Saturday, March 24, 2007

And Grammar Just Gets Harder and Harder

I was recently killing time in a Barnes and Noble and decided to make my regular stop at the publishing/writing section, to rifle through the offerings. I rarely buy at full price, but I only need a few pages of the book to tell if it's worth buying, and then I'll go and buy it used online.

For once I found a more recent grammar book that I would actually recommend: Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh. Aside from being useful by listing common mistakes instead of going into complex rules of grammar first and hoping you get the rest (that's E.B. White's job), it discusses how grammar is actually a very malleable and the normal method of establishing a change in rules has been utterly destroyed by the internet. For example, high-school student became high school student (an exception to the general rule about multiple-word adjectives) a long time ago, while e-mail became email basically overnight. This of course makes the entry-level copyeditor's job go from hard to nearly impossible, and don't get Mr. Walsh started on the difference between copy-editor and copyeditor.

That doesn't mean it's a free-for-all and you can just go and do whatever you want, but it means that if you find something in a book that you think is wrong, you may be wrong yourself. Many people have criticized my blog for being spelled incorrectly. Is someone who rejects things a rejecter or a rejector? Answer: It's both. Both are acceptable official spellings.

What else did I read this week? (What's a low-level publishing assistant reading?)

The Lais of Marie de France

Japan Made Easy: All You Need to Know to Enjoy Japan
Rome and Vatican (travel/photography book)
Printing Press: Ideas into Type
Kabuki: Design Aesthetics (Okay, I didn't read it. I don't know Japanese. I looked at the pictures)
Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland

(I'm not planning on going anywhere. Most of these books were research)


Laura K. Curtis said...

I don't know what you're researching, but given that I've read two translations of the Lais, multiple books on the printing press and know a bit about St. Patrick, I'd guess we've done some similar research!

The Rejecter said...

Sometimes it's research for a story and sometimes it's just general interest. I regularly go to the Salvation Army donation store to buy books to sell online and often I see a book and say, "Well, I don't really know enough about the history of the printing press..." and buy it for 79 cents.

Anonymous said...

Noting that you buy books to sell on the internet, I've heard that one can make a nice bundle by buying first editions at thrift shops, garage sales, etc. Care to comment?

The Rejecter said...

You can make a couple bucks, but to do it for a living you really have to buy in bulk and have a warehouse. I pick up maybe a couple hundred dollars a month on it, which is significant for me, but it's not as easy as it seems.

David said...

It'll always be "e-mail" to me. Why, if it was good enough for my grandfather, it's --

Wait, that doesn't sound right.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised and not a little distressed that you confess to reading book pages in a bookstore, then ordering used online.

Uh, so where is the royalty for the author? Forget the agent if you so wish -- volunteer your time. But the author might like to eat.

If you need to use a book, use the library. At least the author is compensated in the future via the count of times a book is borrowed. They will order his next book if it's popular.

The Rejecter said...

I live on a student budget and I read at least 3-4 books a week. You figure out the economics of that.

The huge resale market created by the internet has its pluses and minuses for the author, but it's not as if books haven't always been available for free. After all, the library's just handing 'em out, provided you give them back in a couple weeks.

Thomas said...

I'm glad someone is willing to assert that language is a fluid and transient thing.

Fifty years ago the phrase "percent instead" would have been four words. That's just fine. Its how understanding evolves and languages speciate.

Anonymous said...

I buy used books, especially in romance, to pick up backlists of authors I like that are out of print. Books that are in current release I buy new.

There were used textbooks when I was in college, and I think it's almost built into that particular system that you'll buy used. Which is why they change the editions so often and drive students into bankruptcy.

You should clarify that you weren't referring to commercial fiction or current nonfiction. This is a touchy issue for some people, and every once in a while raises its head at writers' conferences: how do you support a used bookstore without cheating authors and publishers. I feel there should be some way to compensate a royalty payment on a used book, but it ain't gonna happen.

In the UK, authors get library fees paid to them based on how often books are checked out. That seems like a fair deal for the reader as well as the author.

Anonymous said...

Actrually, I think a lot of the instances of grammatical questions that are cited in your post fall into style sheet (or by definition "style") preferences and not grammar.

Grammar is pretty straightforward. Pronouns agree with their references in gender, number, and case, for instance. "E-mail" versus "email" is something the newspaper, publisher, or professor specifies in a style sheet, no matter what the dictionary says or what Miss Thwackem said in the eighth grade.

Just like you aren't going to do well in life if you didn't memorize your arithmetic tables in the fourth grade, you aren't going to do well if you didn't get grammar down somewhere between the fourth and tenth grades. The fellow you cite seems to be trying to tell people this ain't true, which is unfortunate, but lots of books make it into print.

Anonymous said...

"Percent instead" would have been four words only 50 years ago? I don't think so. The online etymological dictionary says:


1595, from M.E. ine stede (c.1225, see stead); still often two words until after c.1640.

1640 was a little more than 50 years ago.

All we're really talking about when we discuss "per cent" vs. "percent" and "e-mail" vs. "email" is orthographic style.

Whether you write "copyeditor" or "copy-editor" is a matter of personal preference (or house style). Whether you say "between you and me" or "between you and I" isn't merely a matter of style, and we can only hope that the rightness of one and wrongness of the other won't change too quickly.

Kanani said...

I think the issue (in regard to spelling of such words as high-school student or e-mail) is to be consistent. I personally welcome the dropping of the hyphen since reaching up there for the "-" is a pain.

The thing that annoys me is to read a manuscript where characters are speaking as they would on an internet board where ellipses are often used at the end a thought.
"I thought you were a big fat cow...." said Porky.
" how could you call me that?"
"Well....I hate to tell you.... but it was that cow around your neck...

Evil Editor's site is full of them. Drives me nuts.

ssas said...

Grammar and Style are like anything: learn the rules so that when you break them, you're doing it on purpose.

Unknown said...

Re: Used books

I've got a similar budget to the Rejecter... that is, a really, really small one.

I have two options: Used, library, or none at all.

None of those options gives the authors I love any money. However, when I talk about books I've read to friends, loan them, and get money on occasion to buy a new one... that spreads the word, and more books are sold in the future.

Should I refuse to actually read on principal because an author won't get paid for my used book? It doesn't make sense for me to drop $8-10 on a book that I probably will read in less than a week, when I can get it from the library and eat that night. Or buy it used and not spend the gas going to the library every time I want to read a favorite.

kiss-me-at-the-gate said...

I like rejector better than rejecter. It makes me want to call you The Rejectron, and that name just rocks.

(Sorry, that was entirely irrelevant).

Randee said...

Bill Walsh has his own Web log, too. He mostly deals with grammar/copy issues related to his day job at a newspaper, but his blog, and his site, are worth reading:

Sustenance Scout said...

Thanks so much for the link to Bill Walsh's book. I just ordered Lapsing and Elephants and look forward to checking out his site and blog. Any editors in my future thank you, too! K.

Twill said...

Shouldn't it be a choice between Rejecter and Rejectrix, given your gender?

Doesn't the Latinate "-or" suffix presume the male sex?

Naw, we lost that rule with female Senators, didn't we? Never mind.

DWEmma said...

I think you riffled through the books, not rifled through them. Rifling through them might end up with books with many holes in them and the cops being called and everything.

(Hey, you're making a picky grammar post! I can point out a homonym error without being a bitch!)

Bill said...

I just stumbled upon this. Thanks!
-- Bill Walsh

Anonymous said...

When is the last time you had a few drinks and said 'Between you and I'? Maybe it's my low class upbringing, but I would say, "Hey, between you and me, I think the English language is very complicated."