Monday, April 16, 2012

Copy editor, Anne Kelley Conklin, has a new post

Hot on the heels of my last post, Lonely Onlys, here is another example of a misplaced "only" along with an example of another peeve of mine: 

The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction to include three stages: bingeing, withdrawal and craving. Until recently, the rats had only met two of the elements of addiction, bingeing and withdrawal. But recent experiments by Princeton University scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel and his team showed craving and relapse as well. (Bold mine.)

The rats had not "only met two of the elements" -- the rats had met ONLY TWO of the elements. 'Nuff said.

Now. "Princeton University scientist, Professor Bart Hoebel and his team." Where do I begin?

First, no comma after scientist. Unless he's the only Princeton University scientist in existence, in which case you would also need to add the to the beginning. AND you would need another comma after his name: "The Princeton University scientist, Bart Hoebel, and his team." 

(If you're the New York Times, you add the and delete the commas -- even when referring to someone who is not the only Princeton scientist in existence -- a practice I've never understood. Don't be the New York Times. At least not in this sense. And only because it bugs me, which I know is very important to you.)*

Second, no Professor. "Princeton University scientist and professor," maybe. And professor is usually not capitalized, even before a name, as it's generally considered a description rather than a formal title. Same as scientist, which they somehow got right.

So, here's how it should read:

But recent experiments by Princeton University scientist and professor Bart Hoebel and his team showed craving and relapse as well.


But recent experiments by Princeton University's [or by the Princeton Universityscientist and professor, Bart Hoebel, and his team showed craving and relapse as well. (This is, of course, if he is the university's ONLY scientist and professor -- which I guess wouldn't bode so well for Princeton ...)

See, you set the name off with commas only when you're clarifying whom you're talking about. If you say the sentence while omitting the name within commas, it should still make sense:

U.S. President Barack Obama is running for re-election this year.

The U.S. president, Barack Obama, is running for re-election this year -OR- America's president, Barack Obama, is running for re-election this year.

Copy editor Anne Kelley Conklin has finished writing this post. (Compare with the cleverly incorrect style of this post's title.)

Get it? Got it? Good.

* The New York Times uses the before every description of a person, which has always rattled me. "The singer Lady Gaga" -- as if there's another Lady Gaga with whom we might confuse her?? "Singer Lady Gaga" does just fine. Now, if there were another Lady Gaga who was, say, an astronaut, then you could say "the singer Lady Gaga," as opposed to "the astronaut Lady Gaga" to differentiate them. I doubt that will ever be necessary.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lonely onlys

Only is a word that often appears in the wrong place -- so often that this condition should have its own name. You've read about (and, I hope, avoid) misplaced modifiers. What about misplaced onlys?

Don't make your onlys lonely -- lonely for the word or words they're really modifying.

Case in point (taken from a Facebook post):
Anyone is welcome to the Fitz for the line-up announcement, but tickets only go on sale to members of MPR and The Walker first. (Bold mine.)

"Tickets only go on sale" -- OK, you know what they mean, but is this really what they mean? "Only" here is modifying "go on sale." 

What they really want to say is that tickets go on sale only to members ... first. This is their point: Only if you're a member do you get this special chance to buy tickets before everyone else can.

Again, you know what they mean. But it's not careful writing. And we all want to be careful writers, don't we?