The party to have been at last night, I mean the place for a linguist to be seen, was Larry Hyman's house in Berkeley for the gathering that welcomed the faculty of the Linguistic Institute that the Linguistic Society of America is running on the Berkeley campus of the University of California for the next six weeks. Mingling in this star-studded cast of what seemed like hundreds and was certainly scores of the finest linguists in the world, I ran across George Lakoff, who told me the best Dumb Copy Editor story I have ever heard. I like Dumb Copy Editor stories, as you know; but this one is so good I think it takes the prize. I will reveal all below the jump.
I guess you need to know that the book by Lakoff and Johnson called Metaphors We Live By, published in 1980 by the University of Chicago Press, was a huge seller for them, and is now famous around the world, virtually a classic. And you need to know that many, many Americans still live in terror of a rule invented by an essayist called John Dryden who died well over 300 years ago.
The copy editor used on the Lakoff & Johnson book was a senior editor for the Press, and he recommended large numbers of changes in grammar and style. The first of the changes concerned the first four words of the book — its title.
And yes, you guessed it; those of you who are saying under your breath "Oh no, he didn't…", you are ahead of me, because he did. Lakoff swears this is true. The man actually proposed that the title should be changed to Metaphors By Which We Live. No stranding of prepositions at the University of Chicago!
Isn't that hilarious?
Lakoff wrote a 23-page single-spaced blast against this man's recommendations, showing in detail and with clear arguments the nature of the hole up which the editor's head was. And then unusually it turned out to be all happy endings: the linguists won, the editor resigned from the project, the editing changes were not made, the title was kept, and the book was a huge hit.
So was the party. Huge. The sun sank slowly in the distance behind San Francisco skyline and disappeared down beyond the Farallon Islands, much wine was drunk on the deck but nobody fell off and plummeted down the precipitous slope of the Berkeley hills below; much excellent food was consumed (thanks, Larry!); and I chuckled for a long time over the Lakoff story (thanks, George!).
Now the real work of the Institute begins: classes started today. Much important linguistic business to transact and many students to teach. More news from Berkeley as it happens. [— GKP, July 6, 2009.]