Monthly Archives: August 2012

Their behalves are more different than yours

A couple of items in Guy Keleny’s column (looking uses of language in his paper, the Independent) caught my eye. First:

Here is an oddity, from a news story about the US presidential election, published on Wednesday: “Accurately assessing the cash battle is difficult, however, because it is not just the finances of the campaigns that have to be considered but also the towering sums being spent by outside organisations on their behalves.” “Behalves” looks weird. So what is the plural of “behalf”? Is it “behalves” or “behalfs”? Neither. I don’t think “behalf” has a plural, and I suggest that multiple people can share a single behalf.

A Google Books Ngram suggests ‘behalfs’ and ‘behalves’ are, and long have been, vanishingly rare. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage and Garner’s Modern American Usage don’t mention a plural form of behalf.

But for me the problem with the quoted sentence is that it mentions “finances”, then “campaigns”, then “towering sums”, then “outside organisations”, and rounds off with a “their”. The referent is fairly, but only fairly, clear. You can avoid both concerns by saying “…the towering sums being spent by outside organisations acting as proxies.”

Item 2:

“A largely wordless meditation on memory and guilt, it could hardly be more different than the films for which he later became famous,” said our obituary of Tony Scott, published on Tuesday. I come from London, and at home we always said “different from”. Letters I received after last discussing this question suggest that “different to” may be the norm in some parts of the country. “Different than” has, to me, an American flavour, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Does it matter?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with American and British English influencing each other – yes, it goes both ways. And ‘different than’ can be useful (it saves empty words when the object is a full clause rather than a noun or pronoun).

But in this sentence, we have “more different than”, and the “more” could be read as setting up a comparison that the “than” then delivers: his famous films were quite different from each other, but this wordless meditation was even more different. Which may be true, but feels a bit odd. Better to use “different from” here.

Freelance copy editors and house style guides

I’d like a little advice, please. I’ve never freelanced, so I’m a bit in the dark about what freelance copy editors and their clients can expect of each other.

I work for an organisation that publishes lots of stuff, and there are two of us who do all the copy editing and proofreading. It can get a bit busy – especially when one of us is on holiday. So we’re thinking about putting together a smallish group of freelancers who could do pieces of copy editing here and there.

But we have our own house style guide. And while it may be fair to expect an experienced freelancer to have passing knowledge of guides such as AP or Chicago (or at least to be able to get into them pretty quickly), obviously nobody is going to know anything about ours at first.

So: I’m wondering whether it’s standard to expect a freelance copy editor to pick up one’s own style guide without missing a beat, treating it as just another part of the brief. Any tips for this sort of situation?