Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: Different to, um, Because

The second half of this week's list of editorial annoyances. If you missed yesterday's post, you can find it here.


When you’re speaking, only the most uppity, self-important panjandrum would call you on saying “different than” or “different to” instead of “different from.” In print, though — and especially in print that you’re getting paid to write — different from is preferred. Many house style guides either dictate or at least nudge editors toward different from as the way to go.

Note, though, that differs from is always the correct usage; you’d never say that one thing differs than another.

Sure, you might be able to slip a different than through once in a while, but if you stick with different from, you’ll never have any problems. And you’ll make your copy editor’s job just a little easier.

The real editorial peeve here, though, is when people insist that this is an important distinction. It really isn’t. But editors are bound (some more loosely than others) by their house style guides and are expected to change it.

Donuts vs. doughnuts

With the international success of a certain breakfast restaurant chain that shall remain nameless (rhymes with “chunk in yo’ nuts”), I feel I must finally concede that the dough has been taken out of doughnuts. Though I will continue in print to refer to those yummy round thigh-stretchers as doughnuts, I recognize that doing so will attract the same snorts and quizzical looks that I get for writing drive-through instead of drive-thru.

Apparently, America runs on dropping silent letters.

Doubt, not having any

First, the rule: Never use doubtlessly; doubtless can already be used as an adverb, so the -ly suffix is pointless. Using doubtlessly makes as little sense as these examples:

Bad: He ran roughshodly over the defensive line.
Bad: He needs to write fastly if he’s going to meet his deadline.
Bad: This blog post is wellly done!

Now, the options: Sentences that use doubtless as an adverb just sound weird. I know this because I’ve spent the last five minutes trying to come up with a good example sentence, and none of them sound right. (The first draft of this post was written longhand in the library. I will doubtless be able to find a good example online with a simple Google search when I get home. See how odd that sounds?)

Avoid the problem altogether by using undoubtedly. Better yet, use indubitably; it means the same thing and is more fun to say. It’s like scat singing: “In-doobie-doobie-dubitably”!!!


I’m going to step back from the print word for a sec and talk about drowning and how it should be pronounced, because this has bugged me since I was, I don't know, five or six.

Unless you’re using the past tense drowned, there is only one d in the word: Last week, Vanity Smurf was drowning in debt. Yesterday, he drowned himself in Gargamel’s moat. Tomorrow, Smurfette will drown in sorrow for her loss. Hundreds of Smurfs drown whenever more than an inch of rain falls.

There is no drownding. You don’t stay off the ice for fear that you might drownd. And, for the love of all that’s good and true, no one ever drownded in a retention pond.

Stop saying it like that! Just stop it!

Due to the fact that

The phrase “due to the fact that” has a nice rhythm to it if you’re a fast-talking rapper (as many of my readers are). If you ain’t representin’ on the mic (I am so gangsta!), do us all a favor and never ever ever EVER use “due to the fact that.” Just say or write because.
This isn’t a grammar issue, it’s a style issue. You just don’t have enough style to pull off “due to the fact that.” So don't even try it.