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Any editor who is honest will admit to a batch of personal preferences assembled over the years.

In my case, for one, I loathe the expression safe haven, a pretentious pleonasm that became popular among public officials attempting to puff up their importance. But personal preferences are not law, and I wearily acknowledge that safe haven has embedded itself in the language as a stock phrase. Now, when I encounter it, I allow myself a sneer at the person using it and move on.

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Similarly, I despise the journalistic split-verb superstition, to which the Associated Press Stylebook continues to give aid and comfort. If I am not pressed for time, I will lift the adverb from its unnatural position before the auxiliary verb and drop it into that snug spot between the auxiliary and main verb where it belongs in idiomatic English.

Some readers have been puzzled at constructions I have inveighed against. What, they wonder, is so wrong with the false range or in the wake of?

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Let me tell you.

Phrases and constructions that are innocuous in general can become obnoxious in particular contexts.

A few days ago I was laboring over a text that included capsule descriptions of various shops, and nearly every damn one contained a false range. Paragraph after paragraph, merchant after merchant was vending wares from x to y, and sometimes to z. I don't think you have to get your back up over false ranges to recognize this as a monotonous and unimaginative gimmick.

In the wake of carries the burden of moribund metaphor. Yes, when that vulgar powerboat zips across the lake, its wake is going to leave your canoe bobbling dangerously, but I don't think readers visualize that, any more than they think of horses when they see free rein. It's stale.

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But there is an additional item in the bill of particulars against it. In the wake of is endemic to journalistic writing as a shortcut to cause and effect. When X happens in the wake of Y, the writer is telling you that Y is the cause of X, without taking the trouble to demonstrate that that is the case. It is lazy, formulaic writing, and now that I have mentioned it, you will notice how frequently and irritatingly it crops up.

A responsible editor, though, will be aware of these personal preferences and will look to keep them in check.

When you edit, you find what you are looking for. And if all you are looking for is a set of idiosyncratic quibbles and crotchets (or Associated Press superstitions), you will surely find them, at the risk of overlooking graver matters in the text.

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