Mechanics: Nested Quotes

Let’s say you’re writing dialogue. And in that dialogue, someone quotes verbatim what someone else said. How do you show that, mechanically?

“We were just sitting around talking, and all of a sudden Josh says, ‘Amy told me she’s leaving me.’ Just like that. No lead-in or anything. Just dropped the bomb on us.”

(I also used the “historical present” in that example. It’s how we talk. Nothing wrong with it in fiction or casual writing, at all.)

See those single quotation marks enclosing Josh’s words? That’s how we know they’re his actual, verbatim speech, related to us by the first speaker (whose name we don’t know).

I see this a lot, also, when people are using scare quotes to let us know that a word or words don’t mean precisely what they normally mean. It’s a problem on a couple of levels. First, those scare quotes need to be examined closely; often there’s a better way to impart the information, one that eliminates the need for them in the first place. Second, if they must be used, and they’re within quoted dialogue, they need to be single quotes. Nested quotes are nested quotes, whether they’re scary ones or reported verbatim speech.

NB: I’m an AmE speaker and editor, and I use CMoS as my style guide. Blog posts reflect this reality.

The State of the Blog: The First Four Years

When Ray and I first had the idea for this blog, we were both solidly in the “English is falling apart, usage is doomed, grammar is abysmal” camp. I, in particular, had just read a few self-published ebooks (for which I paid nothing, in exchange for reviews) that contained a horrifying number of actual errors. I mean, grammatical errors. Not stylistic choices. We’re talking about missing words, wrong words, agreement errors, and so on. Not long after that, during the early discussions about the purpose of a blog (if we were to create one), I decided to hang out my editor’s shingle and help some of these poor (literally – they’re not wealthy folks, as a rule) writers publish professionally edited work. That was in June of 2012.

We’re nearly to June of 2016 as I’m writing this, and man, things have changed for me. (I won’t attempt to speak for Ray. He’s got a full-time job and does freelance game design, writing, and editing as well, and hasn’t been active on the blog for quite some time. We’re both okay with that.) I’ve gone from a very prescriptivist view (this is right, that is wrong, and I don’t know why the hell you’d want to write that like you did) to a pragmatic view (you can read about it here), and I keep inching toward descriptivism a little every day. Why? Mostly because I’ve been learning from linguists and lexicographers over on Twitter. I’ve been editing steadily (indeed, I’ve tripled my income since I started the indie gig), and I learn something from every client. Editing fiction is not like editing textbooks or game rules. If I were editing mostly academic or technical materials, I might well have remained firmly on the prescriptivist side of the fence.

But I’m not, and I didn’t.

So, rather than posting a lot of photos of greengrocers’ apostrophes and other mechanical errors and typos common to public signage (everything from professionally printed billboards to the corner store’s handwritten notice), I’ve been steadily moving toward writing about, well, grammar and usage and mechanics, but in a way that teaches rather than vilifies. I must be doing something right. One of my most popular series of posts remains the trilogy “The Mechanics of Dialogue,” which I wrote in October 2014. I still see people sharing links to that (particularly the third installment about interrupted dialogue) on Twitter. I’m happy it’s of so much interest and use to folks.

I was concerned that there wasn’t a place for my kind of grammar blogging because, frankly, there are already so many amazing grammar bloggers out there, what’s one more? However, some of them follow me on Twitter (and I squeal like a four-year-old when I get a notification that another one has added me!), and we chat sometimes, and that’s something I never dreamed would happen. My writing voice is unlike anyone else’s. My method of teaching is unlike anyone else’s. My blog posts might be about the same topics, but they’re written in a way that’s unlike anyone else’s.

I’m finding my voice. And while I’m doing that, I’m continuing to help writers find and polish theirs.

That’s what it’s all about, four years on.

They were all together in the altogether.

Meaning, they were all in the same place (“all together”) and they were naked (“in the altogether”).

“Altogether” can mean “entirely or completely,” too: “That was altogether uncalled for.”

(And just now I looked at the word “together” and pondered why it looks the way it does. I do that, sometimes.)

“I’m glad to hear he’s not gone [all together, altogether].”

The first option doesn’t make sense, really. He’s not gone all in the same place? What? He’s not gone completely. He’s not gone altogether.

This is the kind of post that comes to me sometimes when I’m reading social media. Perhaps the person who wrote “all together” knows it should’ve been “altogether” but didn’t bother to edit, or to read before posting. It makes no difference to me, honestly — except when I’m being paid to edit, or when I’m looking for post fodder.

That’s not Shakespearean.

My brain just said those words as I was reading the etymology for “layabout.”

I was sure, in my head, that the word had to be Shakespearean. It sounds Shakespearean. I’m sure I’ve heard or read it in pieces that are set, chronologically, well before 1932.

And yet, there’s the date, in black and gray (that box isn’t white, it’s gray). 1932. American. The word doesn’t even have the courtesy to be British.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online site further explains that “lay” in this sense is the “nonstandard alteration of lie about.” I figured as much, but it’s always comforting to see such a thing in print.

Then there’s the other term, “to lay about,” which means “to strike randomly in all directions.” As in “He laid about with a mace and still managed to strike nothing.” Here’s the link to Etymology Online’s entry, showing the “put down (often by striking)” meaning.

I suppose, then, that a layabout might lay about if awakened suddenly.

 

I don’t love you (anymore, any more)

Which one would you choose?

There really is a difference in meaning in AmE. They’re not interchangeable, and a copy editor worth their salt will be able to tell the difference.

“Anymore” is an adverb. “I don’t like pizza anymore. I ate myself sick on it, and now I can’t even smell the stuff without turning green.”

“Any more” isn’t the same thing. “I don’t want any more pizza. I’m afraid I’ll eat myself sick on it.” Here, “more” is an adjective (it modifies “pizza”). If you simply said “I don’t want any more,” “more” would be a pronoun (it stands for the thing you want no more of).

It might help to think “adverb” and “anymore” because both are single words. If you mean the adverb, use “anymore.”

As for the answer to the title question, if this is a complete sentence, then “anymore” is the word you want. “I don’t love you anymore.” (I no longer love you.) If there’s more coming, you might want “any more” — but it depends on what’s coming, y’know? “I don’t love you any more than I love my other three partners.” Or something. You figure it out. Please.

People who/that live in glass houses

Because, you see, either pronoun is absolutely correct in that usage.

Ed Greenwood (whom I’ve known, literally, for decades, and whose work I’ve edited) asked me to write a post about “all the folks who use ‘that’ for people, instead of ‘who.'” I have to presume, therefore, that Ed (I LOVE YOU, ED) eschews the usage of “that” for people. Continue reading

Shine a light

I have Elton John running through my head at the moment, since typing those three words. Sorry if I’ve earwormed anyone else.

There are two verbs that many people have trouble conjugating and using correctly. (Okay, there are many, many more than two. But I’m talking about only two today.) There’s shine the transitive verb, which conjugates shine/shined/shined, and there’s shine the intransitive verb, which conjugates shine/shone/shone. Continue reading

Grammar Day 2016: Two days later

I knew Greenbaum had to address the subject/object pronoun situation somewhere. It’s taken me this long to find it. (And if you think that means I’ve been tirelessly poring over the text, hunting for the entry, I appreciate your mental picture of me. I picked up the book again this morning, opened it, flipped a few pages, and there it was. Silly me, having tried to use the index the other day. What a maroon.) Continue reading

Grammar Day, 2016

I see I didn’t bother writing anything for last year’s Grammar Day. I was probably busy working. I’m sure I wasn’t writing haiku. (Why would I write haiku, you ask? Because of the annual ACES Grammar Day Haiku contest.)

But, I digress. While pondering what to write for this year, I picked up my copy of Huddleston and Pullum’s A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (Cambridge 2005) and flipped idly through its pages. Scattered throughout the text (not randomly, of course, but with forethought) are “Prescriptive grammar notes.” If you don’t know what “prescriptive” means, here’s a link to my post about the different types of grammar. I’ll wait while you go read. ::sips coffee:: Continue reading

I’m still here.

I’ve been working my butt off, and I’ve been fighting some form of plague for the last couple of weeks, but I’m still here.

Let’s see. So far this year, I’ve edited eight projects ranging from a short story to a 115-thousand-word novel. Two were for new clients; the balance were for “regulars” (in some cases long-term!). How many words total, you ask?

Three hundred ninety-nine thousand. (Give or take. I rounded up.)

In two months.

Now, I schedule myself at about 160K words/month. That’s my ideal. But as you can see, ideal doesn’t always happen. Projects slide; people get sick; cars need repairs; life happens. And when life happens, I work with every client to ensure we both get what we want and need out of the situation. It might mean contacting a couple of other clients to see if we can play with deadlines. It might mean suggesting to a new client that they take an extra month to coddle their baby project before they turn it over to me, so that a) they feel better about it, and b) I can better work on one that arrived late and needs extra TLC.

Things happen. And I roll with them, and talk to whoever I need to talk to, and keep on working.