Thoughts from the Copy-Editing Mines

I managed a while ago to teach myself the distinction between “that” and “which” — I couldn’t tell you when each one should be used, but my copy editor has corrected me on it only twice so far in this novel.

On the other hand, I still haven’t mastered the “farther” and “further” thing. On the other other hand, the Fowler quote given in this Slacktivist post validates my tendency to use “further” for everything. I’m happy to let me CE correct me on it, but hey, at least I’m not totally off-base.

Speaking of off-base-ness, one of these days I’ll figure out where I got my notions of hyphenation from. My CE disagrees with me quite frequently on that stuff.

It still saddens me to watch these books being corrected to American spelling. (“Corrected” because random bits of my spelling are British. I blame a childhood of reading Diana Wynne Jones?) It just seems wrong. Especially since the US and UK editions are printed from the same edit.

Of all the epigraphs I chose for this book, I think my favorite is the one taken from transcripts of Charles’ trial. It’s a brief exchange between him and Bradshaw, the Lord President of the High Court of Justice, arguing about the House of Commons and the jurisdiction of the trial, and while it was almost certainly not what Bradshaw meant to say, it kind of sums up the entire damn period for me:

The King. Shew me that Jurisdiction where Reason is not to be heard.

Lord President. Sir, we shew it you here, the Commons of England.

Back to the mines.

0 Responses to “Thoughts from the Copy-Editing Mines”

  1. carbonel

    As a copyeditor, I can tell you that the difference between “that” and “which” is a matter of preference, not of rule.

    I believe it was Fowler who tried to promulgate the distinction, with considerably more success in the U.S. than in England.

    So if you want to make the distinction (I prefer to in my boss’s style), go ahead, but it’s not anything like mixing up its and it’s.

  2. desperance

    I’m with on “that” and “which” – throughout a British education and thirty years in publishing, no one had ever suggested to me that there might be a rule, until an American copy-editor asserted it just a couple of years ago.

    I’m happy to take the appearance for the reality and give them their head; if I don’t see a difference, let them swap ’em around as they will. But I cannot understand the rule when they try to explain it.

    On hyphens: I have a favourite dictionary (Chambers), which I’ve always used as my final arbiter (how can you not love a dictionary that defines a jaywalker as “a careless pedestrian whom motorists are expected to avoid running down”?). I’ve had an occasional correspondence with them, and I had cause to protest a few years back, when one edition hyphenated the same word (rosebay willowherb) three different ways in three different places. The letter that came back to me was redolent with stifled giggles, and effectively said “Chaz dearest, you’re not taking us as an authority, are you? Not on hyphens…?”

    From which I conclude that there is no authority, and I am consistent in my own way.

    • mindstalk

      The distinction I saw once was that ‘that’ gives optional qualifying information, while ‘which’ gives qualifying information needed for the sentence to make sense. “I picked up the ball that she was playing with” — could have been “I picked up the ball” if there’s only one ball. But if there’s lots of balls, “I picked up the ball which she was playing with.”

      At least, that’s what I recall of what I saw; I don’t claim perfection there, let alone the reliability of what it was I did see.

      My mother always insisted I abused the comma, without ever properly explaining; my English teachers in high school and college rarely complained.

      Friends in college taught me English has a subjunctive: “I was doing that” vs. “If I were to do that”, which I’ve been good about using, but am not sure really matters.

      • desperance

        Thank you – that makes a definite kind of sense, and is credible (and is far more clear than any other explanation I’ve seen, reliable or otherwise).

        And I have always maintained that a comma is a breathing-space, and people breathe in different places; which is why other people’s usage always throws me out, because I’m thinking “Hang on, you need to take a breath there…?”

        But I love the subjunctive. And I should love it the better if other people would only use it more… (My favourite English teacher once said to me, “Find X, and suggest to him that he go – do you notice my use of the subjunctive there, Chaz? – that he go…” and of course I was so intrigued by the grammar that I entirely forgot the message.)

        • Marie Brennan

          It pleases me that the title of Midnight Never Come is, in fact, an example of the subjunctive.

          • desperance

            Whoo, yeah. It pleased me too. (It’s funny how you get almost possessive about uncommon grammatical constructs, once you’ve learned to spot them; the subjunctive is My Mood, and anyone who uses it deliberately is My People. Also, the gerund…)

          • Marie Brennan

            Have you seen The History Boys? It has a rather memorable quote about gerunds . . . .

          • desperance

            I’ve seen the play; not yet the film. I shall pursue it. Thanks for the tip (alas for my unmemory: memorable things need to occur at least twice in my life before I, y’know, actually remember them…).

          • Marie Brennan

            Well, if you’ve seen it in any form, then I can just point you at the IMDb quotes page. (I would have just quoted it here, but, well, spoilers.)

          • desperance

            Yay. Thank you. I remember now…

            (Also, enjoying myself with all the other quotes. He does write lovely…)

      • Marie Brennan

        I saw it as something about restrictive vs. nonrestrictive clauses, which might be the technical form of what you just say.

        And I . . . have a perverse fondness for the subjunctive.

        Yes, I am THAT MUCH OF A NERD.

  3. airycat

    I’ve always gone by ear on “that” and “which.” I haven’t checked The Elements of Style on this, but I believe “farther” is for distance and “further” is for continuance.

    My son would sympathize with you on the English spelling. His penchant for it came from books, too.

  4. difrancis

    According the grammar manuals (and I’d probably defer to carbonel), and the habit I have, you use that without a comma and which with a comma. Which indicates those things that are not necessary to understanding the sentence and that indicates those things that are necessary to understanding the sentence.

    I can actually remember this now. (after a workshop Nancy Kress told me I should sort out the difference and being mortified, I did and at once).

    Further and farther . . . not so much.

  5. c0untmystars

    My understanding of “farther” and “further” is like said; the former for distance and the latter for continuance.

    My spelling is randomly British at times as well, from a lifetime of reading British books that were published BEFORE American publishers insisted on changing the spelling of everything.

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