Thursday, March 29, 2007

Senator Webb Disappoints

This piece by Senator Webb surprised. I thought him a professional writer. One wouldn’t know it from this awkward, error-ridden piece. Senator Webb shows little knowledge of commas. The structure of a sentence seems foreign to him. He is wordy: overusing modifiers, passive verbs, and progressive tense. He often writes limping sentences with stocking-stuffer words.

This state-of-the-union response suggests that Senator Webb took off his rhetorical marine uniform and donned the self-conscious, cliché-ridden style of an ordinary pol.

What a disappointment this specimen of Webb’s writing was to me. The way he writes suggests that his doing anything in Congress remarkable bodes unlikely. As Dr. Johnson said, “Let me hear the man speak so that I may know his mind.”

lee drury de cesare



State of the Union: Democratic Response Text, January 23, 2007 · The Democratic response of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday, as prepared for delivery and provided by his office:

Good evening.

I'm Sen. Jim Webb, from Virginia, where this year we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown — an event that marked the first step in the long journey that has made us the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth.

It would not be possible in this short amount of time to actually Redundant adverb rebut the president's message, nor would it be useful. Let me simply redundant adverb say that we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and health care for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans. Splitting compound prepositional phrase with a redundant comma

Further, this is the seventh time the president has mentioned energy independence in his State of the Union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place overuses progressive verbs in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking Progressive verb sounds hand-wringing for affirmative Redundant adjective solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and Redundant comma splitting a compound prepositional phrase by spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of Wordiness alternate energy programs. We look forward to working with the president and his party to bring about these changes.

There are two areas where our respective redundant adjective parties have largely redundant adverb stood in contradiction, and I want to take a few minutes Wordiness to address them tonight. The first relates to how we see Wordiness the health of our economy — how we measure it, and how we ensure that its benefits are properly redundant adverb shared among all Americans. The second regards our foreign policy — how we might Weak subjunctive mood bring the war in Iraq to a proper Redundant adjective conclusion that will also allow us to continue to fight the war against international terrorism, and to Redundant comma splitting compound infinitive phrases address other strategic concerns that our country faces around the world.

When one sounds prissy we look looks at the health of our economy, it's almost redundant adverb as if we are living live in two different redundant adjective countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, redundant it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even redundant comma: cuts off trailing adverbial clause though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled Weak passive verb: Corporations are dismantling our manufacturing base and sending it overseas. and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along go with them.

In short, Wordy the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, redundant comma cuts off restrictive prepositional phrase through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as redundant adverb cuts off restrictive adverbial clause their jobs start disappearing disappear also. And they expect, rightly, redundant adverb that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that the international marketplace deals fairly with their concerns. that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace. Wordy passive verb

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy — that we should measure the health of our society comma contrasting element not at its apex, but at its base.comma: contrasting element that is not a sentence Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And Wordy under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just Redundant adverb passed a minimum hyphenated adjective wage increase, the first in 10 years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We're working Hand wringing progressive verb We will work to get the right things done, no comma: cuts off a restrictive adjective clause for the right people and for the right reasons.

With respect to foreign policy, this country has patiently redundant adverb endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years. Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world.

I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, Redundant comma: restrictive adverbial clause when he was a young Air Force captain, Redundant comma: cuts off restrictive participial phrase flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, Redundant comma: cuts off restrictive trailing adverbial clause as we waited for him, Redundant comma: cuts off restrictive prepositional phrase back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, Redundant comma: cuts off trailing restrictive adverbial clause because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, Redundant comma: cuts off restrictive infinitive phrase to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, Redundant comma: cuts off restrictive adverbial over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues — those matters of war and peace, and Comma goes here. in some cases of life and death — we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy redundant adverbial prepositional phrase the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon redundant verb particle us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, redundant comma cutting off a restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us — sound Dash makes not sense: omit. judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The president took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the Army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, “As a nation” redundant adverbial prepositional phrase held hostage to the predictable — and predicted — disarray that has followed. Awkward sentence with flabby passive verb: Predictable disarray has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering.

Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world.

The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism.

And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; passive verb nor does the majority of our military. Flabby passive-verb sentence Most of our nation and military no longer support the way we fight the war. We need a new direction. The following needs revision: Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order Wordy allow our combat forces to leave Iraq. Edit: We need a new direction: not a retreat from fighting international terrorism, not a precipitous withdrawal ignoring further chaos, but a shift to strong regional diplomacy that takes our soldiers off Iraq’s streets and lets them leave Iraq.

On both of these vital issues, our economy and our national security, it falls upon those of us in elected office to take action. Flabby … we elected officials must take action.

Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation The economic imbalance in or country recalls the situation that President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking raked in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening threatened revolt.

Roosevelt spoke strongly Redundant adverb against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves "as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other." And he did something about it.

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the general who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War II. And as soon as he became president, he brought the Korean War to an end.

These presidents took the right kind of action, Redundant comma cuts off restrictive prepositional phrase for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling call on this president to take similar action, redundant comma cuts off restrictive prepositional phrase in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing show him the way.

Thank you for listening. And God bless America.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just Be Quiet and Mind Your Commas

Ms. Vennochi:
As a mother who has lost a child, I suggest that you should have kept your gloss of the Edwards decision to yourself.

You don't have a lock on what motivates Elizabeth Edwards to urge her husband to keep running.

Even if you are right, the decision on how to live the rest of her short life is hers alone. My impression is that she makes her own decisions, which is what feminists--and I am one--want women to do.

She will keep her youngest tot with her on the road. Think what enrichment for the synapses these campaign adventures will be for the boy with this intrepid mother. He will write a book about the experience as soon as he can pull himself up to a CRT screen.

If Ms. Edwards has chosen to flee her pain in the loss of her first child, so what? It's as good a choice as wallowing in it.

Sometimes pundits should have the grace to be quiet and reflect on the vagaries of commas.

lee drury de cesare

The prognosis changed last week, when Edwards called a press conference to announce that his wife's cancer had returned in incurable, but treatable, form. "The campaign goes on strongly," he declared. At their joint press conference, she said the campaign "is not about John Edwards," but rather, about the country's future.

These commas are redundant: "but treatable" is a restrictive prepositional phrase. In case you thought so, "but" does not signal a contrasting element; "not" does.

The commas surrounding "but rather" are redundant because "but rather, about the country's future" is a restrictive prepositional phrase.

lee drury de cesare

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More Obuscation from GK Bunker

From: lee decesare []
Sent: Saturday, March 24, 2007 12:56 PM
Cc: ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''
Subject: Monkey Biz as Usual at GK Bunker

From: lee decesare

John Huerta thinks he is being Carl Rovian with this duplicitous answer to my request for an alumni list. He sends me a solemn reference to the FERPA students-parents-right-to-privacy law.

I think John's brain may have further atrophied from hanging out with the quidnuncs of the GK bunker. Or his hours of surfing the Web on school time for unorthodox aesthetic experiences may have discombobulated him.

Le Huerta must know that FERPA does not cover the adults of the Alumni Association. If he doesn't, things are worse than we thought at GK.

Dr. Stephenson should order a bunch of those Gulliver's Travels "bladders" (balloons) that the Laputans bopped each other over the head with to shock a lollygagger back into the world of reality. GK Laputans need a good whack on the noggin from a Gulliver bladder to wake them up.


Sent: Friday, March 23, 2007 9:21 PM

To: Tiger Bay Club of Tampa
Warren Rachels;;;;;;; 'Maida Bello'; Frank Sanchez
Subject: Tish: Please give this to Larry Wilder. Thank you. Lee


I see you are treasurer of the HCC Alumni Association. I want to contact its members to alert them to an injustice that the HCC administration is perpetuating unless people oppose them. Dr. Stephenson is outsourcing the bookstore and dumping long-standing (some 20+ years of faithful service) bookstore employees into the minimum-wage, no benefits ghetto. Other segments of the college are terrified that they will be next.

The refugees of the administration's cruelty will lose their pension plans and health care. One, Maido Bello, has had brain surgery for a balance problem that has put her on a cane; she won't be able to get health insurance. One of the administrators, Ms. Flaigg, told Maida she would have three months' coverage after the college outsources her job. The administration is all heart.

The Gordon Keller bureaucrats are interested in education only as a financial basis for their various projects. They have a long-standing practice of setting up for-show committees to fool the trustees that ostensibly include college-wide members to assess policies and to make recommendations about them. It has one for the bookstore privatizing. But the administration pays no attention to these fake committees and does exactly what it wants to do. Dr. Stephenson refers to her "business model" often and seems bent on turning the college into a business.

A college is not a business: it is a vector for passing education on to subsequent generations and a model of ethical conduct for the community that it serves. Dr. Stephenson appears to have forgotten this mission if she ever embraced it.

Dr. Stephenson has earned editorial censure from even the conservative Tribune editorial writers for another despicable gesture of indifference to the wellbeing of vulnerable elements of the community that heretofore had the college's support. She proposes dumping Head Start and erecting an apartment house on college property. Head Start is one of the most successful enterprises devised for helping impoverished families become self-sustaining members of the community by providing a place for their children when they are working or attending class. Dr. Stephenson wants to dump these children because they do not fit into her "business model." No wonder the Tribune's letters-to-the-editor featured so many citizen emails condemning HCC administration's callous treatment of Head Start children.

I doubt that the HCC Alumni Association would condone the administration's diversion of the college's goal from providing education based on an ethical model of behavior in its own conduct. I doubt it would sanction dumpling long-time employees and kicking out Head Start tots so as to make possible Dr. Stephenson's actualization of her "business model."

I am having trouble getting through to the Alumni Association. See John Huerta's attached letter. He refers me to the FERPA law that has to do with the rights of students and parents. This is one of Le Huerta's delaying tactics. He came to the college with Dr. Stephenson, she created him a job, and then Le John began some celebrated irregular computer searches for which he got no rebuke. Faculty or student would have gotten the sack forthwith. But Mr. Huerta is a child of destiny and Dr. Stephenson's pet.

Alumni are not students. They are grown-ups who have graduated from HCC. There is no reason to prevent my getting in touch with them to let them know about the Bookstore outsourcing outrage against faithful employees and the kicking out of the Head Start tots so that alumni can weigh in on these actions if they want to.John's parents-children flimflam is a symptom of the HCC administration's terror of anybody's knowing what is going on in their bunker. People might protest. The Board might wake up. The maladroit administrators might be sent packing.

I would appreciate your providing me with contact information for the Alumni Association. This is not illegal information.

I didn't know you graduated from HCC. What year? Whom did you have for English? Now I know why you hate me: you believed my reputation as a witch and tough grader in the lunch room student underground. Everybody hates an English teacher who makes them learn grammar and punctuation.

Why doesn't Tiger Bay have Dr. Stephenson as guest to explain her "college plan" to the political community? Frank Sanchez's mother, Delia, was one of the principals in pioneering Head Start in this area. I believe Delia is a Tiger Bay member; at least I know she attends from time to time. Delia would have an interesting question for Dr. Stephenson on the way she has treated the Head Start tots that would win Delia the tiger for best question. Invite all of the Board members. They would want to be present for sure.

Thank you for your help.

Friday, March 23, 2007

NYTimes Copy Editors Need Copy Editors

I yearned to meet Times copy editors responsible for letting slip by punctuation and sometimes grammar errors. I thought there were not sufficient copy-editors to catch all errors that I see in The Times’s pages. Now I discover that the place swarms with them: 150. After reading the punctuation lucubrations of the army of Times copy editors, I discover that the copy editors need copy editors.

All 150 are to see me in my office after class.

The copy editors’ main flaws are the ones I saw in freshman English classes before I retired: redundant commas and redundant modifiers ensconced in wordiness. Too many commas come from these copy editors’ frail grasp of sentence structure and lagging understanding that we use fewer commas now than in the past. Wordiness comes from redundant modifiers, passive verbs, and indulgence in throat-clearing fillers.

Times copy editors should heed what Wilson Follett says:

“One, the loose or open system, corresponds to the natural pauses in the voice in speaking or in reading aloud; it may be called the oratorical or even rhetorical principle…. The second code of punctuation is the tight, closed, and structural; it depends…on the grammatical--which is to say the logical—relation of the parts (page 417).

“The historical trend for the past three or four hundred years has been away from the rhetorical style of punctuation…. The drive toward lean punctuation is such that even if we still wrote the complex, periodic sentences of Johnson and Macaulay, we should punctuate them much less heavily (page 418).

I come to NY for the Met’s Kirov Ring Cycle in July. Are there tours of the newsroom to see the swarm of copy editors? I will swap a lecture on redundant commas for this treat for a citizen from the outback agog at NY sophisticates—especially those NYT copy editors.

Lee Drury De Cesare
15316 Gulf Boulevard
Madeira Beach, FL 33708

Here follow my interpolations on NYT copy editors’ depredations:

But they also want to be sure that they, and thus you the reader, aren't left with a sense that they've come into the middle of a movie, or that they don't understand how something works, or that…

“The reader” is a nonrestrictive appositive: put a comma after “you.” The redundant comma after movie separates compound adjectival dependent clauses.

to the Newsroom: Director
of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman

Talk to the Newsroom page.

These discussions will continue in future weeks with other Times editors.

What Do Copy Desks Do?

Q. Does your job and that of the other desk copy editors entail substantive editing and rewrite or is it mostly a matter of cleaning up style, grammar, etc.?
— Bill Fischer, Annandale, Va.

A. Thanks for walking into our trap, Bill, and allowing me to explain what our copy editors do.

But they also want to be sure that they, and thus you the reader, Comma after “you”; nonrestrictive appositive aren't left with a sense that they've come into the middle of a movie, Redundant comma splits compound subordinate adjective clauses. or that they don't They are also our final line of protection against libel, unfairness The affectation of omitting the final items-in-a-series comma ranks illogical while newspapers bestrew redundant commas with a hey nonny nonny elsewhere. and imbalance in an article

All of this, I might add, is done under crushing deadlines. Passive verbs seldom add élan to a sentence, and they always add to wordiness: “We edit under crushing deadlines.” For breaking news, a copy editor may have less than an hour to read 1,000 words and do everything the article needs.(It can be even less! Pronoun reference: What does "it" point back to? "Fewer," not "less," if you refer to "words." You can count words. ) We like to get longer articles farther Here's a word that causes agita. The AP uses "farther" to refer to distance; "further" to refer to mean "in addition" to degree. You are safe to observe this distinction. ahead of time, Trailing adverbial clauses are almost always restrictive: no comma. Use commas with adverbial clauses when you move them to the beginning or middle of the sentence and disturb syntax. when we can spend a few hours or even a day to be sure it's perfect, but our goal is to get the information TO you, not keep it FROM Capitals for emphasis are Romper Room. They imply, also, that the reader is not smart enough to infer meaning from standard print. you, so speed is of the essence.

We've got more than 150 copy editors here — in fact, Redundant sentence modifier it's the largest newsroom department — on 14 different copy desks, just Omit redundant adverb. about one desk for every section of the news report.

Those Pesky Possessives

Q. Obviously Redundant adverb we add both an apostrophe and an "s" to indicate show the possessive of singular nouns [of one syllable] (Mary's hair, the desk's top). Obviously Dump redundant adverb. we do this even when the last letter/sound of the noun is an "s" (Bob Jones's hair, a mouse's tail, the bus's engine). The rule: words of one syllable add an apostrophe “s” for the possessive. Why should the plural be different? (the desks' color, the trees' value, the Walshes' favorite restaurant). Are we punctuating them differently because "bus" and "bus's" sound different, but "trees" sounds the same as "trees'"? Always was puzzled by this rule. The rule: Words ending in a “s” add the apostrophe only. Not only does Le Jim puzzle over the plural possessive rule, but he doesn’t know a fragment from a sentence. How did he get a copy-editor job? Being cute when one hasn’t learned the rules is not cute in a copy editor.
— Jim Walsh

A. Let me say first off that Sacrifice this stocking stuffer. I'm not a grammarian. English language is frustratingly Dump redundant adverb. inconsistent. Among other things, Jettison. it's affected by regionalisms, teaching methods (transformational generative grammar, anyone?) and the plain fact Dump. that people use language however they want, No comma: trailing adverbial clause. since there are no laws regulating grammar. This fellow is in the wrong business. There are no laws regulating grammar, but there are rules. They govern the choice use of English at the time we live. (If there were, the first people to be arrested should be those who think an apostrophe and the letter "s" create a plural, No comma: restrictive modifiers in a sign that says Dump. "All Shoe's on Sale.") Should sound govern how the possessive is formed? It does sometimes, but what would you do with the plural possessive of something like "dunces," which sounds the same with or without the apostrophe? Sound is not the test for apostrophes. Morphology is. Even dictionaries don't always agree. Cite an instance when the major dictionaries don’t agree on possessives. So what's a copy editor to do? Stop fulminating and learn the tools of her/his trade. Publications wanting Here’s flouting of the possessive-before-the-gerund rule. It appears in your style book. Times writers ignore it. I have tried to teach the rule to Maureen Dowd, but she is obdurate. to appear consistent in their use of language usually Jettison redundant adverb. follow a style guide that specifies which of the many disputed This throw-up-your-hands gloss exaggerates: there are not “many” disputed rules that start fights on usage panels. grammar and usage rules to follow. Ours is "The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage," This is a book. The rule says it gets italics. There is no excuse to evade this protocol of Standard English since using italics is easy on computers. and it gives some logical guidelines on possessives. It is available through many booksellers, including, Barnes and Noble and Borders Books. Here are some excerpts:

Ordinarily Omit. form a possessive by adding’s to a [singular noun ending in ‘s.”] (the boy's boots; the girl's coat), No comma: trailing adverbial clause even if the noun already ends in an s (The Times's article). If the word ends in two sibilant sounds (ch, j, s, sh, x or z) separated only by a vowel sound, drop the s after the apostrophe (Kansas' climate; Texas' population). But keep the s after the apostrophe when a name ends in a silent sibilant letter (Arkansas's; [One sounds the “s”in this word.] Malraux's). A good test for multisyllabic words that end in an “s” or “z” sound is that you add an apostrophe “s” if you can pronounce the extra syllable with a straight face. “Arkansas’s” sounds whacky, so omit the “s” and add only the apostrophe. If you say “Xerxes’s,” or “Arkansas’s,” people won’t sit by you on the bus.

For most plural words, the possessive form is s' (girls' coats; boys' boots). But for a plural word that does not end in s (women; children), Such irregular plurals survive from Old and Middle English. They are few. the possessive is formed by adding’s (women's; children's). And when a plural is formed with es (on a proper name and a common noun equally), the apostrophe follows that ending: the Joneses' house; the buses' routes; the Mercedeses' doors.

Not everyone agrees that 's is automatically Delete. added after proper names that end in s. Who are the holdouts? Arkansas recently passed resolutions requiring it; luckily, we've agreed all along. I would not pay attention to resolutions passed by Arkansas. Invincible ignorance fills the state. Arkansans are dumber than the noble savages in my home state, Georgia.

The Comma Before the And

Q. Why does The New York Times insist on not using the serial comma? Its absence can often lead to ambiguity or misunderstanding, and without it the rhythm of language is damaged — try reading aloud a few of your serials.

A. Ah, the serial comma. Also known as the Harvard comma (or the Oxford comma in British English).People who abuse punctuation as do these Times copy writers do not get passes on the two fragments in a row. I'm surprised wars haven't been fought over it (or over split infinitives, which also elicit strong opinions). There is give and take on split infinitives. Newspapers’ items-in-a-series omission is green-eyeshade affectation and rebellion against Standard punctuation. You can’t defend the cuffing around of the items-in-a-series rule with logic, so you defend the omission of the needed comma with stale wit. The reader is right when she/he says the omission leads to “ambiguity or misunderstanding.” This punctuation misdemeanor stands in contrast to Times’s bestrewing copy with redundant commas.

See my comment above about the wonders of English and the lack of penalties for changing it. (The capital crime here would be to use the comma incorrectly, Redundant comma cuts off restrictive prepositional phrase. as in "The boy, went into the store," a usage I've been seeing more frequently.)

One use of a comma is as a replacement for "and" or "or," so to use a comma before the last word in a series is to say, for example, "the flag is red and white and and blue." You have made this “and” “and” up from the turmoil of a brain fevered with rebellion against the quirks of the English language that you are too lazy to master.

Again, its use (or lack thereof) is simply Discard. a matter of style, absent authorities' universal agreement, which is most certainly absent. Dump. When people aren't sure of something, they lard a sentence with adverbs to buttress their weak case. Here's what our stylebook says on the matter: Dump.

In general, do not use a comma before and or or in a series: The snow stalled cars, buses and trains. But use a comma in sentences like this to avoid confusion: A martini is made of gin and dry vermouth, and a chilled glass is essential. Here the sensible style-book guys wander astray. The first italicized sentence has items in a series. Standard punctuation puts a comma after “buses.” Newspapers don’t. They relish the attention they get for abusing the rule. The second sentence is nothing to the point. It is a compound sentence that must have a comma before the coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses. The second clause of the sentence has a compound object of the preposition “of.” A person not actively hallucinating would omit a comma between compound objects of a preposition.

If commas appear within the items of a series, separate the items themselves Leave out. with semicolons. In that case, Jettison. keep even Omit. the final semicolon, before the Omit. and. If you flout the items-in-a-series comma rule, why fold on semicolons? Go whole hog, pray. Abuse semicolons too. The offspring of Yellow Journalism has the barbarous heritage to license total punctuation incivility. Why not go back to the Lascaux caves and draw stick figures?

Most newspapers eschew the serial comma.

“Eschew” ranks too civil a term. Let’s call the practice what it is: Most newspapers piss on the serial comma. That usage may be based in the days when each character was a separate piece of type, and eliminating a comma here and there could save lead, time and space. Bingo! This is the etiology of the missing items-in-a-series comma. “May be” should be “is.” In other words, laziness and refusal to adapt to computer technology lie at the root of this primitive practice. Y’all just like to wallow in substandard punctuation and spout clumsy canards about your motives.

The Ugly Truth?
Q. Of all the stellar New York Times reporters, who turns in the sloppiest copy?
— Rex Bowman, Roanoke, Va.
A. Oh, come now, Rex. You don't really expect me to answer that!
Paddy or Patty? It's Not All the Same
Published: March 6, 2007

Q. I have been biting my tongue quietly for days now (it always happens at this time of year). Can you tell me why so many people in the U.S. erroneously shorten the name of the Irish holiday on March 17? It is, as any Irishman or woman will tell you, St. Paddy's Day, not "Patty's" Day. Paddy is the diminutive of Padraig, the Celtic form of Patrick. Patty is the diminutive of Patricia. Simple enough, yet "Patty" has somehow become more widely established here as the colloquial nickname.

I have just seen the "Patty" spelling in an AP wire story online. I can hardly correct my friends when otherwise authoritative sources are also committing the offense! Would the Times correct an AP wire story that contained this commonly accepted spelling error, before running it on your Web site? This woman taught me something about etiology, but she uses a redundant comma before a restrictive prepositional phrase.

— Hillary Harrow

A. Ms. Harrow: Hmmm. Why, indeed? My best guess (and it is that) Avoid this throat-clearing wordiness. is that it's a corruption that comes from hearing the expression rather than seeing it, or from Don't split a compound prepositional phrase with a redundant comma. people who see "Patrick:” What is the reason for the colon after “Patrick”? without knowing its Celtic history.

I'm stunned to see that this has appeared in The Times, though fewer than half a dozen times in more than 20 years, and most often in the name of an event planned by someone else. (The Times, being more formal, would prefer "St. Patrick's Day" in all but direct quotations.)

I can't speak for other news outlets, but we would certainly Redundant adverb correct that spelling if we had the opportunity. (Many reports from other wire services that are Omit. posted directly to our Web site are not yet copy edited.)

Pruning the Prose

Q. It takes me longer than I would like to prune business communication drafts. A colleague once helped me greatly by incessantly asking me, "What's the fourth-grade version of this?" Now I ask myself.
Is there a brief set of essential copy editing axioms you can impart to those of us doomed to edit our own overindulgence?
— Curt Lieneck

A. Some of our critics might reply that we'd say "What's the postgraduate version of this?" I don't understand this analogy, and I have average intelligence. So you should make it plain or dump it. But it's something we all struggle with — how do we make this clearer and can we make it shorter? 2 sentences; 33 words Here’s a sample edit for this copy editor: “We all struggle to make writing short and clear.” 9 words

Editors are always on the lookout for excise excessive adjectives One would not think so from reading this copy. — "a very pretty red sunset" can become "a glorious sunset," If you indulge in an adjective, make it less banal than “glorious.” Proust, obsessed with the color of sunsets, might say “blood-orange sunset.” which says the same thing, shorter and with more impact. Or excessive prepositional phrases — "the chairman of the board of directors can become "the board chairman" or sometimes even "the chairman" without any loss. Omit. Strunk & White inveighs against redundant modifiers. Graham Greene hated adverbs. His avoiding them made his prose clean and clear.

I suppose it’s too much to ask
The Times, with its male locker-room masthead, to use non-sexist “Chair” instead of “Chairman.” I met Mr. Sulzberger when he appeared at Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg and implored him as shareholder to get another woman on the op-ed page besides Ms. Dowd. He replied that he had already chosen the male nonentity whom he had hired as one of the Y-chromosome journalistic brotherhood according with his sexist comfort level. My guess is that Mr. Sulzberger will go to his grave not knowing where to put commas. Being a dauphin means never having to show intellectual éclat. Any fellow who couldn't see that Judith Miller was a homely, egocentric phony will not smash into the upper reaches of the Stanford Binet.

Some writing coaches tell their charges to find some phrases they love to death, and Redundant comma cutting off a trailing adverbial clause. then kill them, because Omit comma before a trailing adverbial clause. they're probably Redundant adverb deadly when read by other people. Or too much jargon or overly Omit. technical language — I used to use a fossil-fuel-encased carbon-based digitally manipulated data extrusion device with manual deletion function, but now I just Delete redundant adverb. use a pencil. Misplaced modifier: Even if this fellow can’t sacrifice “just,” it goes before “a pencil.”

They Typo? key is to put your brain at the receiving end of the message instead of the transmission end. Putting yourself in your reader's place, a sort of role playing, often Redundant adverb shows the flaws or efficiencies in your own writing. Don't say the same thing twice.

Female v. Woman

Q. How do you stand on the use of female v. woman? (re: Safire's magazine column)
— Victoria Joyce, Beverly Hills, Calif.

A. As a woman, I stand with my male and female colleagues. I loved Bill's column, but he neglected to cite our bible, You have only one bible, so this comma cuts off a restrictive appositive. "The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage." Italicize a book. Here's the stance it takes: Mr. Safire overused commas to a faretheewell. When I complained, he wrote me that he “liked commas.” He has since retired to abuse commas in private life. That he reigned as newsroom intellectual says something about intellectual standards at the NYT.

In references to people, the nouns woman, man, girl and boy are most natural. If a construction unavoidably Dump. warrants male and female, use them as adjectives, not nouns. Avoid affixing male and female to occupational titles (male nurse, female judge) in ways that imply that they “normally” belong to only Redundant adverb one sex. Preferably Omit. write, for example, women on the faculty or men on the faculty.

Note that it uses "sex," not "gender" Comma to enclose the contrasting element for the noun.

Here's the stylebook again:

In general, Omit. gender is the grammatical classification of words as masculine, feminine or neuter comma or semicolon: compound sentence and sex is a characteristic of living things. Use sex in unambiguous Redundant adjective phrases like sex discrimination and single-sex schools. But gender has taken on Omit. new meaning in social and political contexts. Use gender, for example, in idioms like gender gap, Redundant comma separating compound prepositional phrases and in references arising from its use in legislation or other legal documents. Use it, too, when necessary to avoid confusion with physical sex or to avert double meanings. In other words, gender is not to be,well, Omit redundant coy birds-and-bees allusion. confused with sex.
Who says The Times isn't any fun? More junior-high-sex-giggle humor.

A feminist gloss says that “female” swarms with connotations of women’s sexual function and inferiority, hence a loaded term. “Male” does not bear that burden; its aura is macho man, the template for the race. Hovering beneath the terms lurks the assumption that “male” is standard while “female” is pejorative and points to women’s sexual function, the one men are obsessed with. A male is a complete human being; a female is a crippled male good only for sex. See De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, despite which she changed Sartre’s diapers at the end of his life, during which he had run around on De Beauvoir big time.

The Common Sense Factor

Q. When the stylebook and common sense come into conflict in a story, the copy editor faces a dilemma: Should I forsake consistency in favor of common sense (at the expense of appearing sloppy or unprofessional), or should I heed the proscribed style (at the expense of disorienting readers who are unfamiliar with newspaper style)? It seems to me that The New York Times tends toward the latter — hence the use of apostrophes in decades ( e.g., 1930's) in normal print so as to maintain consistency with all-caps headlines, and the sometimes strange employment of courtesy titles (e.g., "Mr. SquarePants" as a second reference to "SpongeBob SquarePants").

How do you and the rest of the copy-editing staff decide when to deviate from the stylebook in these (and similar) matters? How often is "common sense" victorious over scrupulous adherence? Finally, does The Times's use of an in-house stylebook — rather than the commonly used Associated Press guidelines — affect your willingness to make exceptions? (After all, if you make the rules, it would seem silly to have to break them.)

— Brenton Kenkel, Lexington, Ky.

Q. As Copy Editor, do you often find that rule anxiety obscures a better solution?

The two above are smart questions.
— Warren Barker

I love these kinds of questions, because they Redundant comma cuts off a trailing adverbial clause. speak directly Redundant adverb. to the news judgments that copy editors have to have.

Emerson wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," Redundant comma separates a compound verb. and then added, "With consistency a great soul has simply Emerson could have done without this redundant adverb and improved the music of his sentence. nothing to do." So, too, with a copy editor who believes that rules are rules. Fragment

Without wanting it to sound as if it's the only book I read, Dump. This suggests faux erudition and adds wordiness. let me quote again from “The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage”: Books get italics.

Style rules should be extensive enough to establish the desired system of style, but not so extensive as to inhibit the writer or the editor. The rules should encourage thinking, not discourage it. A single rule might suffice: "The rule of common sense will prevail at all times."

Common sense, in today’s newsroom, Restrictive prepositional phrase: no commas should mean that this book — aside from its guidance about vulgarity and slurs — does not serve as a catalog of bans on words or phrases. Indeed, few notions can curdle the joy of journalism more quickly than the idea that rules outweigh the freshness a writer may infuse into a phrase usually Redundant adverb. considered irregular or shopworn. So if the manual seems to lean on qualifiers like “normally” and “ordinarily,” it is to remind writers and editors that one measure of skill is exceptions, not rules. The problem with this direction from the Style Book guy is that slovenly writers invoke “common sense” as license to abuse punctuation and avoid learning rules. Using a comma where a comma should go and omitting one where it should not go do not curtail creativity. It enhances literacy.

An editor (or writer) who follows the stylebook slavishly will make The Times look silly. Years ago, The Times avoided "fired" to mean someone who lost a job involuntarily, Redundant comma cutting off a trailing adverbial clause. because our dictionary at the time listed it as slang. An editor, faced with an article about the business practice of "last hired, first fired," followed the stylebook (out the window) and made it read "last hired, first dismissed." Doubtless this example pops up every time some writer wants to insert a pungent piece of slang resisted by a prissy editor. That's silly. The Times has been ridiculed for using "Mr. Loaf" as a second reference to Meat Loaf, and we did. In 1991, in a headline, No commas: restrictive prepositional phrase on a review that began "'May I call you Meat?' asks an unctuous interviewer who pops up periodically throughout 'Dead Ringer,' movie gets italics a movie about the travails of being the rock star Meat Loaf," our headline read: "Is He Called Just Plain Meat Compound sentence gets a comma. or Should It Be Mr. Loaf?" “Meat” and “Mr. Loaf” get quotation marks—single within the double here. In other words, we didn't mean it. And dummies missed the wit.

Context will help drive the decision about whether to violate a stylebook "rule." In the feature sections, we're much more Omit.tolerant about allowing contractions, more colloquial expressions and lighter touches than we would tolerate in a serious news story. For example, though our stylebook advises that, Redundant comma: restrictive prepositional phrase in direct quotations, “The writer should, of course, Omit. extraneous syllables like 'um' and may judiciously Redundant stylebook adverb delete false starts,” following that rule would have done serious damage to this exchange that Frank Bruni reported in his Critic’s Notebook This sentence is too long. Why doesn’t “Critic’s Notebook” get standard quotation marks? It qualifies as part of the italicized newspaper. about room service:

Me, standing at the edge of the minuscule kitchen: “What’s happening in there, Kyle?”
Kyle, hunched over one of the gas burners: “Um, I’m sautéing the mushrooms.”
Me, hovering anew about an hour later: “What’s going on now?”
Kyle, less patiently, behind a veil of smoke: “Um, I’m searing the beef.”

One advice to copy editors here is to never use a keyboard until the brain has been engaged.

Don’t be prissy about the split infinitive, but if it isn’t idiomatic, you avoid splitting it in choice English. “Never to use” sounds better and will not offend conservatives on this issue.

As to the frequent question above (and frequently submitted) of why we put apostrophes in decades (the 1960's) and in the plural of some all-capitalized initialisms (DVD’s), the answer is we don't anymore. Phil Corbett, the deputy news editor who is in charge of the stylebook, eliminated those anachronisms last October, with No comma: restrictive adverbial prepositional phrase this comment: How many eons did it take for y’all to make that change? I recall how long “Ms” languished before the NYT fusty usage priesthood admitted it.

Our main reason for using the apostrophe had been to avoid confusion in all-cap heds, but with those heds long since eliminated everywhere but Page One, that rationale is no longer compelling. And the apostrophe annoyed many readers, No comma: the adjective clause is restrictive .who thought we were mistakenly using a possessive form instead of a plural.

We hear you, Redundant comma splits a compound verb. and obey.

Is It Global Warming or Climate Change?

Q. I'm a style geek and environmentalist, so I'm wondering if AP has a preference for "global warming" or "climate change"? Does The Times prefer one over the other? Do any other papers that you're aware of? This “style geek” has stepped in a fragment.

A. For help on this answer, I turned to Andy Revkin from our Science desk, whose reports have been chronicling the debate and environmental effects (or lack thereof). Here's what he wrote in an e-mail message. (And I hope he doesn't mind that I copy hyphenated compound edited his response a bit!)

I've been encouraging people here and elsewhere (in journalism workshops, etc.) to be very Redundant adverb specific depending on what a story is about. If it's about the changing climate, then climate change is the term. "Global warming" has become bad shorthand for "human-caused warming of the global climate." The problem is, the One may omit “that” at the beginning of a subordinate clause if "that" is not the subject of the clause, but she/he doesn’t replace it with a comma. term global warming itself doesn't include a human element. This has led to heaps of persistent confusion both within newsrooms and in the world at large. ...

Bottom line is, Redundant comma replacing “that” writers and desks should be encouraged always Redundant adverb to ask first WHAT IS THE STORY ABOUT? Comic-book all-caps for emphasis are sophomoric. Use standard lower case. If it's on human-caused climate change (or warming), it should say that instead of relying on a stock phrase like "global warming."
What Andy is saying says: Progressive verbs should depict action in progress. In other contexts, they sound hand-wringing. is that there is no such thing as knee-jerk reporting, so there should be no such thing as knee-jerk editing.
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