since it came out, but I’ll place the video here, just in case you haven’t.

 

I agree with Weird Al.  Except for his blase attitude about the Oxford Comma, that is.

My publisher prefers Chicago Style when it comes to style manuals, so I’m expected to use the Oxford comma in my writing. However, I also believe it’s clearer. Here’s an example:

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(source: Verbicide Magazine)

 

If there’s no comma separating the second term in the list and the conjunction, then the two terms following the first comma can be seen as modifiers for the first term.

This might help:

I gave the book to my eldest brother John.”  The structure of the sentence means that the indirect object is John, modified by my, eldest, and brother.

I gave the book to my older brother, John.”  The structure of this sentence means that the indirect object is brother, modified by my, older, and John. (The implication here is that there is more than one older brother, and therefore we have to clarify it by specifying John. In the first version, since we have eldest brother (and there can only be one of those), clarification isn’t needed. John was clearly the subject all along.)

Likewise, if there are two terms following a single comma, they can both be seen as clarifying the first term. Admittedly, most people will understand that it’s not meant that way, but most people also know which is meant when a texter confuses there, their and they’re. That doesn’t make it correct.

The point I’m making is that I don’t agree with Al that the Oxford comma is just a bunch of drama. I like it, and he’s not going to take it away from me.

 

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Grammar Pet Peeves: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy

by Beth Cato

I froth and rage over many spelling or grammatical errors. The so-called “grocer’s apostrophe” always gets me. That’s when you see instances like “grape’s $1.49” or “DVD’s and CD’s on sale.” I always want to shout, “What belongs to the grapes? Are they sentient?”

If I see such grammatical abuses in public, I get angry, but more than that, I am amused–I take pictures or bring home a copy of the flier. Signs with burned-out letters make me giggle like crazy, though I certainly wouldn’t want to shop at places like IFFY LUBE and AFFLE HOUSE. Poorly worded ads in the newspaper make my morning bright–“Huge Trouser Blowout!” “Boa Constrictor for Sale: Loves Kids!”

You see, I am a collector of English in error. It’s a delightful hobby I’ve had since I was a kid. My hometown paper is not the highest quality of publications. When I was nine, I laughed until I cried because of a small notice in the paper where Smokey the Bear was repeatedly spelled “Smokey the Beat.” I clipped out the article and I still have it tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

As a teen, I discovered Jay Leno’s Headlines segments each Monday night. I recorded them on the VCR. A family friend introduced me to Richard Lederer’s Anguished English book series. If you can read through his collection of “The World History According to Student Bloopers” with a straight face, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

The English language is hard. I’ve committed my share of abuses (you might even find a few in this post). I try to keep that in mind when I’m irked by illiteracy in the world around me, and most of all, I maintain my sense of humor.

To that end, I’d like to share some of my favorite grammatical goofs from my personal collection. Don’t eat as you read–I’d hate for you to choke on your grape’s!

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BethCato-HCV-smBeth Cato’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, a steampunk fantasy novel from Harper Voyager. It comes out September 16th. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

 

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Full of magic, mystery, and romance, an enchanting steampunk fantasy debut in the bestselling vein of Trudi Canavan and Gail Carriger.

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

 

Available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s

Find Beth Cato: Website, FaceBook, and Twitter

 

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Grammar Pet Peeves: “Based off” is off base

Grammar Pet Peeves: “Based off” is off base

by Steve Bein

I want to talk about the basics of bases. I also want to propose that as a culture, we should all band together and start throwing batteries at people who say “based off” when they mean “based on.”

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(source: skreened.com)

It is true that there are grammatical sentences in which you can correctly use the words “based off of” in that order, but they are rare and convoluted. Here is one example: “Last night I consumed my own bodyweight in black tar heroin, which I free-based off of my grandmother’s heirloom silver soup ladle.” Grandma and the DEA might not be too happy with me, but they can’t say I use my heroin ungrammatically.

Suppose they catch me dead to rights with the smack-encrusted ladle. I spend my time in prison writing a steamy novel called Fifty Conjugal Visits of Grey, and it’s so damn good that Hollywood makes it into a movie. You might be one of those people who would say the movie is based off of the book. But you’d be wrong. (And if someone then pelted you with a battery, you’d change your evil ways.)

Here’s a very short exercise I sometimes give to my students: first, draw a picture of some structure—a tent, a house, the Eiffel Tower, whatever. Now suppose this structure has a base, and draw that base. Now look at your picture and tell me this: is your structure sitting on your base?

If yes, then your picture matches 100% of the pictures my students have drawn. The thingy, whatever you drew, is on its base. No one ever draws the base next to the thingy, or on top of it, or far away from it. Everyone knows that bases are, well, at the base of things.

This is why you say “the movie is based on the book,” not “the movie is based off the book.” The book is (duh) the base on which the movie is (duh) based.

Now if the movie is nothing like the book, you could be perfectly justified in saying it’s way off base. The book gave it a perfectly sound base to rest on, but the movie missed. Calling it off base is a baseball reference, by the way, not a structural one (though as it happens, the baseball term is based on—not off—the structural term).

So if you happen to know anyone who writes the autocorrect dictionary for word-processing software, please tell them they need to include a new addition: automatically replace “based off” with “based on,” and then leave it to the rest of us to change it back if we happen to find new and creative uses for our grandparents’ nice silverware.

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steve-bein-bwSteve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’sInterzoneWriters of the Future, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword, his first novel, was met with critical acclaim.

His webpage can be found at: http://www.philosofiction.com/

Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/philosofiction

 
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Set Your Phasers to Destroy: Unnecessary Verbs, by Tina Gower

Just like everyone else, writers have their pet peeves. Our are just stranger…

Set Your Phasers to Destroy: Unnecessary Verbs

by Tina Gower

Hi ho grammarly types! I’m dyslexic and I’m here to infiltrate your peaceful paradise of complaints and peeves. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.

My beef concerns writing weaknesses. Weaknesses in imagery with the verbs we choose and how we use them. As a school psychologist I was trained to help people with learning disabilities (like disabilities that hinder reading phonics, syntax, and comprehension). I picked up a few tricks to help people boost reading fluency and comprehension.

Along the way I discovered a funny problem that causes a mental roadblock. It’s something that I first stumbled across in other writing. Then, like a flu virus, it spread into my stories when I first started the craft and it’s a bad habit.

It’s the use of the double verb. It poses an imagery problem and puts in extra words that are unnecessary. It messes with clarity and gums up our sentences. Your mission is to seek and destroy the double verb.

Type these words into your document search tool:

Began/begin to
Tried to
Attempted to
Started to

I’ll use examples of this offense in a few sentences:

Helen tried to walk away from Harry.
Margaret began to sit on the couch.
Bob started to shake Mary’s hand.
The dog attempted to steal the cake.

I hope you’re awesome and you found none, but if you did find these and you’re wondering what’s the big deal, I’ll tell you.

First of all, it’s a logic flow problem. Imagine “trying to walk” okay maybe you can imagine it. Maybe you’re shaking your head and think I’m being silly. Now get up and “try to walk.” Show me what a “try to walk” looks like. Did you stumble? Did to stand paused in place wondering what to do next? Was your foot hovered in the air?

When I tried this on myself I wanted to know what a “started to sit” was. I decided physically get up out of my chair and “start to sit.” My butt hovered comically in the air. Most of the time those words can be taken out with no problem. Have people go ahead and sit (Margaret sat on the couch). Let them shake hands (Bob shook Mary’s hand). If they don’t complete the motion it will add more tension and conflict to come up with better way of showing this in body language. For example, what if someone went to shake hands and the other person carefully folded their hands behind their back. Whoa! Total awkwardness and much more interesting than a “tried to shake” situation.

Also, some writers are cheating cheaters. They know this rule and they find ways around it (or maybe don’t know the rule and just have other problems). So they’ll say, “he started sitting,” or “he tried talking.” Nice save, but we can do better. Again, a focus on the interesting body language will bring out more emotion and strengthen writing. It will paint a better picture of what is actually happening in the story. Ideally, we’d have no throw away words in a story—double verbs are so easily thrown away and don’t bring any emotional power.

Bonus Peeve:

The word “felt.” Run a search in your current work in progress. Unless it’s referring to felt as in the material (wool felting), or another word for touch, it might be clogging your opportunity to show emotion on the page.

She felt angry.
He felt sad.
Maria felt as though she were in a pit of eternal sadness, like a hole of nothing opened up and swallowed her.

Felt is usually followed by the naming of an emotion. Readers get told how the characters feel. Imagine how fun it is to sit on the bench at a park and people-watch. We watch some guy stomping around and screaming and we think, “oh, he’s mad!!” A little thrill zings up our spine. But we don’t get the guy stomping in the park saying, “I am angry!” Well, maybe, but that’s not as interesting. I’m giggling sort of thinking about it. I imagine Will Ferrell delivering those lines and automatically add “whirling tornado” (embedded link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhUepjZSlKM) to the end of it. Instead use body language, use internal thoughts, use setting, use a visceral response. Much more interesting. Much stronger. Readers get to make the connection. It’s more fun for readers and writers.

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photo-283x300In her youth, Tina lived her life in a land of fantasy called the State of Jefferson. No really, her home state technically didn’t exist (except in the minds of the community members and locals). With a zip code borrowed from a town a half hour away and a state that never quite became recognized in the Union, Tina still managed to find footing in the real world. She earned a master’s degree in school psychology, raised guide dogs, and eventually decided to train her own two children. She believes them to be perfect, but that depends on if her children are as real as her hometown. Tina has sold short fiction to professional science fiction markets, won writing awards, and is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company.

You can follow her on
Facebook: http://www.facebook/gowertina
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/TinaGower
Blog: http://www.smashedpicketfences.com

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