Usage and Grammar

Q. I am an editor at a city magazine, and our copy department just had a spirited discussion over the phrase “last September.” The issue in which this phrase will appear hits newsstands in December 2008. Would the phrase “last September” then refer to September 2007 or September 2008? The phrases “last Tuesday,” “last week,” “last month,” and “last year” all refer to the unit of time immediately before the current one. Does “last September” merit a special consideration?

Q. What determines the verb of an adjectival clause—the subject of the main clause or the noun to which the adjectival clause most closely relates? Here’s an example: “One of the paradoxes that emerges from studying scientific discovery is . . .” Many years ago, when grammar was still being taught, I learned that the noun “paradoxes” (to which the pronoun “that” relates) would dictate a plural verb, “emerge,” in the dependent clause. I continue to make this kind of change in scholarly editing but oftentimes meet with authors’ resistance. What is your stance on this?

Q. Greetings. I’m working with the Knowledge Management team in an IT company, responsible for content management and development. My supervisor advised me to write only per, not as per in a sentence. Is it as per the Chicago Manual of Style? Please oblige me with your reply.

Q. My colleagues are divided in their opinions about “storing data in a computer” versus “storing data on a computer.” Which is correct? Thanks.

Q. I’m writing an article for an academic journal. I frequently use the word “effectively,” as in “Effectively, US tax on those earnings could be deferred indefinitely.” I looked the word up in the dictionary, and it does mean something. But does it really add anything to a sentence like that above? Is there any style rule on this or a similar word? I’m thinking of just editing this word out everywhere it appears.

Q. What’s the difference, if any, between the words existing and preexisting? Isn’t the prefix pre- redundant?

Q. The assistant editor of my local newspaper wrote the following sentence in a column: “My parents had my little brother and I later in life.” I said I believe it should be “my brother and me.” She remains adamant that she is correct and referred me to your book. How is this possible?

Q. The author I’m editing has a fondness for making titles syntactic parts of his sentences, e.g., “the chapter on ‘Deconstructing Derrida’ takes up the challenge” and “a final essay too readily excoriating those figures she believes to be ‘Tolerating the Intolerable.’ ” Being confident that CMOS and other style manuals don’t approve of this practice, I’ve been recasting the offending sentences. Nonetheless, I’d like to be able to cite the relevant CMOS section (which I’m almost sure I’ve come across before) in a note to the author to bestow authority upon what may strike him as capricious and unnecessary changes. But for some reason, unfortunately (not, I hope, because I’ve simply dreamed up the idea that there’s a problem in these sorts of constructions), I can’t find that relevant section. Please tell me it exists and point me to it.

Q. “Any . . . is/are” again: If any of these records appears incomplete, report the patient’s name, date of birth. (My doctor asked me about that, from his medical dictation—my answer was “When you mean any one of then you can say is in dictating your notes.” I might have thought longer if I’d had my pants on. But that’s a common problem for copy editors, isn’t it?)

Q. I am wondering about the order of masculine and feminine nouns in a sentence. For example, is it correct to say, “Bring your daughters and sons to the event”? This seems awkward to me. It seems more appropriate to put the masculine first: “Bring your sons and daughters to the event.” Is this correct?