Usage and Grammar

Q. I have been using the title “professor emerita” with the names of retired female professors. Now one of those professors insists that I have confused sex with grammatical gender. She writes, “The phrase is Latin; the noun ‘professor’ is masculine and should be modified by the masculine form of the adjective—‘emeritus’—regardless of the professor’s gender.” Since the sixteenth edition of CMOS has used “professor emerita” as part of an example at paragraph 8.27, I’m assuming that this usage is correct. Can you weigh in on this?

Q. Please help resolve a debate: Is it proper (or good) academic form to begin a sentence with a conjunction: “And I believe that is true.” “But editors differ on this rule.” “Nor is this uncommon.” I say it is improper in academic writing that is heading for publication, while others with journalism training say that it is correct. We are editors for an academic law review.

Q. I work for an organization that uses a fair amount of corporate lingo in its publications. The expression “visibility into” seems to be widely used in place of the expression “insight into” . . . this confuses me (okay, it also annoys me). Based on the common definition of “visibility,” does it really make sense to say that one has “visibility into” something? Before I start a campaign to eradicate what I see as an unsightly phrase, can you tell me if the phrase “visibility into” meets the standards of acceptable usage?

Q. Which is correct, “If I were you . . .” or “If I was you . . .”?

Q. My editorial staff is split over whether “the job will take a while” or “the job will take awhile” is correct. Some of us argue that “awhile” is an adverb modifying the verb “will take.” Others of us maintain that “a while” is a noun and is the direct object of the transitive verb “will take.” We all swear by Chicago here, so if you could clarify the usage of “awhile” and “a while” with regard to transitive verbs, that would be great.

Q. I have noticed that the adjective “archival” is frequently used as a noun. For example, “How do we proceed with the archival of last year’s documents?” A search on for the phrase “archival of” reveals that as many as 17,000 sites use the phrase in this way. Is this an acceptable usage?

Q. Is it correct now to use “woman” as an adjective? I know dictionaries list it as such, but dictionaries are reflectors of common usage, not arbiters of proper grammar. I have an author who insists on using “woman activist,” rather than “female activist,” because according to her that’s the common usage in her professional field. I hate the usage because I see it as both incorrect and undesirable—unless we’re going to start using “man activist” as well.

Q. Hi. We are having a debate at work. We live in Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin. We recently moved into a new office space and named the main conference room the Capital Room. Many of us think it should be “Capitol” because it is named after the state capitol. Others think only the capitol building can be spelled with the “o.” Please advise us so we can get back to work. Thank you.

Q. In the US Army supply system, writers refer to requested supplies as dues-in (more than one due-in not yet received), and dues-out (more than one due-out not yet issued to a requestor). The GPO Style Manual (paragraph 5.7) seems to prescribe due-ins and due-outs as the correct plural form (examples they give are tie-ins, run-ins, come-ons). What do you say about these plural forms? Many thanks for your help!

Q. What is the rule for correct usage of “drive” and “ride”? I was trying to explain this difference to a non-English-speaking colleague, but it appears somewhat illogical on the basis of normal usage.