RE: what to look for in a Tech Editor

Subject: RE: what to look for in a Tech Editor
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 6 May 2003 15:50:04 -0400

> >>Or do you mean that a good editor ought to be aware that there are many
> systems of
> >>English grammar
> You mean like Ebonics, and the grammar that results from Whole Language
> teaching curricula?

No. Ebonics is a dialect of English, not a grammar. A grammar is an attempt
to describe how a language works. Contrary to popular belief, there have
been many different attempts to describe how English works. Concepts like
parts of speech are parts of grammatical systems -- attempts to explain the
language -- not parts of the language itself. There are grammars that do not
use parts of speech as part of their system. And the problem with all these
different grammatical systems is that not one of them has proven completely
adequate for describing how the language actually works.

> >>also to combat those who learned, in school, ridiculous
> Latin-based rules
> like
> >>"never split an infinitive" and still try to foist them on the
> rest of us.
> Weeelll, there's something to be said for knowing the rules
> before you break
> them.

There is something to be said for knowing whether or not a rule actually
exists before you try to enforce it. More bad writing and bad editing
results from the false imposition of rules that have no basis in the real
way in which the language is used, than from blithe ignorance of any
grammatical system.

The first attempts to create an English grammar were undertaken by people
who had been educated in Latin grammar and they simply applied the
categories of Latin grammar to English, even if they made no sense as
descriptions of how English works. The "don't split an infinitive" rule is
an outcome of this -- you can't split an infinitive in Latin because it is
only one word. Therefore, the reasoning foolishly went, you shouldn't split
one in English either. But placing an adjective between "to" and a verb is
perfectly normal and natural in English, and the attempts to avoid it are
generally ugly and unnatural.

My own conclusion is that the knowledge of many grammatical systems, and of
their various failings, is best for writers and editors. Next best is
complete ignorance of grammar combined with a good natural ear for
contemporary usage. Worst is the knowledge of one grammatical system coupled
with the unshakable belief that it comprehensively and universally correct.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Writer
Stilo Corporation
1900 City Park Drive, Suite 504 , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1J 1A3
Phone: 613-745-4242, Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com

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RE: what to look for in a Tech Editor: From: Watson Laughton

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