A Warm Hello, Along with Some Unfinished Thoughts on Grammar and Style

Hello!

My name is Greta, and I’m delighted to say that I’m the latest intern with CambridgeEditors. At this moment I write to you from Portland, Maine, but I soon will be departing this beautiful corner of the country for New York to study publishing at the Columbia Publishing Course. Before moving to Maine, I studied English at Reed College in the Portland, Oregon. I clearly like Portlands, and I am always open to suggestions for other Portlands to which to move. (Anyone know what’s the weather is like in Portland, Ontario?)

One project that I’m particularly excited about as an intern is interviewing some of the editors, if they oblige, about their thoughts on editing and literature. I’ll be posting these interviews on this blog, so be sure to stay tuned. One fun question I’m curious to know is what their ideal atmosphere is for reading or editing. Personally, I enjoy either really small, cozy spaces (I used to read in a closet as a kid), or vast open spaces, like the Texan desert in midday when the sun obscures all edges. Often I must settle for a cozy chair though.

On a more serious note, another question I’ve been wondering about is when does grammar become style? In other words, are there moments when as an editor, especially editors of creative works, you decide to keep a sentence that is grammatically incorrect, or that deviates from your normal editing principles, for the sake of preserving style?

This question is prompted largely by Steven Pinker’s new book, The Sense of Style. Steven Pinker, who specializes in psycholinguistics, challenges a lot of tenets of grammar, or moreover the idea that grammar should have tenets at all. He argues that grammar is largely situational, dependent on how an element of syntax or style is being used in context. For example, he believes passive voice, among other long-thought grammatical wrongs, is sometimes effective:

“We know that telling writers to avoid the passive is bad advice. Linguistic research has shown that passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader’s attention and memory.”

People tend to treat Edmund and Skunk’s Elements of Style like it is immortal and carved in stone, but Pinker believes people should take a more loose approach. There are many benefits to breaking the rules, when done thoughtfully.

So, where do you fall in this debate? Do you lean more with Pinker or Edmund and Skunk? Or do you find yourself in a different category altogether? Is what Pinker is arguing only true for creative work and is there less room for grammatical play in academic work? I hope to gain some more insight into these questions in the future.

I look forward to learning more, and a warm hello!

Best,

Greta Moran

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