Wednesday 5 May 2010

But you CAN start a sentence with a conjunction!

Every week I Google myself to see what's up in the world of me. It's an interesting exercise to see where my Gadling articles are cited, plus it's nice to find out what libraries are buying my books.

This time I discovered one of my articles about the Eyjafjallajökull volcano cited by the Pew Research Center's "Project for Excellence in Journalism". An unsigned article titled the Eyjafjallajoekull Effect, gives a rundown of the blogosphere's reaction to the events. They quote me saying, "I don't hold out much hope of seeing my wife fly back from England anytime soon," declared Sean McLachlan at Gadling. "The best bet seems to be for her to take the Eurostar from London to Paris, and then another train back to Madrid. But with thousands of other people jostling for tickets, and the trip costing more than 300 euros with no guarantee that she'll be reimbursed, it's a pretty poor option."*

That asterisk caught my eye. At the bottom of the article it said, "*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings."

It appears the folks at Pew have fallen for an old fallacy--that you can't start a sentence with a conjunction. According to the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, section 5.191, "There is a widespread belief--one with no historical or grammatical foundation--that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as ten percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice."

The folks at Pew also failed to give links to any of the articles they cited. Linking is a common way to cite sources in online material. At the very least one should give the full URL of the parent page. Do I work for Gadling .com, .biz. or .net? I feel sorry for poor Melissa Becker, who is identified only as, "a journalist based in Brazil who had been stranded in Madrid". She's quoted, but not even the name of the website she wrote for is mentioned. I googled her quote and discovered it was from her personal blog.

I guess the "Project for Excellence in Journalism" is only in its beginning stages.

Image courtesy Boaworm via Wikimedia Commons.


lostravenx said...

I wonder what style guide is recommended by Pew's lead writers. While I'm with you completely on the Chicago reference, are they using something else? Or in this case, is it merely personal preference getting in the way?

Sean McLachlan said...

I think it's personal preference. The Chicago guide says no other guide forbids starting a sentence with a conjunction, and while I don't have the inclination to check every one, I know the AP guide as no problem with it.

Melissa Becker said...

Hi Sean! I've just seen this post.
What a shame this research centre haven't added any link to our blogs or even contacted us. I'd not mind if they have done it. Anyway, thanks for linking my personal blog! I'll send an e-mail to them and write a post on my blog - and, sure, I'll link to yours. By the way, quite interesting profession you have, seems very exciting. Cheers!

Melissa Becker said...

Hi Sean. The Pew Research Center answered me. Check it on my blog:

Anonymous said...

The first sentence contains a compound predicate separated by a comma. It's common, useful, accepted, nearly undetectable . . . but technically does not follow the "rules". That maybe could have been the problem.

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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