The Great Singular ‘They’ Debate

#Abstract, by Ronosaurus Rex

#Abstract, by Ronosaurus Rex

The lovely and talented Ronosaurus Rex (author of the finely edited book Narrative Madness) has written an argument for the use of “they” as a generic singular pronounA Case for the Singular They as a Genderless Pronoun in Formal Speech and Writing.” The Chronicle of Higher Education has also recently covered the idea a few times in the recent past, largely agreeing with Professor Rex, as do I—recasting around the pronoun can affect shades of meaning, and “they” is already in common use in non-formal language (and has been so for centuries). (RR also discusses the use of “they” as a pronoun for agender people; we will comment on that usage, as well as some gender-related neologisms and current debates, in future posts.)

Books by Ronosaurus Rex (Ronald B. Richardson):
#Abstract, available at Blurb
Narrative Madness, available at Amazon (coming soon in dead tree format!)


A list of links, largely stolen from a recent Reddit thread of useful sites no one knows about, is up on BuzzFeed. In turn, here are a few links from those lists I hadn’t previously known (or had forgotten) about and think are pretty neat:

MerriamWebsterOnline’s YouTube channel. “Ask the Editor” is a series of videos covering all kinds of word and grammar issues. The perfect YouTube playlist for language mavens in search of something to listen to while folding laundry. Latest video: “It is I” vs. “It’s me.”

The WriteWords Word Frequency Counter. Although it has uses for all kinds of writing, I’m thinking of running cover letters through it to check for commonly overused words like “responsible,” “strategic,” and “effective.”curious lawn fox

The Online Etymology Dictionary. The work of one awesome person, this would have helped me explain the clear derivative difference between “virgin” and “vagina” when it came up.

Print Friendly.  A version of this functionality should be built into every browser. Available as a handy bookmarklet, Print Friendly does what it says on the tin—clearing away clutter and images from websites while leaving nice, readable text for printing, emailing, or downloading as PDF. It’s meant to save printer paper, and although it doesn’t always succeed at reducing the page count, it does still make most web pages much easier to save, print and read. Actually, to be fair, it might save me printer paper after all—having clean, searchable PDFs of research materials may obviate the need to print some of them entirely.

Bonus party-time link: ViddyJam. Pandora-style playlist creation for YouTube music videos.

Everyone, Every Day

Sign on University Avenue, Berkeley, 2014.

Sign on University Avenue, Berkeley, 2014.

There seem to be more and more instances of the adjective “everyday” being used where the adjective+noun (acting together as an adverbial phrase) “every day” should be used.  Everyday means: “Daily, quotidian, commonplace: happening every day.” Every day also means “daily,” but modifies a verb, not a noun.

Every Day vs. Everyday
The bus driver frowns at me every day. (adj. every modifies n. day; “every day” modifies v. frowns.)
It is an everyday occurrence. (adj. everyday modifies n. occurrence.)
Trick: If you can replace it in a sentence with “every night,” it’s two words. (“Everynight” isn’t a word.)

Similarly (as seen in the badly proofed sign pictured), “everyone” and “every one” are used differently. Everyone is a pronoun, meaning “every person.” Every one is an noun phrase, meaning “each,” often followed followed by a prepositional phrase describing “one”:

Every One vs. Everyone
Every one of his passengers dislikes him. (Both every and the prepositional phrase of his passengers act as adjectives describing one.) NB: This sentence is tricky in regard to subject/verb agreement: the root subject is one [singular], so the root predicate, dislikes, is correspondingly singular. Cf. the sentence:
All of his passengers dislike him.  All is plural, and therefore we use the plural verb dislike. One dislikes; all dislike.
Everyone dislikes him. (Everyone is a pronoun and the subject of the sentence, yet as above, uses one (singular) to determine the verb case.)
He is disliked by everyone. (Everyone is still a pronoun, but the object of the preposition by. The prepositional phrase by everyone acts as an adverb describing v. disliked.)

“Prepositional” is really hard to type correctly.

Passive Voice and Passival Tense

Happy Passive Voice Day!

Don’t go nuts trying to always avoid passive. Here is a useful illustration of other verb forms being confused for passive in student paper-grading, and links to Language Log posts on the passive voice.

Bonus links: Language Log on the now-archaic passival tense, replaced since ca. the mid-18th century by the progressive passive. Lexicon Valley podcast on passival.

Progressive: She put out the fire.
Passive: The fire was put out (by her).
Passival: The fire was putting out (by her).
Progressive+passive: The fire was being put out (by her).
Pennsylvania Dutch past perfect: She has outened the fire.

This Clickbait Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

Is Upworthy indirectly addressing a crisis of faith that internet users collectively feel? Is there something about the hyperlink that makes us want to believe, or disbelieve, what is on the other side? Does clickbait restore our faith or inspire our disbelief?

Life Sentences: The Grammar of Clickbait! From The American Reader. Short but sweet.

cf. @UpWorthIt on Twitter, which imitates the clickbait headline style flawlessly (e.g., “A Dude Told This Woman To Keep Quiet. Good Thing He Didn’t Tell Her Not To Cure Cancer, Cuz She Did.”), and the Downworthy browser extension, which replaces linkbait phrases with more truthful ones (e.g., “One Weird Trick” becomes “One Piece of Completely Anecdotal Horseshit” ).

h/t oceanjesse@MeFi

Pietsch on Editing Wallace

We’d agreed early on that my role was to dfwshelfsubject every section of the book to the brutal question: Can the book possibly live without this?
Michael Pietsch on editing DFW’s Infinite Jest.
From Infinite Summer, a 2009 project in collaborative study and reading of IJ.
Bonus: a conversation in Slate between Pietsch and novelist Donna Tartt.

Mechanics of Latin Abbreviations & Initialisms

Not everyone follows the styles shown below for frequently used Latin words, abbreviations, and initialisms, but these are my usual choices. Chicago 16 instructs us to set common Latin in roman type, with sic being a notable exception. I will, however, sometimes depart from those rules for whole Latin words, depending on author, intended reader, and manuscript intentions.

ab init. ab initio (“from the beginning”).
ad hoc
(“to this”). Not abbreviations. “Made for the purpose.” Sometimes italicized.
ad inf. ad infinitum (“to infinity”). As above & below, ad is not an abbreviation.
ad lib ad libitum (“at will”). Commonly without a period; rarely italicized.
c. or ca. circa (“approximately”). Chicago prefers ca.
cet. par. ceterus paribus (“all other things equal”).
cf. confere (“compare”).
e.g. exempli gratia (‘for example”). Follow with a comma.
etc. et cetera (“and so forth”). Better spelled out. Precede with comma.
et al. et alia (“and others”). Et is not an abbreviation, so is not followed by a period.
i.a. inter alia (“among other things”).
ibid. ibidem (“the same place”).
id. idem (“the same person”).
i.e. id est (“that is”). Precedes clarifications, not examples. Usually followed with a comma, but not all style guides agree.
fl. flourit (“flourished”). Used to reference the years of a person’s prime.
f.v. folio verso (“on the back of the page”).
n.b. or NB nota bene (“note well”). Follow with a colon. Often uppercase; frequently with stops. No good reason for either.
passim (“throughout”). Not an abbreviation.
percent per centum (“for each 100”). Word in American English, so not italicized.  Symbol (%) rarely used in prose text.
per se (“by itself”). Not abbreviations.
PS postscriptum (“after what has been written”). Also: PPS post postscriptum.
re in re (“in the matter of”). Not an abbreviation (no period). Usually followed by a colon.
QED quod erat demonstratum (“which was to be demonstrated”). Often treated (and punctuated) as an independent clause.
R. rex or regina (“king” or queen”). Follows monarch’s name. No following period when part of a royal cypher.
RIP requiescat in pace (“rest in peace”). I prefer to spell this out, or omit/rephrase.
sic (“thus” or “so”). Not an abbreviation. Always italicize for clarity.
s.v. sub verbo (“under the word”). As used for citing a dictionary heading.
v.i. verbum intransitivum (“intransitive verb”).
viz. videlicet (“namely”). Precedes an appositive list. No following comma.
vs. or v. versus (“against”). Use v. in specifically legal contexts.
v.t. verbum transitivum (“transitive verb”).

Obviously there are many more, but I haven’t included any Latin that I’ve never actually used or edited. Ipsa scientia potestas est!