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Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition
Style guides differ on the Word of the Decade
It was the decade of the epicene pronoun, as the usually plural they gained new acceptance with its singular sense as a way to avoid assumptions or make generalizations about gender. • They was declared by the American Dialect Society to be the Word of the Decade at its annual conference on Jan. 3. In early December, they was chosen as Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year after a big spike in lookups. The online dictionary added sense of the word as a nonbinary preferred pronoun in September. • It’s good choice: the new sense of they has become established in the past five years and there is an emerging acceptance of they as a substitute for more specific pronouns. But they isn't fully accepted by the big style guides yet.
Questions I am frequently asked
Do I affect the effect or the other way around?
The noun is usually "effect," and "affect" is usually the verb. As verbs, to "affect" is to influence and to "effect" is to bring about, as in "effect change," meaning create change.
You "lay" something. Annoyingly, "lay" also is the past tense of "lie." If you just took a nap, you say "I lay down for a bit." Many people say "I laid down for a bit," but we usually reserve "laid" for when there is an object involved: "She laid the scissors on the mantel."
Is it ever OK to use "they" to refer to an individual
We do it all the time in speech. In writing, it would sure be useful, wouldn't it? You will find that sticklers stickle, but "they" as a singular, genderless pronoun is gaining acceptance.
Beside or besides? Toward or towards?
"Beside" means physically next to. "Besides" means "other than." They used to be interchangeable, but they've grown distinct. Most -ward words are interchangeable, but Americans tend to leave off the "s" while British English writers tend to leave it on.
If I'm talking about a cat, is it "awe cute"? "aww, cute"?
Awe traditionally is fear, respect, wonder. Awesome things are usually not fear-inducing these days, but as awesome as your cat may be, you are looking for "aw, cute." Some dictionaries accept "aww, cute" for particularly cute cats.
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Presentations range from a seven-minute look at confusable words to day-long workshops on writing, copy-editing, grammar, style guides, and other topics. I'm available via webinar or in person.
Projects include researching and writing marketing documents, business-to-business letters and newsletters, and internal newsletters. I also researched and wrote an institutional history book.
Mark Allen was the first freelance copy editor elected to the executive board of ACES: The Society for Editing, in 2012. He also is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.
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