In celebration of the one jillionth time a reader of my column told me that the language is going to hell in a handbasket, I published a column on the subject. I cited a number of heavy-hitting educators who agreed with my correspondent. The twist? They're all dead. Long dead.
LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, PRONOUN ANTECEDENT AGREEMENT
Related to, but not the same as, this week's podcast, here's a helpful fact about "that" and "who." A lot of people believe that you can't use "that" to refer to people: "There's the man that I was telling you about." People, these people will tell you, take "who."
If you look up "that" in the dictionary and read through its many, many definitions, you'll see that "that" can sometimes be used as a synonym of "who," making "the man that I was telling you about" grammatically correct.
But is it a good choice? That's another question entirely. In copy editing, we like to use the most precise words possible. If it's true that "that" can mean a person or a thing, "who" is the better choice for people because it can only mean one of those. It's more specific. But that's a preference, not a rule.
LABELS: GRAMMAR, sentence diagramming
Some language experts I follow on Twitter, including @Fritinancy, were tweeting recently about a 2008 article by sentence-diagrammer extraordinaire Kitty Burns Florey, author of "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: A History of Diagramming Sentences." In the Slate piece, Florey diagrams some of the sentences of then-vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin.
Regardless of where you stand on Palin, the article's well worth your time. For one thing, it lends insight into the art of diagramming, which itself lends insight into the mechanics of sentences. But most of all, it's just a shining example of really good writing. Here it is if you want to check it out.
If you want to know more about sentence diagramming, I've never seen a better resource than Florey's "Sister Bernadette's" book.
LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, WORD CHOICE, WORD USAGE
I got rapped on the knuckles recently when I mentioned in a column that "rob" can be used to mean "burglarize." So I had to do a whole column about why I was right in the first place, darn it. Here's the whole column, but if you want the CliffsNotes version: Cops, lawyers and journalists should reserve "rob" for face-to-face confrontations. But the dictionary allows the rest of us to use "rob" to say that someone sneaked into our house while we were away and took something.