Style

Tips from the Editor – Source of Style

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editor1aBy Kelly Laycock

Now, I know I’m supposed to be finishing up my discussion of Abbreviation Clarification (Part 2) this week, and I really do want to look more closely at the popular style conventions for abbreviations. But as I started writing, I realized I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about style in general first, specifically relating to the legal profession.

I see style as a complex and ever-changing beast, moving first in one direction and then back again, much like a “Bird Ballet”. As with all style conventions, people often feel very strongly one way or another for no discernible reason (just look at my most popular post to see what I mean!). This ebb and flow and constant change is reflected in the publishing world to some extent, where I’ve found it difficult to find any really “standard” Canadian style guides, legal or otherwise. But more on that in a moment.

The important thing to remember about style conventions is that there is no wrong, there is only preference. Style can change very quickly to match trends in popular culture, or it can stay stable over long periods of time. It can be played with depending on the content. This differs from rules of grammar, which come from language use over time and change very slowly, if at all.     Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from the Editor – Me, Myself and I

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editor1aBy Kelly Laycock

In a previous post, “You and I vs. You and Me”, I noted the following: “Personal pronouns come in four varieties: subjective, objective, possessive and reflexive. In first person, that would be I, me, mine and myself, respectively.” In that post, we looked at subjective and objective personal pronouns. I then received a request from a reader to expand on the proper use of reflexive pronouns, and I am more than happy to oblige! Thanks for the request.      Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from the Editor – You and I vs. You and Me

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By Kelly LaycockYouMe2

There you are, listening to your favourite Lady Gaga album (just bear with me), and you hear her sing:

Something, something about this place
Something ’bout lonely nights and my lipstick on your face
Something, something about my cool Nebraska guy
Yeah, something about, baby, you and I

(Lady Gaga, “You and I”)

And if Lady Gaga is singing it, it must be correct, right? So we perpetuate it, and eventually it sounds correct. Pretty soon we’re saying things like “Between you and I”:

Not even the Gods above
Can separate the two of us.
No, nothing can come between
You and I.

(One Direction, “You and I”)

Does this not make other people cringe when they hear it? And I don’t necessarily mean the music (I leave that to personal taste), but do these famous people not have a single person in their crew to tell them that their songs are INCORRECT? What are their editors doing? We have let all of our standards go down the drain. All right, Lady Gaga’s had to rhyme. I’ll give her a little freedom for artistic expression, but One Direction had no constraints. They just plain got it wrong.   Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from the Editor – Legalese Gobbledygook – The Need for Clarity in Legal Writing

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By Kelly Laycockeditor1a

After months of bickering, a divorce lawyer completes negotiations with the other side and calls his client with the good news.

“So what did you work out?” George asks the lawyer.

“Well, what it boils down to is that the party of the first part, to wit, George Smith, shall convey to the party of the second part and to her heirs and assigns forever fee simple to the matrimonial estate, including all property real and personal and all chattels appurtenant thereto.”

“I don’t get any of that,” George muttered.

“That’s right.” 1

Latin terms, legal jargon, run-on sentences littered with convoluted modifiers … for a member of the public, it is a confusing endeavor to wade through what is commonplace for lawyers and legal professionals, as the joke above shows. Access to justice has been a very hot topic in the legal world, and to help the public better understand their rights and responsibilities, it seems that a good place to start would be to replace antiquated legal jargon with plain language.

One of the great paradoxes about the legal profession is that lawyers are, on the one hand, among the most eloquent users of the English language while, on the other, they are perhaps its most notorious abusers. –Peter Tiersma, The Nature of Legal Language

The Copyeditor’s Handbook (my personal Bible, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) tells us that “A writer’s word choices set the tone for a piece (formal, informal, colloquial) … Word choice also gives cues to the readers about the author’s conception of them. Shop talk, jargon, and lingo should be reserved for publications aimed at a specialized audience that is familiar with the argot.” 2 It is a common practice of editors, marketers and communication professionals of all types to tailor their writing style to their audience. For example, if you are writing for an academic crowd who understand a certain level of specialized language, or jargon, on a specific topic, then a switch to plain language would sound patronizing or condescending. Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from the Editor – Oxford Comma Wars

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By Kelly Laycockeditor1a

“I don’t see how you can write anything of value if you don’t offend someone.“

― Marvin Harris (1927–2001), American Anthropologist

We are such suckers for controversy. Is it our frustration at the lack of control over others’ freedom of thought that comes bubbling to the surface whenever we hear something that doesn’t fit into our own personal black-and-white idea of the world? Why do we have such intense feelings about often arbitrary ideas? Is it that someone else’s opinion somehow offends our sense of self? I’m at a loss to explain it, but I do know that the so-called Oxford comma is one such debate that gets the blood boiling!    Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from the Editor – Those Tricky Possessives

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By Kelly Laycockeditor1a

To Add S or Not to Add S, That Is the Question

My post about Single-Spacers vs. Double-Spacers turned out to be more than a little controversial, and by the end of the day, we’d had more than 175 hits and 47 Facebook shares. Wow! You Double-Spacers are fierce!  🙂

I thought maybe for this next post, we might stick to something a little more cut and dried: Possessives. Now, the apostrophe s is not without its fair share of misuse, and has even caused one state across the border to impose legislation about it! Something about those tricky possessives gets people hot and bothered.    Read the rest of this entry »

Tips from the Editor – Double Space After a Period: Who Knew Nothing Could Be So Contentious!

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By Kelly Laycock

space1a“If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.”1

This may seem inflammatory to some, and for some strange reason, this issue brings out the worst in people. Forget Liberal or Conservative, are you a Single-Spacer or a Double-Spacer?

Now, I happen to be an adamant Single-Spacer, and I’m always amazed at how many people continue to use the double-space (or em-space) after every period. It seems like an awfully inefficient use of time and energy in our “Time is Money” world, not to mention a waste of space! But I don’t dare mention it to my authors and contributors, because I might be setting myself up for a full-blown attack: “That’s what I was taught, so it must be right” or “It just looks better with two spaces.” And we all know that you can’t argue with belief.     Read the rest of this entry »