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Birch Bay Public Market

Friday, May 10 through the end of summer, Cathy and I will be selling her hand-made soaps, lotions, and toiletries, along with my photography, note cards, calenders, books, etc.

Come see us!

Across the street from the C Shop

4825 Alderson Road, Birch Bay, Washington 98230

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I had an automated blogroll here, powered by Google Reader, but Google, in its near-infinite lack of wisdom, killed Google Reader. Prior to this murder, all I had to do to put a blog on my blogroll (or to take it off) was to place it in a Reader folder called, appropriately enough, "blogroll" (or, of course, to remove it). I use The Old Reader now for following blogs, but it seems to have no way to something similar regarding the blogroll. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know.

Correction vs Incorrection

Trust your instinct as least as much as you trust your editor.

I’m not going to link to the blog post where I found this, because it’s not my goal here to embarrass or shame anyone, or to set myself up as a better source than another blog. I only want to point out that a lot of the so-called “corrections” you will get for the so-called “errors” you make are nothing more than stylistic choices, where either option you pick will have its supporters and detractors. I trust that those who search hard enough to actually find the source of today’s frustration will recognize this.

A blog that I read every time it is updated had a guest post today from someone has decided she is a “hack” writer, based on the edited manuscript she got back from her editor. Many of the changes were in the form of disagreements over open or closed compounds. There was no discussion in the guest post of whether or not the editor had noted that these are often matters of choice, based on personal preference, house style, etc, although I suspect from the implied tone of mortification that there was no such notation.

“Street light” was corrected to “streetlight,” apparently throughout and apparently without comment. While Google’s Ngram Viewer does show that “streetlight” is more common, “street light” is used roughly half as often, indicating that the matter is far from settled.

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“Red brick” suffered a similar fate, with far less support. In fact, “red brick” seems to be about four times as common.

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Similar results exist for “rib cage,” which was changed to “ribcage.”

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“Gill net” became “gillnet,” although the former seems to be more common. Living in the heart of gill net/gillnet land, I have to say that “gill net” looks wrong to me, too, but that’s not the point. The point is that whatever I (or you, or an editor) might think is neither right nor wrong in this case. It’s just a choice. Pick one and live with it.

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Here, though, is the best of the bunch – “Leftovers” was changed to “left overs.” And here’s the picture of how the compound actually exists in the wild:

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Not even close.

Again, my goal isn’t to demonize anyone. Not this time around. Claim that it is wrong, wrong, wrong! of me to boldly split infinitives, and I will demonize you. Tell me “The passive voice should never be used,” and I’ll point out that you just did. Tell me never to use adverbs, I’ll point out that “never” is an adverb. And if you say that I can’t start a sentence with a preposition, I will flounce the zombiehood of that non-rule in your face. In your face!

But whether to open or close a compound is largely a matter of choice, and the propensity of writers to choose one or the other in any given case can easily be checked.

Google Ngram Viewer – your new BFF


Now go and enter my giveaway for J. E. Seanachai’s latest novel, Nonessential: The Expansion Paradox.

6 comments to Correction vs Incorrection

  • Kay

    I’m an editor and read that blog too, and I was also scratching my head at some of these. I did assume the editor was following a certain house style (alas, there are things in my house style that don’t follow common usage but that I have to change anyway). I agree the writer definitely shouldn’t feel bad.

  • Interesting post. So where does the hyphen fit in? I always thought that it was correct to use a hyphen to compound a pair of words until the compound passed into regular usage and the hyphen could be dropped.

  • That’s essentially true. There is a typical “evolution,” if you will, in which an open compound becomes a hyphenated compound, and then a closed compound. It’s not always followed, but it’s quite common.

    A hyphen is also used on the fly, so to speak, to make what is essentially a temporary compound, generally where a two-word phrase is acting as a single word, usually a modifier. Oh, look — like “two-word.”

  • Debbonnaire Kovacs

    Where can I leave a general comment like this?: (creative punctuation–live with it!)

    WARNING! DO NOT READ LEVI MONTGOMERY’S BOOKS UNLESS YOU HAVE TIME TO READ! You’re unlikely to put them down anytime soon. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, . . . maybe this will fit on Twitter.)