Mark Pilgrim is nearly done with his (online) python programming book Dive Into Python, but is currently being subjected to that bane of the author's life, the copy editing phase.
Dive into Python is almost finished. ... Now the copy editor is wielding her virtual pen and striking through every word I’ve ever written. Incorporating her revisions is simultaneously humbling, enlightening, and mind-numbingly tedious.
Here are the main things I’ve learned so far:
- I usehave towhen I meanneed to.
- I misplace the wordonly. Instead ofyou can only walk through a stream once,the copy editor prefersyou can walk through a stream only once.
- I uselotswhen I meana lot.
- I usewhichwhen I meanthat.
- I overuse footnotes to be cute. This is a bad habit I picked up from the interactive fiction version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the infamous footnote 12.
- I uselikewhen I meansuch as.
- I usethenimmediately after a comma, when I meanand then.
- I overuse semicolons for no particular reason except that I’ve always liked them.
- I usenotewhen I meannotice, and vice-versa.
- I usewewhen I meanyou.As we saw in the previous chapter…We’ll work through this example line by line.And so forth. Apparently we won’t be working through this example. You will be working through this example; I will be in the Bahamas drinking my royalty check.
Well, I don't know who is paying that copy editor, but if she were working for me she would be toast, because every single thing about English grammar here is wrong.
There are some style suggestions included: don't overuse footnotes,
don't be too liberal with the rather literary device of the semicolon.
On things like this, advice from an opinionated reader or a publisher with
style guidelines can be helpful. I won't say anything about them. And
the last point is also about style, though I think the style advice is
dead wrong: inviting the reader into your deliberations and saying
we saw in the previous chapters feels much warmer and more supportive
than the alternatives (
as I stated in the previous chapters is
all pay-attention-to-me, and
as you saw in the previous chapters
suggests authorial omniscience about the reader's mental state). But the
rest (familiar copy-editor changes all) are based on nothing more or less
than flatly false claims about what is grammatical in contemporary
Standard English. This copy editor should be told not just to
lay off, but to go to school and take a serious grammar course.
Enough of these 19th-century
snippets of grammatical nonsense that waste authors' time all over
the English-speaking world. Let me go through the grammar points on
which poor Mark is being corrected, one by one:
in contexts such as this one). There is a difference in formality level: like is more informal. But informal does not mean incorrect. I believe I have said this before. Please pay attention.
The carriage went at a hard pace straight along, then we made a complete turn and went along another straight road.Do these copy editors think their writing wisdom is greater than that of the author of Dracula? Huh? They are morons, and they are wasting Mark Pilgrim's time with their fiddling.
Have I made myself absolutely clear? Well, just in case, I will say this once more in a box, in a larger typeface designed to catch the attention of dimwitted people or perhaps even copy editors:
things mentioned above are not debatable, they are facts about English
that can easily be checked, and it is about time copy editors were told
to stop wasting millions of hours on pointlessly
God dammit, I can feel the veins standing out in my neck. I need to step outside for a while and kick something.Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 17, 2004 02:36 PM