Editing for Liberty #6: One Good Thing

Can You Spot the Error?

  1. There is one good thing about Marx: He was not a Keynesian.
  2. The shadow minister, Chris Bryant, tabled a motion referring allegations about the hacking of MPs’ phones to the standards and privileges committee. (Guardian)
  3. What this means is that if a religious group purchases land, fair and square, with the intention of constructing a religious building, they are well within their rights to do so.

Read on for the solutions!

Colons and Capitalization

Many writers believe that the initial letter of a statement that follows a colon must be capitalized. In fact, it should be lowercase unless the colon is introducing two or more sentences (CMoS 6.61). So sentence #1 should read as follows:

There is one good thing about Marx: he was not a Keynesian.

But if Rothbard, the author of this quip, had believed there were actually two good things about Marx, then the capital (das capital?) could have been appropriate.

There are two good things about Marx: He was not a Keynesian. And he liked soap operas too.

On the Table: American English vs. British English

Does anything seem a little off about our second Spot the Error sentence? (Other than the reference to the shadow minister, which, I’ll admit, puts fantastic images of faceless politicians, in large black hats and capes, sneaking around Westminster in my head.)

What exactly did Chris Bryant do?

It turns out that to table has a different meaning in British English than in American English. For Americans, if something is “tabled,” it is postponed, whereas in Great Britain this phrase has pretty much the opposite meaning: to table means to formally present (to put on the table).

Sentence #2 is an example of what we need to be careful about when preparing articles from across the pond. If something seems a little off about the use of a word, look it up or check English Language and Usage, a great resource that Stephen W. Carson shared with us.

Sentence #2 should be adjusted as follows:

The shadow minister, Chris Bryant, proposed a motion referring allegations about the hacking of MPs’ phones to the standards and privileges committee.

Fair and Square: It’s Not Just an Aside

For our sentence #3, we have a common expression that we’ve all heard — fair and square — but what is the grammatical role of this expression in a sentence? As Mike recently discovered, it’s an adverb. And as an adverb, it can’t be separated from what it’s modifying by a comma. The sentence should read

What this means is that if a religious group purchases land fair and square with the intention of constructing a religious building, they are well within their rights to do so.

Blog Post Recommendation

Check out John E. McIntyre’s erudite and entertaining advice to a student considering a career in copyediting. It includes such gems as “Shun the Luddites.”


Is there something you’d like to contribute or see covered in Editing for Liberty? Post a comment! Contributions to “Spot the Error” are especially welcome.

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