Theresa Nielsen Hayden has a post about a blog called Copy editing, damnit that purports to be the source of all wisdom concerning style: “Listen to me, I know style and how to use it.” The annoyingly smug tone of that sentence is the second thing that strikes one; the first, thanks to the mile-high type face, is the solecism in the blog’s name (as Theresa points out, “he’s misspelled it… ‘damn it’ if two words, ‘dammit’ if one”). One might get used to those things if the entries were well written and accurate; alas, they are neither: it’s a series of sub-Safire snippets on ancient red herrings like “most unique,” “mail is a noun, male is an adjective,” and “runner-ups.” None of this has anything to do with real style; these are the shibboleths of a certain breed of green-eyeshaded, mossbacked Perry Whites of concern only to the unfortunates who still submit copy to them. Here’s a sample of the misbegotten conflation of grammar and presumed logic:
It’s not “a couple pieces,” or “a couple million.” “Couple” is a noun meaning “two items.” Therefore, if you have a couple of something, you have to say you have a “couple of” something. It’s simple grammar.
I truly feel sorry for people who try to make the unruly productions of the human language instinct conform to the rules of logic. It’s a hopeless quest, and one that can drive its acolytes mad: I once had a colleague of this bent who, confronted with the fact that French used “double negatives” quite successfully, responded “Then the French are wrong!”
But I’m not here to beat up on the anonymous author of “Copy editing, damnit” (as Lynn says, “I don’t care if it’s your real name or not; just give me something to call you”), I’m here to point you to the comment thread at Theresa’s post, which is full of delightful comebacks by fellow grammar lovers and editors. My favorite sequence so far: “Am I the only one to notice (tsk, tsk!) that this guy also doesn’t believe in the use of the serial comma? (Said lack of use is, of course, the cause of the current fall of Western Civilization, As We Know It.)” followed by “::applauds by wiggling fingerbones::” followed by “Serial comma? Nancy’s favorite example of the importance of that little comma comes from a book that was honestly dedicated: To my parents, Ayn Rand and God” followed by:
The “God and Ayn Rand” serial comma thing is possibly apocryphal, but there’s one along the same lines that Rob Hansen spotted in the TV listings of The Times:
Planet Ustinov – Monday, C4, 8pm
By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.
I, too, applaud by wiggling fingerbones. (Oh, and there’s also a sequence about a word, “sinople,” that can mean both ‘red’ and ‘green.’ You learn something every day.)