Monday, September 20, 2004

Linguists vs. copy editors

You might think linguists and copy editors would get along. They share a love of the language. They're curious about words.

But editors, beware: The linguists at Language Log don't feel so chummy.

I'd noticed some disparaging remarks about copy editors here and there. But when the last two posts I read there both made potshots, I thought I'd take a deeper look.

So, wanna see smart people's gripes about copy editors? Here's a look:
  • "Copy-editors' strictures against using which in integrated relatives are an invention -- what in ordinary life we would call a lie -- with no basis in the facts of the English language." (Sept. 20)
  • Under the headline "More timewasting garbage, another copy-editing moron" comes a discussion of an author "being subjected to that bane of the author's life, the copy editing phase." This example is given: "Ian Fleming's title You Only Live Twice was not copy-edited to You Live Only Twice. Why not? Because he knows how to write, and he didn't let an idiot copy-editor change his writing into mush, that's why." And this: "Do these copy editors think their writing wisdom is greater than that of the author of Dracula? Huh? They are morons, and they are wasting Mark Pilgrim's time with their fiddling." Wait, there's more: "The things mentioned above are not debatable, they are facts about English that can easily be checked, and it is about time copy editors were told to stop wasting millions of hours on pointlessly correcting them when they were correct in the first place." Whew. (May 17)
  • "Everyone who writes English needs to understand what 'preposition stranding' is, if only for self-defense against misguided copy editors." (April 11)
  • "Maybe now ... we can get on with jailing copy editors for the right reasons." (April 5)
  • In the post "Jail copy editors for the right reasons: "I'm all in favor of sending copy editors to jail; but I think it should be for their actual practices: changing which to that in a bid to impose the (completely mythical) generalization that which is not used in what The Cambridge Grammar calls integrated relatives (the kind without the commas); altering the position of adjuncts in phrases like willing to at least consider it because of a belief in the (again, completely mythical) view that there something called an 'infinitive' in English and it should not be 'split'; and so on." (March 4)
  • "In my experience it's a good rule of thumb to blame the journalist -- or the journalistic process, including the editor(s) and the headline writer -- before blaming the scientist." (Feb. 4)
You can learn a lot from intelligent criticism. And though I disagree with some of the points, I'm no linguist; I'm just a journalist with a love of language. So I'll keep reading Language Log. But it's not for the faint of heart.


At 11:09 PM, September 20, 2004, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

"Copy-editors' strictures against using which in integrated relatives are an invention ...."

That may well be true; I'm too busy to do the research tonight. But Mark Liberman doesn't differentiate between
"stricture" and "style."

At 11:13 PM, September 20, 2004, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

Oh. I forgot. "The linguists at Language Log" can piss off. So there!


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