Friday, September 05, 2008

Shadow Stabbing #14: That and Which

Christopher Lasch called it "the subject of vast confusion". This week on Shadow Stabbing, we look at the use of "that" and "which" in what the Chicago Manual of Style calls "polished American prose". I hope you find it useful. If you want more, here is the post I wrote on the subject in 2005.

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Following up on yesterday's post, I have a couple of announcements to make regarding upcoming events related to craft and criticism.

First, the doctoral school is holding a seminar series here at the department about the "craft of research". They will be held on the first Thursday of every month from 14-16, at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy (room to be announced). Here's the schedule::

October 2
‘You can walk the walk, but can you talk the talk?’: writing for publication
Thomas Basbøll, Resident Writing Consultant

November 6
Impractical Questions and Practical Problems: how to read documents
Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen, Research Director (politics group)

December 4
‘How do you know what they think until you see what they say?’: getting what you need from an interview
Robert Austin, Professor

(I have posted this schedule once before. Note that the September seminar was cancelled. It has been moved to February.)

Second, if you are interested in close, critical readings of major management writers, there is a very interesting conference just for you. It's the "2nd Conference of Practical Criticism in the Managerial Social Sciences" at the University of Leicester on January 8 & 9, 2009". Having attended last year, I highly recommend it. Here's a PDF of the CFP.


Jonathan said...

The prohibition of restrictive "which" in American copyediting is kind of a pain in the ass, in my opinion. Very few people follow that rule in their own writing, and "which" rarely sounds wrong or ambiguous in a restrictive clause: even to educated Americans. It's funny that that was the only thing that the copy editors at U of Chicago P corrected in my manuscript (apart from typos and citation issues). That means my usage is VERY standard aside from my not following that one, made-up, bullshit rule.

Generally speaking, things like that are simply shibboleths like not splitting infinitives, rather than useful usage guidelines.

I hardly see that as an advantage of American English over its British counterpart!

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks for this comment. It's always easier to teach the rule as a hard and fast prohobition. In fact, Lasch points out that while you can't use "that" non-restrictively, you CAN use "which" restrictively.

"Strictly speaking," he says, "the punctuation, not the use of which and that" does the work. (Which is why the unthinking insertion of a comma before any "which" is not recommended either; it sometimes results from blindly following the advice of Word's grammar checker.)

Lasch does council us to use "that" whenever possible, however. He thinks that using "which" to begin a restrictive clause is often "merely pompous or pretentious". This may stem from the perception of British usage in the US as somehow more formal, more correct, more scholarly, etc.

Lasch, who died in 1994, talked about the "recent popularity" of the restrictive use of "which" in the style manual he wrote for his students.