Then and Now

While clearing off the cobwebs from this blog (it’s a decorating choice, really — not a sign of neglect!), I began thinking about the prospect for change that each new year presents.

And change, when you are an editor, can be a very good thing.

The longer I edit, the less patience I have for some of the exceedingly proscriptive stances I adopted earlier in my career. Nowadays I am seeing language as much more malleable than calcified, and some rules that I once considered sacrosanct seem more like suggestions or niceties. Or sometimes, to be honest, just kind of dumb.

In the past I would dutifully change “over” to “more than.”  Each “while” that did not concern itself with temporality would become “whereas.”  “Hopefully” as a sentence adverb? Not on my watch.

Nowadays, unless the client has a specific preference one way or the other, I’m much more likely to let some of these shibboleths rest unchallenged.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not becoming a let’s-let-it-all-hang-out descriptivist. Some rules (or guidelines, if you find the word “rules” when it comes to language ludicrous) are helpful; others aren’t, and never have been. (Even back in the day I split infinitives with glee.) I think that my job is to know when observing a “rule” will improve clarity, flow, or readability and when it is flexing one’s editorial muscles purely to show you’ve spent time at the gym.

I haven’t abandoned all my old habits. I still distinguish between “due to” and “because of,” for example, even though I suspect the difference eludes most readers and may, in fact, never have mattered in the first place. Maybe my future self will look back on this stance with disdain as well. As long as my future self still likes chocolate chip cookies, though, we’re good.

Here’s to continued growth and self-discovery. And fewer cobwebs ’round here.

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