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A question about the Oxford Comma
Posted: 11 January 2013 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Not related to any of the above, but in looking up quotations in the MLA Style Guide I just noticed that that guide does not call for square brackets when omitting words from a quote, calling for a simple ellipsis (with no brackets) instead. I find this a highly questionable practice as there is no way to tell whether or not the ellipsis is an omission or a punctuation mark in the original text.

One more reason why MLA is a really poor style guide.

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Posted: 11 January 2013 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Dave Wilton - 11 January 2013 05:45 AM

Not related to any of the above, but in looking up quotations in the MLA Style Guide I just noticed that that guide does not call for square brackets when omitting words from a quote, calling for a simple ellipsis (with no brackets) instead. I find this a highly questionable practice as there is no way to tell whether or not the ellipsis is an omission or a punctuation mark in the original text.

One more reason why MLA is a really poor style guide.

The plain unbracketed ellipsis for omitted text is the style used in the UK, too (I’ve never seen square brackets used as an equivalent) and I agree completely that it’s ambiguous, particularly in quotes from speakers in news or feature pieces, since it is sometimes unclear whether words have been left out or the reporter is attempting to indicate a pause by the speaker.

There appears to be a rule followed by American-trained reporters that with all reported speech enclosed in the same set of quote marks, if something has been left out of the middle of the original quote, this must be indicated by an ellipsis, presumably to show to the world that the quote has been cut on its way to the reader. Since I am sure the reader doesn’t care two toots, if I am editing the copy, I always delete those ellipses. No one has complained yet.

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Posted: 11 January 2013 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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FWIW, I definitely agree that it is far better to make your text fit the quote than to use brackets to make the quote fit your text, and I also agree that brackets should never be used in a way that changes the substantive meaning of the quote, even subtly.  When it comes to addressing an error in the original (as opposed to adapting text to fit one’s purposes), I only use brackets to “fix” an error if there isn’t an effective way to quote around the error, if paraphrasing would be less effective than a quote, and if the error is so subtle that [sic] is not justified.  As a practical matter, it is very rare for all of those things to be true. 

Just a WAG, but I’m wondering if the use of brackets to address trivial grammatical or other errors is disproportionately used by lawyers (when engaging in formal legal writing). 

The “blue book” (a widely respected guide as to how citations to court opinions and other materials should be made in court opinions) has a rule 5.2, which governs “alterations and quotations within quotations.” Sub (b) of that rule provides, “Omission of letters.  Indicate the omission of letters from a common root word with empty brackets (’judgment[]’).” Under sub (c) it says “Mistakes in original.  Significant mistakes in the original should be followed by “[sic]” and otherwise left as they appear in the original:  ‘This list of statutes are [sic] necessarily incomplete.’” Depending on how broadly or narrowly one construes “significant mistakes”, there may or may not be a class of mistakes that don’t warrant a [sic] but that do necessitate that the writer do something to address the error.

On that note, I have gotten a clear message from judges (and others) at training seminars that judges strongly dislike the use of [sic] to call attention to trivial mistakes.  The difficulty with this is that even if one knows that he or she is not using [sic] to childishly call attention to a minor but clear error, it is possible that a judge would interpret his or her use of [sic] that way.  So, I wonder if the use of [] to fix tiny mistakes has expanded, at least to a small degree, and at least among some lawyers, in direct response to [sic] becoming a somewhat tabooed usage.  (But, again, I only use [] if I have no realistic alternative to using it, and I almost always do have a better option.)

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Posted: 11 January 2013 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Abbreviated quotations can have devastating results.

The Ems Telegram was ostensibly a telegram from the Prussian Kaiser, Wilhelm I, to his Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck which, when published (and as anticipated by Bismarck) precipitated the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

The telegram’s contents outlined the details of a disagreement between Wilhelm and the French ambassador concerning the succession to the Spanish throne.  Bismarck subtly doctored the telegram to give the impression that each side had insulted the other.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

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Posted: 11 January 2013 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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One more reason why MLA is a really poor style guide.

I agree.

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Posted: 26 May 2013 11:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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There was a news story on the ABC (Australia) website recently which included the following:

“The Immigration Minister claimed at the weekend that nearly one in 10, 457 visas were being used illegitimately.”

Someone who had not been tracking this story might think that the Minister was claiming that somewhat less than a hundredth of a percent of visas were being used illegitimately. They might wonder why the ABC was using commas to separate groups of three digits, whereas the non-breaking space is generally used for that purpose in Australia.

Actually there is a kind of visa called a 457 visa, and the minister was saying nearly one in 10 of these is being used illegitimately.

Later the Abe edited this piece so that it said nearly one in 10 457 visas, which didn’t really solve the problem.

If it were me, I’d’ve said:
EITHER
one in ten 457 visas. (This, too, would have been against the ABC’s style guide but it would have removed any ambiguity.)
OR
Established earlier that we were talking about 457 visas, and then said “one in 10 such visas”.

Or something else.

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Posted: 27 May 2013 02:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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OP Tipping - 26 May 2013 11:09 PM

There was a news story on the ABC (Australia) website recently which included the following:

“The Immigration Minister claimed at the weekend that nearly one in 10, 457 visas were being used illegitimately.”

Someone who had not been tracking this story might think that the Minister was claiming that somewhat less than a hundredth of a percent of visas were being used illegitimately. They might wonder why the ABC was using commas to separate groups of three digits, whereas the non-breaking space is generally used for that purpose in Australia.

Actually there is a kind of visa called a 457 visa, and the minister was saying nearly one in 10 of these is being used illegitimately.

Later the Abe edited this piece so that it said nearly one in 10 457 visas, which didn’t really solve the problem.

If it were me, I’d’ve said:
EITHER
one in ten 457 visas. (This, too, would have been against the ABC’s style guide but it would have removed any ambiguity.)
OR
Established earlier that we were talking about 457 visas, and then said “one in 10 such visas”.

Or something else.

I agree with your last version.  On first reading I totally skipped over the space in “10, 457” and thought that they were saying that out of a sample of ten thousand four hundred fifty-seven visas one was being used illegitimately.  This is, of course, an absurd enough notion, given the wording, that it begged a rereading.  Not having a clue that there was such a thing as a 457 visa the rereading was of no help. While aware of the convention of using a non-breaking space in the writing of numbers greater than 999 it is not something that immediately comes to these leftpondian eyes.  Once I understood what was meant the first thing that came to my mind was “...of 457 visas 10% were being used illegitimately.”

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Posted: 27 May 2013 03:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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one in ten 457 visas

As an editor, that’s the change I would promote. It changes the writer’s formulation in the least and preserves “457 visa,” which I assume is the standard way of writing it (like “401k plan” in the US, one never spells out those numbers).

I’m assuming the ABC’s style guide is to spell out numbers less than ten. But a style guide should not be so inflexible. While the numerical threshold is different (one hundred), Chicago says to use numerals when mixing large and small numbers or when it would cause confusion. Under Chicago, one would never write “one in 10.” It’s either “one in ten” (preferred) or “1 in 10.” No style guide, even the voluminous Chicago, can cover every situation, and you have to use your brain and make reasonable exceptions when the preferred style would create confusion.

I might even hyphenate “457-visa,” but that might not be necessary if you spell out “ten.”

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Posted: 27 May 2013 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Another approach would be “one in 10 subclass 457 visas” (one might also join subclass and 457 with a hyphen).

Wikipedia assures me that “subclass” is the appropriate hierarchial term to designate 457 visas.

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Posted: 30 May 2013 01:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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"nearly one in 10 of 457 visas” might do it, but only if you know there is such a thing as a 417 visa, otherwise it reads like out of a total of four hundred and fifty-seven visas, 45 were being used illegally.

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