Finding the Right Words: An Editor Can Make a Difference

When this is the first e-mail I read in the morning, I know I still have a place in this world.

“Can you take a look at this and make sure our grammer and messages flow correctly?”

If the clients can’t spell grammar, can they possibly have a clue how to use it properly?

Tools of the trade.

In a world that wants to communicate in 140-character snippets, perhaps only snooty English teachers and persnickety editors still care about grammar and spelling. Certainly not a day goes by that I don’t see examples of bad grammar, misspellings and incorrect choice of words in published articles or ads in print and on the Internet. Only the perpetrators know whether the mistakes can be blamed on ignorance or carelessness.

From the Tacoma News-Tribune Mariners Insider Blog: “The Seattle Mariners had a fine season, though a few ex-patriots are having better ones – and unless the Minnesota Twins win the World Series, some former Mariner is going home with a ring.” (As far as I know, all ex-Patriots played in the National Football League. Expatriates would be the correct word here.)

From the Magnolia-Queen Anne News: “When he’s not hanging out with his wife, and daughter, Beaudoin can be found in his office in Fremont and sometimes tapping his next tomb at the Magnolia Tullys.” First, ditch the unnecessary comma between wife and daughter. Then the problem with spell check surfaces: It’s probably just a typo, but “tomb” is spelled correctly nonetheless. Unless this author is chiseling his own tombstone while sipping his latte, “tome” would be a more likely candidate.

Changing rolls in the Mariners bullpen?

A Seattle Times sports section headline: “League, Kelley fill Lowe’s roll.” What kind of filling did the two relief pitchers provide–grand salami and high cheese, perhaps? (At least the first paragraph under the headline used the word role correctly.)

One of my own pet peeves has been the choice between “over” and “more than.” In American newspapers, where I learned my grammar, the Associated Press Stylebook said that “over” denotes a spatial relationship (I hold my hand over the desk), while “more than” and “fewer than” (or “less than,” but that’s another topic altogether) are used in a numerical relationship (his salary increased more than 12 percent).

In the world at large, however, the choice is not so clear. While the Associated Press Stylebook states, “More than is preferred with numerals,” The Chicago Manual of Style says “As an equivalent of more than, [over] is perfectly good idiomatic English.” Three grammar blogs (Grammar Girl, Business Writing and The Writer’s Bag) have three different opinions. The long and short of it: Go with common sense and what sounds right.

Look at this recent article from The New York Times. The headline: “Over 14 Years, an American Inmate and Peru Itself Found Ways to Transform.” The article begins, “When Lori Berenson was jailed in Peru on terrorism charges over 14 years ago, she was a fiery young leftist from New York.” Clearly, “over” is the right word in the headline. But in the first sentence of the article, the choice is not as cut and dried. “More than” to me sounds clearer, more dignified. It fits the sentence and the publication better. “Over” isn’t wrong, just not as good.

In your own writing, choosing the right words in each particular situation can make a difference in how your message is perceived. Making those decisions may require the expertise and feel of an experienced editor.


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Filed under Commentary, Editing Tips, Writing Tips

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