LABELS: COPY EDITING
Any discussion about starting sentences with “and” should begin by emphasizing that there’s no rule against doing so. A lot of people will tell you there is, but they’re misinformed. You can start a sentence with any conjunction including "and," “but,” and “so,” provided it makes sense.
I start lots of sentences with the word “and.” It’s how I think. One idea follows from the last, and the “ands” just pour out. But that’s when I’m writing. As an editor, I hack off at least nine out of 10 sentence-starting “ands” that cross my desk. And here’s why.
Especially in traditional news media, the more efficiently you can express an idea, the more professional the writing appears. Compare any school paper written by your college-age nephew to any article from a top news source and you’ll see what I mean.
“Economy of words” is favored because it’s clearer. But it’s also favored because it’s favored. A highly efficient style is a hallmark of certain big boys of the publishing world. So anything else comes off as not as good.
That's why, when you delete an “and” at the beginning of a sentence, the effect is often dramatic and immediate: The writing just seems more professional.
I do leave some sentence-starting "ands," though – the ones that, when I take them out, leave the passage somehow worse off than it was before. But those are the exception. As a rule, when I see an “and” at the beginning of a sentence, I take it out.
And so it goes.
LABELS: GRAMMAR, PRONOUNS
When people resist changes to the language, I get it. Who wants to be told that the rules they learned in school — stuff they believed, like “healthy” can’t mean “healthful” — are obsolete, or worse, fictional? That the sweat equity they once invested in being right now renders them wrong? They wasted their time, bet on the wrong horse. Who wouldn’t push back?
This, in a nutshell, is why I haven’t written much about the Associated Press Stylebook’s 2017 announcement that it would begin allowing singular “they,” as in “They should move their car” instead of “He or she should move his or her car.”
People who don’t like this change argue that “they” is plural and, because just one singular person can move that car, you need the singular “he” or “she” instead. Anyone who has bothered to learn about pronouns could rightly be annoyed by AP’s new guidance — so annoyed that they might want to shoot the messenger who comes bearing that news: me. Hence my sub-courageous silence.
But there’s something people hate even more than changes to the language: changes to the language they believe are imposed on them by people with an agenda. I was reminded of this recently by a New York Times column on singular “they” by linguist John McWhorter.
So now, after several years of cowering and staying mum on advancements of singular “they,” I can finally be the bearer of good news: Singular “they” is not an artificial language change pushed by people who want to tell you how to talk. Instead, singular “they” has been evolving naturally for centuries.
Here’s my recent column explaining how this word has been evolving for centuries.
LABELS: APOSTROPHES, DOS AND DONTS
When it comes to apostrophes, there are a lot of do’s and don’ts. The least-understood and most crucial of all is: Don’t use an apostrophe to form a plural. One luau plus another luau is not two luau’s. It’s two luaus. One Roddenberry plus another Roddenberry do not make up the Roddenberry’s. They’re the Roddenberrys.
The same is true for decades. The period from 1980 to 1989 is not the 1980’s. It’s the 1980s. You can use an apostrophe to stand in for the dropped 1 and 9: ’80s. But it’s still wrong to write 80’s.
Simple, right? If you read fast through the first sentence of this column, it can seem that way. But if you did a double-take on “do’s and don’ts,” you know that apostrophe rules are anything but simple.
“Do’s” defies the rule because it uses an apostrophe to make a plural out of “do.” Plus, this expression contains its own double-standard: It uses an apostrophe to make “do’s” plural, but it does not add an apostrophe to make “don’ts” plural.
Makes no sense. If we’re following the rules, it should be “dos and don’ts.” If we’re going to defy the rules, we would have to make it “do’s and don’t’s,” with two apostrophes in “don’t’s,” for consistency’s sake, right? Yes. If logic reigned supreme, we couldn’t possibly use one rule for do’s then another for don’ts. Yet I do. Here's my recent column explaining why.
I don’t like to talk about my job at social gatherings. When I do, some people immediately assume I’m some kind of grammar nazi and that they have to watch every word they say around me. Others think I’m their kind of grammar nazi and start talking about how they support my crusade for good grammar.
I never said, mind you, that I crusade for good grammar. I never even said that advocate for good grammar. They just take the idea that I’m “into” grammar and figure I must be “into” lamenting how our language is going to hell in a handbasket.
Then they’ll start listing examples. And the first to come up is always “irregardless.” Their feeling is best summed up by American Dad character Steve Smith, who in a recent episode said, “Irregardless? That's not even a real word. You're affixing the negative prefix 'ir-' to 'regardless', but, as 'regardless' is already negative, it's a logical absurdity!"
And that’s when I have no choice but to alienate the only people at the party who thought they had reason to like me. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster’s, irregardless is a word. It means (drum roll, please) regardless.
That’s not to say that it’s a good word. All three dictionaries call it nonstandard. American Heritage even includes this usage note: “Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of 'irrespective' and 'regardless' and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.”
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not a word. It does, however, mean I don't get many repeat dinner invitations.