METM19 keynote 

The evolution of concision: editors’ role in changing English

Lynne Murphy

Bringing clarity and concision to a text is one of the great joys of editing, as far as I’m concerned. But transatlantic experience tells me that not everyone means the same thing by clear and concise and editors (and authors) in different cultures have different perspectives on their roles in creating clear, concise text. This talk explores the densification of the English language – how increasingly more information is fitted into fewer words (and fewer morphemes, fewer letters, fewer sounds). For instance, current English text has fewer passives and more object-action compound “verbings” compared to 100 years ago, so that the ten-word Flour bombs were lobbed at the president by several protesters might be revised and published as the five-word Several protesters flour-bombed the president. While exploring some forms of densification, we’ll see ways in which editors, working in particular cultural contexts, have influenced the directions written English has taken in the past 150 years or so. American English has been leading these trends. While it might be easy to stereotype American concision as the product of an “impatient” society, other, more interesting factors are at work, including the strong American “grammar infrastructure” and editors’ reader-oriented practices. 
[Read a member’s review of the presentation.]

About the presenter 

Lynne Murphy is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex. Born and raised in New York State, she was educated at the Universities of Massachusetts and Illinois and has held academic positions in South Africa, the US and the UK. Her academic training and publications have concentrated on word meaning and word relations, words and context, and lexicography, but her experience as a migrant in English-speaking nations has led her to explore issues of language and culture in the anglosphere. Her alter ego Lynneguist writes the award-winning blog Separated by a Common Language and tweets a US-UK Difference of the Day on Twitter. Her most recent book, The Prodigal Tongue: the love–hate relationship between British and American English (Oneworld/Penguin 2018), is “a funny and rollicking read” (The Economist Books of the Year). “Her love of our living, changing language is infectious” (The New Yorker).