About that word Comey used

There’s a lot of discussion (I’m trying to be neutral, here) about FBI Director James Comey’s use of “nauseous” in the last day or two.

Pedants will shout that he should have said “nauseated,” because “nauseous” is only and ever used to mean “capable of creating nausea” (like some fumes, or some votes in the US House. But I digress).

I freely confess that I have used that argument. When I learn about a distinction I didn’t realize before, I tend to flail about with it, as one might do with a weapon they aren’t trained in. Or I did, a few years ago. The more I learn, the more I realize that I have been a PITA (Pedant In The Ass) to some folks. This is one of those cases.

Here’s a tweet from Lisa McLendon (@MadamGrammar) with a screen shot from Merriam-Webster. The usage note clearly explains that the words are indeed interchangeable, and have been for some time. The OED dates nauseous meaning “inclined to nausea” to 1604, and meaning “causing nausea” to 1612. Dates win, in my editorial book. (I haven’t written one. Don’t ask about it.)

Here’s how I handle this these days when I see “nauseous” in an editing project. If it makes sense to me, as an editor, that a character using the word is likely to care about the distinction, I suggest that in an editorial comment. Even the august Bryan A. Garner says that the usage “is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate” (Garner’s Modern English Usage, 4th edition, 2016).

We editors have more important issues to address than to worry about whether a character smells bad and makes others sick, or smells something bad that makes them sick. It’s not as if we can’t understand the intended meaning when Comey says he feels nauseous.

 

Take it slow.

Not “slowly.”

“Slow.”

That’s a flat adverb. There’s no -ly on the end of it. There can be, sure, as “slowly,” but “slow” is used adverbially and there’s not a thing wrong with it under the right circumstances.

You’ll not find it in academic writing, or formal business writing, or legal writing. Those use a register sometimes called “frozen,” meaning there are certain expected phrasings that are  never changed. Think about the language of a church ritual (the more rigid the denomination, the more likely you’ll hear that frozen register). It’s always said this way, never that way. It’s tradition. It’s frozen in time. Part of the hubbub about Vatican II was over the loss of the frozen register, changing from Latin to English (or whatever the local language was). “It’s not said the same now!” Nope, it’s not. But it means the same thing, right? (That’s really a different topic, so I’ll stop with the digression.)

As much as I love flat adverbs, I don’t push them where they’re neither wanted nor needed. If a client uses them, I do my best to leave them alone unless, as happens in some cases, they just don’t work well. If a client doesn’t use them, far be it from me to suggest them; it’s not my voice in their work. It’s their voice. Their work. My task is to provide clarity, and changing “slow” to “slowly” is unlikely to help. Ditto for changing “slowly” to “slow” unless, maybe, it’s in dialogue and I’ve got a handle on the character’s style and it makes sense to suggest the change. Not make it. Suggest it.

Here’s a well-written article about flat adverbs, over at Daily Writing Tips. I see no reason to write another one. I’m just putting it out there for folks that I’m a proponent of them in cases where they make good sense and sound natural. Note that not all adverbs can be flat, and not all flat adverbs mean the same thing as their -ly counterparts. Here’s one example from the linked article: You can dress sharp, or you can dress sharply, but you arrive at five o’clock sharp.

ACES 2017: The rest of it

Friday night, as I said last time, was the banquet. Because so many of us editor women have embraced colorful hair, there was a group photo taken before we were seated. Eleven of us assembled in front of the (old) ACES logo sign in the hallway for our moment of fame. The largest discussion focused on whether we should line up in ROYGBIV order. (We did not.) As most of us are purple of some flavor or other, we were in the middle, with the green, blue, orange, and ted on the outside. Molly McCowan (@InkbotEditor) has rainbow streaks in her blonde mane, and took center position. (I envy her ink.) Continue reading “ACES 2017: The rest of it”

A Storify from last year: “Building a Reference Library”

Yes, I know that Grammar Day is coming (March 4!), but a friend and former co-worker sent me this link a little bit ago with the comment that it might be “a good lead-in blog before ACES [national conference] this year.”

And indeed, it is. I won’t summarize here, because this is a Storify and therefore comprises numerous tweets (some from me!), making it already nicely chopped into bite-sized pieces for easy consumption. (That’s consumption as in “eating,” not consumption as in “tuberculosis.” Let’s be clear about that.) I dare not forget to thank Gerri Berendzen for collecting and Storifying the tweets for posterity.

Thank you, Steven, for suggesting  this and providing the link. It’s in my bookmarks, along with dozens of others. I hope some of you will decide it’s worth keeping, too.

 

Building a Reference Library: An #ACESchat Storify

Hang onto or hang on to? Well …

I’ve been asked this a few times by writers and editors alike, so I’ll see if I can answer it here. Keep in mind, this is my opinion. While it’s grounded in my research, it’s still mine. Yours might differ. That guy over there might have another idea entirely. This is how I handle the situation. Continue reading “Hang onto or hang on to? Well …”

REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon

Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.

Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon”