[ExI] New Bioscience Company Raises $15 Million to Revive Woolly Mammoth

Gabe Waggoner lostmyelectron at protonmail.com
Thu Sep 16 20:24:47 UTC 2021

>> Usage changes over time. Railing against it is silly and futile.
> I know it's futile to seek to change how the masses speak and write; my
> remarks are intended for the minority who aspire to more precision.
> "Read liberally, write conservatively," to paraphrase a computing proverb.
> ---------------------------------------------------------------

One of my favorite quotes from Bryan Garner, who wrote the grammar chapter in The Chicago Manual of Style: "In any age, careful users of language will make distinctions; careless users will blur them."

Dictionaries are descriptive (showing how people tend to use language), which is one reason they're constantly changing—and why you can find "irregardless" and other such nonstandard forms in them, whereas usage manuals are prescriptive (analyzing the correctness or lack of same). Garner also wrote Garner's Modern English Usage, a resource I've relied on for years, though I have a love–hate relationship with the man.

As an editor, I always change "comprised of" to "consists of" or the like. The whole comprises the parts, and the parts constitute, compose, or make up the whole. I learned at an editing seminar years ago that the etymology of the word comprise makes the passive-voice use illogical (com, together, and prise, to take up). Also, the French verb comprendre, which usually means "to understand," also can mean "to include, to consist of, to comprise." Garner has a whole page devoted to the issue.

The same resigned annoyance overtakes me when I see science writers use "hone in" instead of the correct "home in" (like a homing pigeon)—especially when writers try to justify "hone in" with some half-baked logic about how they're trying to "sharpen their meaning." Of course, language shifts and standards evolve. But that brings me back to the Garner quote. I'm sure many things in grammar and usage that feel completely fine to me were once considered horrible violations.


Gabe Waggoner, MS, ELS
Science Writer–Editor
7318 Edmonston Rd.
College Park, MD 20740-3018
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20210916/77e57750/attachment.htm>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list