Category Archives: Extra! Extra!

How to Get the Grammar Police Off Your Back, Part II: “Due To” vs “Because Of”

Surefire way to find yourself sitting on the curb with a ziptie on your wrists? Use “due to” around the grammar police.

“Yes, but what if I use it correctly? Hmmm?”

Oh, come on. “Due to” has been used correctly exactly five times in the history of the world and all of those were by my grandmother. That’s because it’s one of those irritating little grammar things that only seem wrong to those who know the rule. Dollars to donuts, the eleventy-squillion times in the history of the world that “due to” has been used INcorrectly, absolutely no one noticed or cared. Except my grandmother.

Here’s Grammar Girl’s take on “due to”:

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 cancellation was due to rain,” the words “due to” modify “cancellation.” That sentence is a bit formal, but it fits the traditionalist rule.

If you want to be more casual, you’ll say, “It was cancelled because of rain.” According to purists, you’re not allowed to say, “It was cancelled due to rain” because “due to” doesn’t have anything to modify. Purists argue that “due to” is an adjective; it shouldn’t be a compound preposition.

Very few of us are thinking about adjectives and compound prepositions when we speak, so it may be difficult to know when you’re using “due to” as an adjective. Strunk & White (2) suggest using “due to” when you can replace it with “attributable to,” whereas in her book Woe is I Patricia O’Connor (3) proposes substituting “caused by” or “resulting from.”

Here’s what I suggest regarding the use of “due to”: avoid the little bastard like the plague. When’s the last time “due to” did you any favors, anyway? Never, that’s when. All it’s ever done is complicate your life and get you in trouble with my grandmother.

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Further Proof that Spellcheckers Suck

Here’s my sentence: 

A thunderous roar could be heard throughout the valley as 300,000 armed Gauls rumbled toward the Roman encampments.

Here’s Word Spellcheck’s suggestion: 

A thunderous roar could be heard throughout the valley as 300,000-armed Gauls rumbled toward the Roman encampments.

No, you know what? I take it back. That’s MUCH better. 

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In Melbourne, storytelling becomes big business | SmartPlanet

There’s a new breed of consultants cropping up in Melbourne’s corporate landscape. They believe that what they teach can achieve powerful, tangible results, like creating loyalty and engaging with customers, affecting profit margins and radically improving employee performance. Some call it a “secret sauce”, others simply call it “storytelling.”

In the city’s central business district a handful of early adopters are advocating storytelling’s universal application, claiming it has the potential to become part of MBA programs and a key competency for entrepreneurs. One such proponent is Yamini Naidu, co-director at One Thousand and One, a global thought leader in business communication.

The Melburnian declares storytelling as the number one business skill for the 21st century. Across the world, people want to feel connected to the leaders they work for and organization they work in, and storytelling is a powerful way of doing this.

via In Melbourne, storytelling becomes big business | SmartPlanet.

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A Few Minutes with an Editor: An Occasional Series by Dispatches from Wordnerdia

Very, VERY occasionally, someone will ask me what an editor does all day. Very, VERY often, the answer is so far from their personal conception of “things I could stand to do for even one second” they get this expression as if I had told them I sit around playing Stabscotch all day: “Why on Earth would you do that to yourself?”

<digression> Interesting Idioms! A common idiom in Mexico for an activity that is painful and unrewarding — somewhat like “banging [my] head against a brick wall” — is “pulling out [my] eyelashes just to burn them.” Ten points to anyone who posts the Spanish translation in the comments. </digression>

Of course, some people think the world of editors, and say so! “Really? Wow. Editors are magic.” (Yes, that is a direct quote.)

But I’d say most people are in the first group, and it is for their entertainment that I would like to share a few moments, now and then, from my actual work. For example:

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Today, I spent a GREAT DEAL OF TIME searching for the names of ancient Gaulish tribes. Why? Because (fun fact!) there are about a hundred possible misspellings of each tribal name — not to mention allowable variants because of course they’re all in GAULISH* — and they are ALL in this manuscript.

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*OK, fine, “Gallic” is the more common name, but “Gaulish” is funnier. It’s an allowable variant!

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The Tyranny of Imagination

I have realized lately that one factor, at least, in getting blocked or wandering away from a piece of writing is that I am — stick with me, this sounds stupid, but let me explain — I am afraid of my writer’s imagination. When I sit down to write, I may have the best plan in the world, but then just… stuff… happens. Oh! — my helpful imagination will supply — this character is naturally wary because she was in one of those B-movie, 1950s girls reform schools, fell in love with a guard who broke her out, and while on the run they discovered her natural talent for X, which led them into…

And now I’m writing that. Whether I want to or not, because it is now undisputed head canon for this character and I have to nail it down.

A friend of mine goes to a secluded ferry-access-only island for a month each summer, where her children and husband do… whatever it is that non-writers do, and she writes. She sent me a text the other day, “Hey, guess what?! Ryan’s mother has undiagnosed Aspergers!” I understood what she meant exactly — this little fact INTRUDED itself upon her story and now it’s just true.

OK, fine — unsettling. But actively frightening?

Well, yes! Because my God, what NEXT? It’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf where he kills off their imaginary child!

Not only that, but what if it’s wrong? Or, more precisely, what if this new information makes everything else I’ve written wrong? What if, ok, she was in a 1950s B-movie girls reform school… but that would mean she’s 107 years old. Now I have to account for that, somehow. Brilliant.

And even if my imagination doesn’t sling something disruptive at me, there’s plenty of discomfort left over because I am blessed and/or cursed with states of intense hyperfocus and words are infallible triggers for that. A positive boon for my career as an editor, but a genuine problem in the rest of my life, as six straight hours are rarely available to me for writing, and when that feeling comes on me, I guarantee I won’t want to stop before then. But of course, I must, and dragging myself out of that state can be really difficult. Sometimes it seems like it’s easier just not to go there at all.

And there you have it — instant block.

What to do? Well, I would think the solution would be obvious: rearrange the world such that I have an unquestioned minimum of six uninterrupted hours per day of writing time. Seems simple enough.

Get on that, would you?

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Advice for Freshman Comp Students, Dammit!

I hang out (virtually) in The Writer’s Discussion Group, a Google+ community which, just weeks into its existence, has about five thousand members.

One of the discussion boards I like the best there is “Ask an Editor”. Now you might think that professional editors woud say “Pfff — I’m not giving this stuff away for free.” Au contraire,  mon cher — editors LOVE talking about editing, and there are enough of us there that you’ll generally get more of an answer than you bargained for.

A recent “Ask an Editor” question was from a student whose Professor had taken issue with his thesis statement in an essay exam. The extra-helpful constructive criticism was apparently along the lines of “This sucks!” Gee, thanks.

Not knowing what the thesis statement was, I went with my tried and true “Dammit” advice. I’ve written about it before, but this one is tailored just for students:

When you write a thesis statement, you’re essentially taking a stand for something, and that should be clear. So try this: put “dammit!” at the end and see how it sounds.

“Robert Frost is a very good poet, dammit!”

OK: there you are, your back against the wall, fists clenched, ready to fight about Robert Frost’s “goodness”.

Is anyone fighting back?

No, of course not. Partly because, well, duh. And partly because “good” is subjective — you’d have to start by defining “good” in terms of poetry… and nobody wants to get into all that in a five-page essay.

OK, but how about this:

“Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is about suicide, dammit!”

AHA! — _now_ you’ve got my attention. You’ve taken a very specific stand there. So specific that the only  possible responses are “Nuh-UH!” or “Oh, how interesting; please explain,” (but only your professor is likely to say that).

Either way, what is your next step after saying something kooky like “Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is about suicide, dammit!”

Hmmm?

Well, you have to prove it, right? With that “dammit!” you’re leaving yourself no alternative but to pull out lines from the poem that prove it’s about suicide.

And what about structure? And what about meter? And what about evidence from other poems, such as the unhappy home life depicted in ‘I Am One Acquainted With the Night”? SO much you could pull in. But the point is that everything is going to relate to that thesis because it has to! You’ve painted yourself into a corner with that “dammit,” dammit! And that’s exactly where you want to be.

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How Sticklers Give Copyediting a Bad Name:

How Sticklers Give Copyediting a Bad Name

by Carol Saller

Public sticklers have annoyed me forever, and I’ve been meaning to write about that, but recently in a post titled “Editors, Would You Do Me This Tiny Favour?” Katy McDevitt at PublishEd Adelaide did a great job of it herself.

McDevitt gets to the meat of it in point 3: “It gives people the wrong idea about what editors do and what we think about”:

via The Subversive Copy Editor Blog.

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