Editing for Liberty #15: So Long, Friend

Can You Spot the Error?

  1. Firstly, the ratio between demand and supply varies at different points in time, because personal circumstances and future expectations are constantly changing. Secondly, we systematically underrate our “future needs” as well as the “means to meet them.”
  2. For the further development of the Austrian School, Capital and Interest (Die Geschichte und Kritik der Kapitalzinstheorien, 1884) was to be trend-setting in two ways.
  3. The Austrian position is supported by the fact that many things have been used as money throughout history in various parts of the world: commodities such as salt, clam shells, and animal skins.
  4. On the face of it, the solution sounds rather reasonable and has the support of a very popular Congressman.
  5. The Supreme Court could still be relied on to uphold the constitution and safeguard the civil liberties of individual citizens.

Read on for the solutions!
(This is our last edition of Editing for Liberty. Enjoy! See our archive of all 15 issues.)


OK, it is not technically incorrect to use “firstly”:


But we should avoid it anyway:



Granted that neither first nor firstly is a hanging offense, even professional lexicographers may have a personal preference. I happen to think your repeated deletions of -ly represent time well spent. Partly this is a matter of consistency: I can’t imagine anyone saying “eleventhly” or “seventeenthly”— and even those who do use “firstly” in enumerations would never use it in any other adverbial context (“The Smyths arrived at the party firstly and left lastly?”). But perhaps another reason to avoid firstly and secondly is that they resemble hypercorrections — inappropriate forms substituted for perfectly good ones, out of a desire to sound especially correct.

Ultimately, the choice is one of style: Since first is a perfectly good adverb just as it stands, there is no need for the -ly. As E.B. White put it in the chapter he contributed to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (1959): “Do not dress words up by adding ‘ly’ to them, as though putting a hat on a horse.”

So our Spot the Error entry #1 would be better as

First, the ratio between demand and supply varies at different points in time, because personal circumstances and future expectations are constantly changing. Second, we systematically underrate our “future needs” as well as the “means to meet them.”

Setting Trendsetting Trends

If you suspect that the problem with Spot the Error entry #2 is that “trend-setting” is hyphenated after the noun it modifies, you’re half right. Compound modifiers should only be hyphenated after their nouns if (a) you find the hyphenated term in the dictionary, or (b) you absolutely need to hyphenate to avoid ambiguity.

I don’t find “trend-setting” hyphenated in the dictionary. I do find “trendsetting” completely closed in the dictionary.

So how do you catch these trickly adjectives, open, hyphenated, or completely closed?

The answer is that you have to check the dictionary, but we don’t have time to check every single adjective when we’re proofreading or copyediting. This is why we should …

Make Friends with Microsoft Word

Word drives me batty with its spurious en dashes for em dashes, its default “smart” quotes (both single and double) and its brain-dead grammar checker. BUT, I still make sure to go through both the spelling and grammar checks, because they do catch errors I’d otherwise miss.

I wish it had caught “trend-setting,” but it didn’t. That one I just checked in the dictionary. (Sorry.)

(But Nathalie says that her Word does catch it, so this must vary by version.)

What it did catch was “clam shells,” which it turns out should be “clamshells.” I would never have checked the dictionary for that one, so I’m glad MS Word flagged it for me.

But this is important: you must set the language of your Word document to “English (US)” or “English (UK)” to suit the publisher’s location. Many of our authors are from across the pond or are non-native-English speakers. (Or should that be non–native English speakers?)

As a rule, it is only American authors who send documents set to “English (US).” As frustrating as it is for American publishers, almost everyone else sends documents set to “English (UK).”

(PS: The way I knew that “Die Geschichte und Kritik der Kapitalzinstheorien” was spelled correctly in spot-the-error sentence #2 is that I highlighted that title and set the language to German. This is another way in which Word can be your friend.)

Capitalization Recap

Sentences #4 and #5 both have capitalization errors.

Congressman Ron Paul is a congressman. He is also a member of Congress. He is not a capital-C Congressman, nor is he a member of lowercase-C congress.

The question in sentence #5 is whether the court (notice that it’s lowercased when it doesn’t have the “Supreme” before it) can be relied on to safeguard the capital-C Constitution. And while we’re at it, the people who study the law of the capital-C Constitution study lowercase-C constitutional law.

So to recap the recap:

  • Congressman Paul, President Obama
  • a congressman, the president
  • Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court (but the court)
  • Constitution
  • constitutional

Just for Fun

Sign writer discovers thesaurus

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