Here at the Law Library, we have a robust system of proofreading everything from our reports to our blog posts. So to commemorate yesterday’s National Proofreading Day we thought it would be fun to let one of our editors take the reins and talk about something near and dear to him from the proofreading world.
Today’s post is written by Barry Lerner, a member of our editorial staff and contributor to the Law Library’s Global Legal Monitor. We sincerely hope this won’t be Barry’s last contribution to In Custodia Legis. [A final caveat: as it’s his article, we couldn’t let Barry edit this, so any grammatical errors are most likely the fault of the lesser mortals of the blog team.]
Some years back (all right, many years back) I wrote a paper on Othello for a Shakespeare course I was taking. When my professor, the eminent scholar and playwright and marvelous teacher, Paul D’Andrea, returned the paper, he had made a correction to the following sentence: Due to Iago’s devious devilry Desdemona wound up dead (or something like that—it was a long time ago). The good professor had crossed out “due to” and replaced it with “because of.”
What? Why had he done that? What the heck was wrong with “due to”? Well, lo and behold, egad and forsooth, according to Professor D’Andrea and a goodly number of traditionalists, “due to” is an adjective, not a compound preposition and, as such, it belongs after a “be” verb, not adverbially at the beginning of a sentence (as above) or the beginning of an adverb clause in the middle of a sentence—as in Desdemona wound up dead due to Iago’s devilry. In these contexts, traditionalist style guides, including William Strunk’s The Elements of Style (Penguin 2007, at 70), and The Chicago Manual of Style (The University of Chicago Press 16th ed. 2010, at 278), consider “due to” as interchangeable with “attributable to” and recommend replacing adverbial usages with “because of,” “owing to,” or “on account of.” For example, our original example sentence could be written as follows:
Because of Iago’s devious devilry Desdemona wound up dead; or
Desdemona wound up dead owing to Iago’s devious devilry.
The correct way to use “due to,” according to these purists, is as follows:
Desdemona’s death was due to Iago’s devious devilry; or
Desdemona’s death, which was due to Othello’s misplaced confidence in the villainous Iago, was a tragedy for all concerned, particularly Desdemona; or
Othello experienced a great downfall, mostly due to his misplaced confidence in the villainous Iago. (Which was before mostly is understood.)
However, the pure cannot exist without the impure, and rather than feeling despondent over your rotten grammar, all of you ‘impurists’ out there can take heart because, actually, there is nothing wrong with what you’ve been doing all along! It turns out that you’re in the company of some of the most reputable dictionaries and style guides! For example, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) states as follows:
The objection to due to as a preposition is only a continuation of disagreements that began in the 18th century over the proper uses of owing and due. Due to is as grammatically sound as owing to, which is frequently recommended in its place. It has been and is used by reputable writers and has been recognized as standard for decades. There is no solid reason to avoid due to.
A usage note from Dictionary.com Unabridged (based on the Random House Dictionary (2017)) states that,
[d]ue to as a prepositional phrase meaning “because of, owing to” has been in use since the 14th century. … Some object to [its adverbial] use on the grounds that due is historically an adjective and thus should be used only predicatively in constructions. … Despite such objections, due to occurs commonly as a compound preposition and is standard in all varieties of speech and writing.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fifth Edition) adds that,
[b]ack in 1966, the “adverbial” use of due to … was rejected by 84 percent of the [Usage] Panel. In our 2001 survey, however, 60 percent accepted this construction. There is no linguistic reason to avoid using due to as a preposition, but English has a variety of ready substitutes, including because of, on account of, and owing to.
The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (rev. 3d ed. 2000, at 233) maintains that hostility to “due to” as a compound preposition is strictly a twentieth-century phenomenon that will give way in the twenty-first century, while the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (2005, at 151) states that “the tide has turned toward accepting due to as a full-fledged preposition.”
Clearly, the handwriting is on the wall—or the metro seat. My pedantic attitude on this question is doomed. Having been brainwashed by a purist long ago and encouraged by the Chicago Manual of Style (our standard guide for Law Library reports), I cringe when I hear the announcement in the metro that, “[d]ue to a signal problem outside Deanwood Station, Orange Line trains in both directions are delayed indefinitely, (if not forever),” and I have to restrain myself from immediately leaping to my feet and shouting to the gathered throng in the station, “No, by my troth! Orange Line trains are delayed because of a signal problem, and it is due to that dastardly signal problem that we’re stuck here for who knows how long!” But recognizing that popular usage and tide wait for no man (or woman), the only counsel I can offer on this matter is don’t become an editor or proofreader.