Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In which I prove I'm not dead by blogging again

Here goes a few belated recaps from the ACES conference sessions. I'll start with Merrill Perlman's great "If I Knew Only" presentation. It was the perfect way to get the conference going, focusing on nuts-and-bolts editing and some bugaboos writers and editors often miss.

Merill had the perfect example about how the placement of "only" can change the meaning of a sentence. Start with "I hit him in the eye yesterday." Add the world only in different places and watch how the emphasis changes:
Only I hit him in the eye yesterday. (No one else hit him.)
I only hit him in the eye yesterday. (I also considered slapping and poking.)
I hit only him in the eye yesterday. (I could have hit plenty of others.)
I hit him only in the eye yesterday. (Not in the nose or the mouth.)
I hit him in the eye only yesterday. (Ah, what a day that was.)
I hit him in the eye yesterday only. (Had it been two days in a row, then you could be mad.)

One thing I love about Merrill's explanations is that she's not afraid to explain rules in terms we can all understand. We don't need to spout off about "pronoun-antecedent agreement errors" in order to know that a company shares its (not their) earnings report.

Bottom line: She won't make you feel like an idiot for using tricks to remember.

Some of the other staples she covered:
  • That vs. which
  • Who vs. whom: "If you can switch the sentence around and replace "who" with "he," the "who" is correct. If "him" fits, you want "whom." For example: "Bob, whom they described as snarky..." would switch to "They described him as snarky." "Whom" is right." Another example: "Bob, who they said was snarky..." would switch to "They said he was snarky." "Who" is right.
  • Due to vs. because of: A "due to" must point to a noun, not a long noun phrase or ve. For example: "Due to snow, school was cancelled." What is due to the snow? Your answer must be a noun: A cancellation, not a cancelled. So "due to" is wrong in that instance.
  • Danglers: You don't want to mislead the reader for even a nanosecond. So even if readers could eventually figure out what the writer meant, that's no reason to lead them down the wrong path. For example: "Fat and sassy, Marlon Brando loves his corgi." Who is fat and sassy -- Brando or his dog? Don't make the reader guess. Another example: "Jennifer said that after picking Brad up for the concert, they went out for ice cream." Who picked Brad up? It wasn't "they." A third example: "The party was called off after running out of food." Who ran out of food? There's no noun here to tell.
  • Ellipses in quotes: They are dishonest to the reader, Merrill says. She's against these more than most editors, I'd say, but it's hard to go wrong if you follow her rule. Remember, she reminded us, not all quotes are good quotes. You can -- and should -- paraphrase.
That last point, about quotes, is probably the most important in this post. You can let a few fine grammatical points through a story without disturbing much. But mess with quotes -- or make a reader start wondering what you left out and why -- and you're messing with readers' trust.

Labels: ,


At 5:43 AM, May 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Nicole. We ... missed you.

At 7:25 AM, May 31, 2007, Blogger JD (The Engine Room) said...

We regularly 'cut and paste' quotes on our magazine without using ellipses. Often it makes the original speaker appear more intelligent and concise. I suppose if you retain the meaning, the speaker is happy with it, and it's not going to get you sued, there's no harm. Plus, as a reader there's nothing worse than "a quote which... is all... ellipses".

At 11:31 PM, May 31, 2007, Blogger rknil said...

Some interesting tips. Now did those come before or after the discussion on outsourcing by the editor from the newspaper that discourages copy editors from making changes to some columns? It's probably pretty hard to edit grammar when you're told not to change anything.

At 9:01 AM, June 08, 2007, Blogger Andy Bechtel said...

Here's an example of a direct quote that suffers from the ... issue. The ellipses made me wonder what he really said:

"While some aspects of this bill have merit, many important amendments have not been voted on. These ... would have saved taxpayers money and improved our border security. We cannot end debate ... when over one hundred amendments sit without any discussion or vote."

At 3:59 PM, June 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy, that's when you should instead provide an accurate and clear paraphrase.

At 2:18 AM, June 15, 2007, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Nice to see anonymous on better behavior than in the recent past.

At 11:48 AM, July 08, 2007, Blogger Sawsee said...

Great blog.


"Add the world only in different places and watch how the emphasis changes:"

At 7:07 PM, July 15, 2007, Blogger rknil said...

Sawsee, you must be positively beside yourself when you see the designer-created, designer-allowed, designer-ignored errors in 72-point type.

At 11:40 PM, August 07, 2007, Blogger whitney said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:50 PM, August 18, 2007, Blogger RedWritingHood said...

Oh! I have always wondered about who/whom... and never really 'gotten' it! Thanks!


At 11:21 PM, August 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 3:15 PM, September 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this blog officially done for?

At 8:33 PM, October 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I've checked this blog for updates periodically over the past five months. I loved it, but I'm now taking it off my Favorites list.

Hope you're really not dead.

At 4:25 PM, October 30, 2007, Blogger Nicole said...

I am not dead! Just insanely busy.

At 10:31 PM, January 13, 2008, Blogger SakeSam said...

Thank you for finally clearing up the rule for who and whom.

I have a question about the rules for use of colon. I've read in reference books that a colon is not needed after a "for example" phrase because the words themselves introduce the phrase, not the colon. I see that you used it in the example below. I was hoping you could clear up this rule concerning colon usage.

Thank you (

For example: "Bob, whom they described as snarky..." would switch to "They described him as snarky." "Whom" is right."

At 2:55 PM, February 16, 2008, Blogger Patty Ann said...

Thanks for the tip on who and whom. It is always nice to have an easy way to remember a rule.

I once worked in an office with a former grade-school grammar teacher, and she taught me an easy way to remember when to use I or me in a sentence. She said if you can change the sentence around and use we or us you can easily determine whether you need to use I or me. For example: In the sentence, "We went to the store", the correct use would be "Brenda and I went to the store." In the sentence, "Do you want to go to the store with us?" the correct use would be, "Do you want to go to the store with Brenda and me?"
Therefore, if you can change the sentence around and use we, then the correct use would be I and if you can change the sentence around and use us, then the correct use would be me.

At 4:48 PM, June 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:53 AM, August 17, 2008, Blogger Adam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:43 AM, September 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:44 PM, July 09, 2009, Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think ellipses are actually dishonest in quotes. I think they've been misused so much that people read them as spots where something has been taken out instead of when someone takes a really long pause to finish a thought. Which means, for practical use, they're virtually worthless.

But the other thing about quotes is that almost no reporters ever actually put accurate quotes in stories. If we did, with all the pauses, the umm's the uh's, the you knows, etc., then almost everyone would sound like the dunderheads most reporters already suspect them of being.

At 9:17 AM, October 30, 2009, Blogger Free Poker Capital said...

Yep, i also think that blog is superb. But, You should update most recently ;) Anyway, Is not death. Why ? Because i find it :P

Starting capital for having fun , not for searius bussines folks. Thank you.


Post a Comment

<< Home