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The Nitpicker’s Nook: February’s linguistic links roundup

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts from around the web. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected].

By Savanna Scott Leslie

The Nitpicker’s Nook: February’s linguistic links roundup

  • We all learned some “rules” from English teachers that were questionable at best. And as editors, we have the power to challenge those restrictions! Take starting a sentence with and as an example. Edwin Battistella discusses this superstitious proscription. (Oxford University Press)
  • Another classic silly English “rule” is the sanction against ending a sentence with a preposition. Jonathon Owen unpacks an example from the now-infamous Deadpool marketing campaign. I suspect the pompous-sounding example was tongue-in-cheek, but Owen’s thorough analysis is well worth a read either way. (Arrant Pedantry)
  • Last month, Scots and friends observed Robbie Burns Day in celebration of the Scottish poet with haggis and whisky all ’round. BoldFace’s own James Harbeck marked the occasion with a look at the Scots language. Harbeck examines not Robbie’s Ayrshire dialect but the Doric dialect from Aberdeen, which happens to be the tongue of my ancestors. (Sesquiotica)
  • Most editors have a concrete sense of what proofreading entails, and Editors Canada has its own helpful description in its Professional Editorial Standards. Outside the profession, though, you can run into all kinds of definitions. Louise Harnby compares industry guidelines with client expectations and shares some advice on what you can expect as a proofreader. (An American Editor)
  • Is guys just for men, or has it become a genderless word? Stan Carey explains how historically masculine words can eventually become generic and why we don’t tend to see this development in feminine terms. (Slate)
  • Editors and linguists know dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive. They aim to show how people speak a language—not how people ought to speak a language. But what if a dictionary upholds discriminatory or bigoted views? Canadian anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan criticizes Oxford Dictionaries for its sexist usage examples in some definitions. (The Guardian)*

*Thanks to Sara for submitting this link to the blog!

Savanna Scott Leslie is an editor and publishing consultant. She recently relocated from Toronto to Hamilton and is enamoured of all things #HamOnt. She tweets @Savanna_SL.

This article was copy edited by Samantha Carr.

Wordplay: Because language

Wordplay is a regular column by editor and language writer James Harbeck in which he tastes and plays with English words and usages.

We have a beautiful opportunity to watch language change in action: English is gaining a new preposition.


Yes. Because change. Because language!

Do you find that jarring? Folks, this is how your language is made. Because may be gaining a new syntactic role, but this is not the first time it has done so.

Because has been a word in the English language for about 700 years. Before that, it was two words: by (at that time typically spelled bi) and cause. Preposition and noun. By cause of became because of; we also had because that—no longer in use—and because why, which has actually been around the whole time. Once the two words merged, the new single word naturally had a single syntactic role. In fact, even before the two words were written as one, they were already used to introduce a clause without further conjunction. See Chaucer’s prologue to the Franklin’s Tale: “by cause I am a burel man…”

So a multiple-word expression became a single modular unit. This happens in language—indeed, our prefixes and suffixes nearly all started out in the distant mists of history as separate words. Set as such, because sailed on for seven centuries, losing the that but otherwise holding steady. But we love to play with language like kids with erector sets, and, every so often, someone picks up a bit and sees if it can be screwed in somewhere else—just because. (more…)