AARGH, COPY EDITORS!
Prompted by this post by Norman Geras, the bloggers at Crooked Timber have been having fun at the expense of the petty tyrants who insist on reworking perfectly good writing for the sake of their silly rules. Read here, here, and here. (Apparently the copy editors were highly offended by the original post, judging from this apologetic followup on Normblog.)
Copy editors sometimes do improve writing. But, as often as not, the profession selects for people who demonstrate their superiority by knowing rules no one else knows.
My favorite copy editing stupidity: At the NYT, you are not allowed to use the verb design to describe anything that is not physical. You have to say devise. Hence this lovely sentence in my most recent column: "In subsequent research, he and Professor Mayzlin are working with a company to compare results from two types of buzz marketing: a campaign concentrated on opinion leaders selected by marketing executives and a campaign devised by the two professors to emphasize dispersion." That is not a graceful sentence. But all the copy editor cared about was getting ride of "designed."
Thanks to reader George Jong for the tip.