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Do apostrophes matter, even though “nothing matters” in the end? German Lopez thinks they do. Is the period “no longer how we finish our sentences”? So says Jeff Guo. If you’re an editor like me, you notice writing about little things like apostrophes and periods, especially when you see it in big news outlets. First, in Vox in January, came “Apostrophes, explained.” Then, in the Washington Post in June, came “Stop. Using. Periods. Period.” Lopez and Guo are on opposite sides in the long-running “language wars” over English usage between prescriptivists, who (as caricatured) believe that nothing is right in usage except what their outmoded rules permit, and descriptivists, who (as caricatured) believe that nothing can ever be wrong. Those wars aren’t news if you follow the story of English, but how the two writers took their positions did seem new. In each article, I saw an oddness and wondered what it might mean about the state of battle. More… “The Language Wars”

Jeffrey Mitchell has worked for years as an editor, writer, and instructor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
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Presenting your news!
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Transparent raked in the Emmys, Caitlyn Jenner continues to makes headlines, and it’s a big time for visibility in the trans community. The discussion of gender identity and neutral pronouns has left professor and author Melvin Jules Bukiet wondering how new pronouns will fit in with existing English grammar and social structure. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

We’re throwing away our lives — or at least our chives. Solving our international food waste problem is necessary to end the global hunger crisis and feed a growing population. One Canadian family dug into their trash bin for six months to see if they could cut back. (The Walrus)

Fifty years ago, 2015 may have been predicted to be more metallic-and-spandex than it turned out to be, but technology has come a long way. Claire Cameron spoke to five scientists about the biggest scientific surprises, triumphs, and disappointments of the past half-century. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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Part I of a two-part look at style examines Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Henry James. Watch for Part II, ...And How To Get It in the coming days.
An old window with some panes frosted, some panes clear, and some panes broken.
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Almost the first thing a reader notices about a piece of writing is its style — unless the style is transparent. Transparent prose is prose that lets you see the object before you. It has often been referred to as a window, for the window in no way obstructs your view. Indeed, it serves the view, quite as if it were a humble attendant.

When we speak of style, then, we usually mean prose that obstructs the view. But of course, we do still see something of the object in our line of sight (i.e., the sense of the sentence). How, then, is the object — the view, the sense — obstructed? By details of the sentence that yank our attention away from the sense, if only momentarily. Puns, alliteration, syntactical flourishes, words that call our attention to themselves are some of the details that can do this. Such details are, of course, snappy, playful, poetic, even enlivening, and the reader who reads them, if that reader wishes to be a writer, is apt to think, I’m going to get me some of those!

And why not?

There is no reason why not. But the getting of them is harder than one might think.
More… “On Style…”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Move over, sentences.
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In the past few months, scanning the new arrivals at my local library, I have picked up the same paperback novella several times. Drawn to its one-word title and desaturated blue and off-white spine, I never remember why I decided against it on previous occasions. Then I see the descriptive copy on the back cover, which begins with something like “Written in one long incantatory paragraph…” At this point I put it back on the shelf. I have no desire to read a book without paragraph breaks. The lack of white space on the page can make me feel a little panicky, like being on a train in an underground tunnel – what’s my exit strategy? Reading a book, I always glance ahead to see where the section or chapter ends, so I know when I can stop reading if I want or need to. Stopping mid-paragraph is deeply unsatisfying – no sense of closure, no easy way to remember where I left off when I next pick it up.
More… “The Art of the Paragraph”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Much Hinges

On the joys of using the "wrong comma"

By Elisa Gabbert
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There’s a delightful essay in the 90th anniversary issue of the New Yorker, in which longtime copy editor Mary Norris expounds on her craft, with particular attention to the comma, and defends, almost successfully, the magazine’s indefensibly arcane comma style in sentences like “When I was in high school, at Horace Mann, in the Bronx, in the nineteen-seventies, everyone took pride in the brilliant eccentricity of our teachers.” (“I really don’t see how any of them could be done without.”) My favorite passage involves her questioning the idiosyncratic commas in James Salter’s novel Light Years. She’s sure Salter is too careful a writer to make a mistake; so why then does he insert an unnecessary comma in a line about a “thin, burgundy dress” that shows the outline of a woman’s stomach? And later: “that stunning, wide smile.” A ship’s “black, stained side.”
More… “Much Hinges”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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