Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

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Jack Shalom
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Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » February 14th, 2015, 8:26 am

Inspired by Eric Mead's insightful review in the latest Genii, I've written a little essay about Stephen Minch's Hermetic Press Stylebook. The essay includes an easy link to a free download of Minch's booklet. Anyone interested in magic writing, heck anyone interested in any kind of writing at all, should take a look at Minch's wise advice.

http://jackshalom.net/2015/02/14/would- ... -thousand/

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bob Farmer » February 14th, 2015, 8:51 am

In writing The Bammo Ten Card Deal Dossier, all 411 pages, I had several pieces of advice from Stephen, and also Richard Kaufman, pasted on the wall above my keyboard. That way, when in doubt, or when something read badly, I could simply look up for wise counsel.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » February 14th, 2015, 10:19 am

Most of all, I'd want to know Minch's take on the spelling of Bammo. :D

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Richard Stokes » March 21st, 2015, 8:37 pm

"When someone comes up with a new non-gender specific pronoun that is as functional as “he”, I’ll consider it..."

What about using 'they' in the singular?

Would this solve it?

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 21st, 2015, 9:24 pm

Stokes ... There's always been a question about using "they" in the singular. If you accept that it can be used, then it settles the question. I just use male spectators in some descriptions and female spectators in others.
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » March 21st, 2015, 10:00 pm

For written English, there's nothing wrong with "s/he" IMO.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-spe ... l_pronouns

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 21st, 2015, 11:58 pm

I can't stand "s/he" either. Visually it drives me nuts. I take into account--a great deal--what the visual appearance of the text is on the page and how that is perceived by, and pleasing to, the reader. Thus my insistence on the Oxford Comma, among many other things.
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Gordon Meyer
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Gordon Meyer » March 22nd, 2015, 11:31 pm

I have been fighting for the gender-neutral, singular "they" for a long time Its time will come.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Richard Stokes » March 23rd, 2015, 2:44 pm

Their time will come, surely?

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Marquardt » March 23rd, 2015, 5:21 pm

I find totally repugnant such phrases as, "When a baseball player says to themselves..." yet I see this construction on a daily basis. Horrid.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Chris Aguilar » March 23rd, 2015, 10:11 pm

How about using "atop" in lieu of "on top of"? As in "Place the card atop the deck. "

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 23rd, 2015, 11:59 pm

There are times when writing that I make choices just by the sound of the language. I often use "on top of" but, sometimes, "atop" works and sounds more musical to me.

I don't like pretension in writing and speech, such as when people use pseudo (or even genuine) European or British pronunciations if they're Americans. "Vase" is pronounced like "ace," not voz (like Wizard of with a V in front of it), and not "vaze," like "haze."

Don't care for it in writing, either. I use the Oxford Comma because it clarifies writing, and that's the only reason. Anyone else read the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"? What I care about most is clarity and simplicity.
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Mullins » March 24th, 2015, 12:06 am

Richard Kaufman wrote: Anyone else read the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"?


My wife keeps bird feeders on our rear deck. A local raccoon used to come raid them, then leave a "deposit" on the deck steps and take off. His motto was "Eats, [censored], and Leaves".

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Doug Thornton » March 24th, 2015, 2:06 am

Richard Kaufman wrote: Anyone else read the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"?


That's a great book! It has some laugh-out-loud passages.
The author - a Brit I think - has a "cheeky" sense of humor. I remember there was one example she was quoting and she interjected, "Hold on, Batman!"
It made me laugh.
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jonathan Townsend » March 24th, 2015, 7:58 am

Jack Shalom wrote:there's nothing wrong with "s/he" IMO.


Is s/he supposed to denote a guy wearing makeup or a girl in a pants suit? ?? :?: :D
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bob Farmer » March 24th, 2015, 9:08 am

A great book.

S/He wo/men/tions wo/man/y gramp/gram/matical shi/he/bboleths.

Bob/bie

See also "Talk To The Hand."

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Mullins » March 24th, 2015, 12:26 pm

Jonathan Townsend wrote:
Jack Shalom wrote:there's nothing wrong with "s/he" IMO.


Is s/he supposed to denote a guy wearing makeup or a girl in a pants suit? ??


Minch covers this in his style guide. See the section titled "Lee Earle".

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Edwin Corrie » March 24th, 2015, 1:07 pm

Richard Kaufman wrote:I can't stand "s/he" either. Visually it drives me nuts. I take into account--a great deal--what the visual appearance of the text is on the page and how that is perceived by, and pleasing to, the reader. Thus my insistence on the Oxford Comma, among many other things.


My favourite (can't remember where I first saw it) as a sarcastic suggested replacement for "he, she or it" is "horsh'it".

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » March 24th, 2015, 8:56 pm

Bill Mullins wrote:
Jonathan Townsend wrote:
Jack Shalom wrote:there's nothing wrong with "s/he" IMO.


Is s/he supposed to denote a guy wearing makeup or a girl in a pants suit? ??


Minch covers this in his style guide. See the section titled "Lee Earle".


Ahem.

Seems pretty simple to me. It keeps the number of people correct, it's easy to write, It doesn't lead to foolish sexual impossibilities, and it challenges maleness as the assumed default gender choice.

Lots of benefits there for a very little price. If you think it is not aesthetic, imagine the aesthetic ugliness of male parts poking in where they don't belong.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby lybrary » March 24th, 2015, 9:38 pm

Here is a thought. Why not create a special sh ligature? Something like this:
Image
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Mullins » March 24th, 2015, 10:36 pm

Jack Shalom wrote:
Jack Shalom wrote:there's nothing wrong with "s/he" IMO.


Seems pretty simple to me. It keeps the number of people correct, it's easy to write,


It may be easy to write, but it is jarring to read. Coming across "s/he" in a text is like hitting a speed bump on a bike trail. Writing should be for the benefit of the reader, not the writer (or the person being written about).

It doesn't lead to foolish sexual impossibilities, and it challenges maleness as the assumed default gender choice.


But in Magic, maleness is the default gender choice.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » March 25th, 2015, 12:12 am

Bill Mullins wrote:
Jack Shalom wrote:
Jack Shalom wrote:there's nothing wrong with "s/he" IMO.


Seems pretty simple to me. It keeps the number of people correct, it's easy to write,


It may be easy to write, but it is jarring to read. Coming across "s/he" in a text is like hitting a speed bump on a bike trail. Writing should be for the benefit of the reader, not the writer (or the person being written about).

It doesn't lead to foolish sexual impossibilities, and it challenges maleness as the assumed default gender choice.


But in Magic, maleness is the default gender choice.

So your defense is that since Magic is sexist, the language describing it should be equally sexist? No thanks.

As for speed bumps, every time I read "he" where the real meaning is "he or she" I, as a reader, find it at best, thoughtless, and at worst, insulting.

I like Chris's idea a lot.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Mullins » March 25th, 2015, 1:59 am

First, I reject your premise.

There are more men/boys involved in magic than women/girls. It does not necessarily follow that "magic is sexist". It may be that the way the male brain is biologically wired, it is more attracted to the "puzzle" aspect of conjuring.

But to suggest that "magic is sexist" sort of implies that the guys who dominate magic are actively trying to keep women out. And I certainly don't think that is the case. And in fact, the majority of people I meet in magic (and the vast majority of those I meet who are prominent enough to make an impression on a girl or woman who might show an interest in magic) are just as respectful and courteous to their female audiences as their male audiences.

(I won't deny that there are some sexist males in magic. But there are sexist males everywhere -- nothing special about magic WRT that.)

To let your writing about magic use "he" as a default isn't sexist, it's just (typically) accurate (in addition to being standard English usage.)

And if you find "s/he" to be easier to read than "he", well, different strokes and all that. I don't see how you could, though, because (as you describe it) every time you run into "he" in a passage, you have to stop, and consider "did the author really mean "he or she" -- if so, I'm offended -- or did he [I said "he" on purpose; most magic authors are male] mean "he" [giving the author the benefit of the doubt, in that he (did it again) is more likely than not expressing what he means, rather than what you think he should mean] -- in which case, the word is used correctly in the sentence, and no harm done.

As far as Chris's ligature idea, if you are a typesetter or font designer, and there is a need for the symbol in printed text, a ligature may make sense. But if you are a writer, it is a pain in the rear to insert a non-standard symbol (that doesn't currently exist) into a block of text instead of just typing "he" and being done with it. Even "s/he" is better from that perspective.

Computer keyboards would have to be redesigned before it would become useful from a writer's perspective.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby lybrary » March 25th, 2015, 7:41 am

Bill, the writer could write s/he and a little automatic post process turns the s/h into a ligature. Should be reasonably straight forward without too much added workload.

Personally I am fine with whatever the writer/publisher decides to do. After all, it is their book and they should decide what they want to do. Buyers can then decide to buy it or not based on a number of reasons. More options and less rules is generally better.
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » March 25th, 2015, 8:20 am

Bill Mullins wrote:First, I reject your premise.

There are more men/boys involved in magic than women/girls. It does not necessarily follow that "magic is sexist". It may be that the way the male brain is biologically wired, it is more attracted to the "puzzle" aspect of conjuring.

But to suggest that "magic is sexist" sort of implies that the guys who dominate magic are actively trying to keep women out. And I certainly don't think that is the case. And in fact, the majority of people I meet in magic (and the vast majority of those I meet who are prominent enough to make an impression on a girl or woman who might show an interest in magic) are just as respectful and courteous to their female audiences as their male audiences.

(I won't deny that there are some sexist males in magic. But there are sexist males everywhere -- nothing special about magic WRT that.)

To let your writing about magic use "he" as a default isn't sexist, it's just (typically) accurate (in addition to being standard English usage.)

And if you find "s/he" to be easier to read than "he", well, different strokes and all that. I don't see how you could, though, because (as you describe it) every time you run into "he" in a passage, you have to stop, and consider "did the author really mean "he or she" -- if so, I'm offended -- or did he [I said "he" on purpose; most magic authors are male] mean "he" [giving the author the benefit of the doubt, in that he (did it again) is more likely than not expressing what he means, rather than what you think he should mean] -- in which case, the word is used correctly in the sentence, and no harm done.

As far as Chris's ligature idea, if you are a typesetter or font designer, and there is a need for the symbol in printed text, a ligature may make sense. But if you are a writer, it is a pain in the rear to insert a non-standard symbol (that doesn't currently exist) into a block of text instead of just typing "he" and being done with it. Even "s/he" is better from that perspective.

Computer keyboards would have to be redesigned before it would become useful from a writer's perspective.

Bill, the "more men in magic" argument is a red herring.

Whether you think magic as an institution is sexist or not (and how can it not be, given that it's an art form that's part of a larger sexist society?), there are many times when writing does not refer only to the magician. Or are you arguing that most spectators are also male and therefore the default "he" should always be used?

And, as for the argument that "he" is the traditional standard English usage and therefore correct...well, that's kind of my point. The default practice makes conscious and unconscious assumptions that have conscious and unconscious effects, IMO. Yes, it might be inconvenient for some to switch over. Ensuring equality is often inconvenient for some. But I suspect that I am now getting into political ground that is verboten here. I'll look to RK for further guidance on that. Besides, I'm not trying to preach or lecture, just giving my opinion.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Q. Kumber » March 25th, 2015, 9:11 am

Surely the best solution is suggested by Pete McCabe in Scripting Magic.

Give the participants names.

Adam could be any male
Eve could be any female

If you need specific people on your Left or Right, give them names where the first letter of their name designates where they are positioned. Linda is a female on your Left, Rex is a male on your Right

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby AJM » March 25th, 2015, 9:22 am

What an excellent discussion.
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Mullins » March 25th, 2015, 11:02 am

Jack -- part of my push-back on "s/he" is the implicit assumption that I'm doing something wrong by using what has been standard in written and spoken English for hundred's of years. To then label the practice "sexist" assumes bad intent on my part, which doesn't exist.

One good thing from the discussion is that I found your excellent blog.


Q. Kumber wrote:Surely the best solution is suggested by Pete McCabe in Scripting Magic.

Give the participants names.

Adam could be any male
Eve could be any female

If you need specific people on your Left or Right, give them names where the first letter of their name designates where they are positioned. Linda is a female on your Left, Rex is a male on your Right


Alice and Bob are two placeholder names conventionally used in other fields. Phil Goldstein used them in a column in MUM once.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bob Farmer » March 25th, 2015, 11:51 am

Simply refer to the Magician and the Spectator.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Ted M » March 25th, 2015, 12:50 pm

Bill Mullins wrote:Jack -- part of my push-back on "s/he" is the implicit assumption that I'm doing something wrong by using what has been standard in written and spoken English for hundred's of years. To then label the practice "sexist" assumes bad intent on my part, which doesn't exist.


Appealing to a historic tradition of erasing women from spoken and written English is about as reasonable as appealing to the historic traditions of excluding women from voting and property ownership.

The latter have changed. The former is changing as well.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jonathan Townsend » March 25th, 2015, 6:00 pm

The he/she thing is not an issue for this reader when taking into account the gender of the narrator. Typographical markers for personal/social issues are telling - see Freud. So what's (s)he mean compared to s/he or sHe? Some have written stories featuring gendered virtual characters using vim and ver. Charles Stross has made some fun of robot gender-configuration distinctions. As did Kurt Vonnegut almost a generation earlier positing seven genders in one story.

Shibboleth - kind of pebble in the shoe of cosmopolitan society. :)

Can we evolve past the effect/method into goal/setup/procedure ?
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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Marquardt » March 25th, 2015, 8:09 pm

Richard Kaufman wrote: I use the Oxford Comma because it clarifies writing, and that's the only reason. Anyone else read the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"? What I care about most is clarity and simplicity.


Richard, you need not feel that you are abandoning your preference for the American idiom in this regard. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White clearly states that this form is the preferred one, as it preserves clarity of meaning. This book is a standard reference for American writers.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Aaron Sterling » March 25th, 2015, 8:55 pm

The production company I'm involved with is run by a woman, and we've produced internal white papers on several tricks that might be used in shows -- historical summaries of effects that can be, e.g., shown to assistants, as part of giving all staff background in the show. We've shared some of this historical research with ConjuringCredits, so as it happens I've talked (a little) with Stephen Minch about writing about, and recording, magic.

More to the point, I've had many discussions with the Artistic Director about how to present the history of magic in a way that will be more inclusive of women. And roughly where she and I are at right now is:

- Tell the history of the trick itself, especially how its dramatic presentation to audiences has changed over the years.

Point being: avoid a "great men great events" version of history, because that isn't helpful to today's performer, and it doesn't communicate that women have a role in the development of magic. In contrast, presenting how the performance of a trick has changed over time, and how it has interacted with audiences of different time periods and milieus, can inform modern-day performers, and also casts magic as a social performance phenomenon, which is easier for girls to relate to.

I think that is more important than the use of one pronoun over another.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Edwin Corrie » March 26th, 2015, 4:15 am

Bill Marquardt wrote:
Richard Kaufman wrote: I use the Oxford Comma because it clarifies writing, and that's the only reason. Anyone else read the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"? What I care about most is clarity and simplicity.


Richard, you need not feel that you are abandoning your preference for the American idiom in this regard. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White clearly states that this form is the preferred one, as it preserves clarity of meaning. This book is a standard reference for American writers.


The matter of the Oxford Comma is not quite as straightforward as it might seem. I'm aware of the dangers of citing Wikipedia as an authority, but in this case they have quite a good summary of the arguments for and against:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma

In language I find it's hard to make and stick to absolute rules, and you always have to look at individual cases and contexts. Also different people have different views on what is clear and what is not. Strunk and White is highly regarded, but I find some of their advice (at least in the edition I read) to be a bit rigid and not always in line with current thinking, which tends to be more tolerant and less prescriptive. Wikipedia again has some comments on differing attitudes to Strunk and White:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Gordon Meyer » March 28th, 2015, 1:20 pm

This is lots of fun to discuss, but the reality is that usage evolves and eventually the non-gender singular "they" will win out. Some style guides already support it. You might as well get on board and then you can be smug about how you're living in the future. Even Grammar Girl thinks it is inevitable. See <http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/generic-singular-pronouns>

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Marquardt » March 28th, 2015, 4:10 pm

Not wishing to be thought of as someone who takes themselves too seriously, I shall retreat from the discussion and go listen to some music. Perhaps a little Simon and Garfunkel and Peter and Gordon and Paul and Paula. After all, my wife says they like it.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Jack Shalom » March 29th, 2015, 10:27 am

Jon wrote:
Can we evolve past the effect/method into goal/setup/procedure ?


Anyone want to take a try at this? I like Jon's suggestion. Not a fan, though, of the HL all at once description. It doesn't clearly let me know the author's intention for the piece.

The new Patrick Redford book, Applesauce, utilizes some interesting terminology. Much of the book has the following format: Basic Effect (what the audience sees) / Verity (what's really happening) / Handling and Presentation (what is said and done at the moment) / Final thoughts (variations and alternatives).

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Richard Stokes » May 15th, 2015, 4:56 am

I remember being force fed Skunk & Blight at an American prep School.
It never really gained credibility over in England.

"Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense"

"both authors were grammatical incompetents."

"a bunch of trivial don't-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can't even tell when they've broken their own misbegotten rules."

Vapid,tautologous, toxic, useless, silly, misguided - these are some of the adjectives in Geoffrey K. Pullum's withering review (2009).

http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/50years

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Pedantic Errors?

Postby Richard Stokes » August 22nd, 2015, 6:41 pm

"The logistics of putting on a six-day
party for 2,500 magicians that
speak a variety of languages are
incomprehensible to me. And yet,
every three years a new group of
enthusiastic organizers steps forward
with dreams of staging the
best FISM ever and then are humbled
by the enormity of the task."

Mike Caveney, September 2015 Genii Article

That word 'enormity' still provokes controversy within the UK establishment and the BBC.
Pedants claim that 'enormity' does not mean something big or huge , but means something really bad and remarkably evil.
"We use words like 'enormity', for instance; people use it to mean 'big' – well, it doesn't. Disinterested instead of uninterested, problems instead of issues – all of that sort of stuff weakens the language, that's what concerns me."
John Humphreys, BBC Radio 4 Presenter.

But Humphreys is making blunders by overstating his case.

So we read about the 'enormity' of Adolf Hitler's war crimes (correct usage according to the pedants) , but I think it's reasonable to interpret this as referring to the vast extent of his war crimes, and not just the pernicious nature of these crimes.

What are we supposed to say instead of enormity?
Enormousness sounds rather strained.

For a more tolerant approach to the English language, I would recommend Accidence will Happen (2015) by Oliver Kamm who writes for the Times.

Kamm would argue that Mike Caveney's use of the word 'enormity' is perfectly acceptable.

And, by the way, disinterested can also be legitimately used as meaning 'uninterested'.

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Re: Stephen Minch's Writing Advice

Postby Bill Duncan » August 23rd, 2015, 1:32 am

Bill Marquardt wrote:I find totally repugnant such phrases as, "When a baseball player says to themselves..." yet I see this construction on a daily basis. Horrid.


Easily fixed: When a baseball player thinks...


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