Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Althoughing Away the Hours

I warn you now that I am joining somewhat the ranks of peevologists the world over (at least English-speakers the world over) with this post. I won't go so far as to say, as many peevologists have, that English is going to hell in any sort of basket, nor even to claim authority over the topic I'm writing about. But I have done and will continue to do a lot of editing of various types, and this little "problem" jumps out all the time. The problem is with the words although and while. Although while has many very specific uses that although couldn't be used in ("You hold the nail although while I hit it with this hammer."), I often see while where, at least in my experience, although is called for . . . especially at the beginning of a sentence. My rule is this: While indicates simultaneity — two or more things happening at once. ("While Jack drew everyone's attention, Jill pilfered customers' jacket pockets.") Although indicates a contrast of some sort. ("Although Bjorn hated the thought of young animals being slaughtered, the veal was too juicy and scrumptious to pass up.") Consider the subtle difference between these two sentences:
  • While Jon shot the video, Jamie took credit for it.
  • Although Jon shot the video, Jamie took credit for it.
Do you see the difference? In the first one, Jamie was taking credit for the video at the same time that Jon was shooting it, but the second sentence doesn't imply any sort of timeframe: Jon could have shot the video 30 years ago, and then Jamie discovered it and claimed to have shot it himself. Yes, it seems like a small point, but I see this all the time in sentences like this: "While Although these profiles will always be non-increasing functions of scale, they may vary in their slopes and shapes." And while although I won't go so far as to say this is wrong wrong wrong!, you can bet that, if I'm editing your work, I'll make the change every time. ---------- This post was brought to you by the letter J and by the number 30.