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Monday, December 29, 2003
Just a quick one, while we're feeling crotchety...

Would someone please tell all those people who can't write and think they can to stop using "not only ... but also"?

It's one of those little touches of artifice that seems to have a fatal appeal for the amateur writer, and there's hardly an instance where it does anything more than advertise this amateur status.

Syntactically, it condemns the sentence to an awkward inversion, in which the reader is forced to read the less interesting piece of information before getting to the potential surprise ("not only the Queen's corgi, but also the Prince of Wales").

Grammatically, it opens the door to a catalogue of opportunities for error, mostly to do with dropping the "not only" element into the sentence in the wrong place.

But the real objection is even more fundamental. The problem is that "not only ... but also" seldom means anything more than "and". And, frankly, any phrase that adds up to an inferior way of saying "and" has a strictly limited range of uses.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003
So this is Christmas... A hell-for-leather scurry and skid towards a single day of gluttony and duty that can hardly fail to be an anticlimax.

The same ten songs crop up everywhere you go, with little to recommend them except the secret pleasure of hearing Shane MacGowan's raw lyrics for 1987's Fairytale of New York blaring out in Tesco's and Marks, alongside Bing's White Christmas and Slade's harmless nonsense.

(For those of you who haven't been paying attention, the lines your granny doesn't want to hear are things like "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last.")

The same end-of-year pressures surface at work, too, with people who have underperformed for months suddenly hurling half-baked copy at you and disappearing for the Christmas break. For most e-editors, that's about as traditional as having turkey for Christmas lunch.

In the more enlightened companies, though, even the editors get a day or two off. And much of this last-minute pap will still be there, waiting to be dealt with, when things start to get back to normal.

If you're lucky, some of your more conscientious contributors will quietly ask if these drafts can be withdrawn, or taken back for further consideration. Other authors will know they should be doing this and simply be too proud to act on that noble impulse.

But that's where the hardened e-editor's experience can pay off.

You can help these people out of a hole.

Instead of grappling with the worst of these Christmas leftovers, try to pick out one clear-cut factual issue you can reasonably query in each of these sub-standard contributions.

This gives you a perfectly good excuse to send the draft back for clarification — and gives your contributor every opportunity to make a few more changes and rethink a few more arguments while the piece is to hand.

Face is saved, the text is improved, and you are spared the attritional battles that always occur when embarrassed authors find themselves forced into a corner and trying to defend the indefensible.

If you have been, thanks for reading. Enjoy the break — and this year's extra party game of guessing just how many of those 8"x 6" parcels actually contain copies of Eats, Shoots and Leaves that friends have bought for you.
Friday, December 19, 2003
One of our correspondents has already e-mailed E-EDITOR to ask why we are "giving away our intellectual property free". It's a good question, but only if you approach it from the assumption that the ideas you have now are the only ones you're ever going to get.

Our feeling is that there's so much ground to cover in the e-editor area that we could keep going till we were 92 and never run out of ideas worth writing about. And if we did, we'd just take requests from the floor and keep on for several years more.

Besides, there are lots of titbits that e-editors ought to know that don't fit neatly into themed and structured pages — the little bonbons all of us need to cheer us up from time to time.

For example, have you ever met the American editor's bible, Strunk and White — or, to be more formal, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White?

Strunk and White has some sound ideas and interesting advice, plus a lot of rather prescriptive and hectoring rules and guidelines. But American writers and editors tend to refer to it as if it were holy and infallible, and that can be annoying.

What you need, of course, is a way of demonstrating that Strunk and White should not be accepted unquestioningly.

And we at E-EDITOR can help you there.

When your American friends start browbeating you about style and referring, as they will, to Strunk and White, all you need to do is take them a few pages into the book, to a quoted example that refers to the punctuation of non-restrictive clauses.

According to this e-editor's bible: "Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater."

Now that's impeccably punctuated, it's true. But, as anyone who's ever been to Somerset, or used a gazetteer to check an unfamiliar place name, will tell you, "Bridgewater" should actually be "Bridgwater".

It's not important, in itself. But it's not the sort of mistake that should have gone uncorrected through many editions and reprints of The Elements of Style over several decades.

So there you are. You read it here first. E-EDITOR gives its intellectual property away again, free, gratis and for nothing. But one day, when an international spat about editing styles turns nasty, you'll enjoy trotting this one out and watching your American friends go pale with fury.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
We've just been starting to read — as distinct from skim — Lynne Truss's bestselling Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Still trying to understand how she has managed to crash the charts with a book like this. But she writes with a good eye and a light touch, so more power to her.

And we particularly enjoyed the sentence where she describes people like her, and us — those she calls "the sticklers":

"In short, we are unattractive know-all obsessives who get things out of proportion and are in continual peril of being disowned by our exasperated families."

The social consequences (unattractiveness and exasperated families) are not always inevitable. Some of us manage to muddle through. But there is more than a germ of truth here.

All e-editors are sticklers, even if all sticklers are not e-editors. It comes with the territory.

In fact, you could define the e-editor's role as professional stickling. But doing it well, with grace and humour, is an honourable calling.

If the real impact of Lynne's book turns out to be a greater recognition of how dumb bad writing and poor punctuation can make commercial companies look, she will have done every e-editor in the country a substantial favour.
Monday, December 15, 2003
OK. We're off to a good start, with useful and suitably sceptical comments from several people whose professional opinions are well worth considering.

If you are a working e-editor and there's something you'd like advice on straight away, you can e-mail us from the main site.

We'll respond as fast as we can — by e-mail, by posting a note here on the blog or by covering the point you've raised on E-EDITOR.CO.UK. Which route is chosen will depend on how generally applicable the issue is likely to be.

Incidentally, on the day following Saddam's capture, we're still fretting about that phrase "spider hole" (see brief rant on the home page, under In the News).

The Viet Cong's spider holes seem to have been out in the open, rather than inside buildings, making them more like foxholes than Saddam Hussein's underfloor hideaway.

But what we saw in the video clips was something that reminded us, unexpectedly, of visits to various stately homes in the English countryside.

I doubt if the US military spokesmen use the term much, but what Saddam seemed to have been hiding in was quite obviously the Iraqi equivalent of a priest's hole.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
This is the E-EDITOR blog, linked directly to Britain's first and finest Web site for the thousands of editors and writers who work outside the world of "legitimate" journalism.

There are now more editors, subs and writers earning their living in the outside world than in all the newspapers, magazines and publishers in the UK.

They -- we -- work in consultancies and legal partnerships, Web retailers and mail order houses, banks and local authorities, PR boutiques and ad agencies, or in the marketing departments of a vast range of other businesses.

But we don't get the recognition our journalistic colleagues get.

We don't get the salaries, the training and the respect for our work that we deserve. And because we work in small groups here, there and everywhere, we are often almost invisible.

We don't have a union. We don't even have a recognised name. And we don't have obvious points of reference to help us set and maintain high standards and sensible house styles.

That's why we need to make contact with each other. That's why we need a rallying point and forum like E-EDITOR. That's why today, 11 December 2003, is an important day for those of us who live by the word. Welcome to E-EDITOR. This could be the start of something big.
The live blog for everybody who lives and dies by the word. The UK's top guide to editing better and getting more respect for it is at www.e-editor.co.uk.

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