Thinking about E-Prime ( introduced here ) has given me a new perspective on the word “is”. I’m in the process of putting together a manuscript with a co-author, and the various catch-alls committed by the use of “is” are jumping out at me.
The fact is, writing in E-Prime would be extremely awkward as compared with the status quo. Not only that, my advisor would probably fire me if I attempted it. What can be done when writing a paper is to take a hard look at every use of “is”, and determine whether each one can be replaced by a better verb. For example, “This figure is a set of images from …” can be replaced with, “This figure contains a set of images from …”.
Also, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I commit a few punctuation atrocities intentionally, and I don’t intend to change them. Foremost is my placement of final sentence punctuation outside of quotes. As a programmer, it just drives me crazy to place punctuation inside of a quote, where it doesn’t belong, simply because the rules say so. I have read that my placement is more accepted in British English writing, which is I guess some consolation. Here’s an example of breakage and how my use circumvents it:
Tom leaned forward, a glint in his eyes, and said, “You don’t really mean to imply that we should eat babies, do you?”
Tom’s sentence ends with a question mark, but the sentence overall is a statement! (Perhaps there’s already some convention about this that I’m unaware of. I really should read Strunk and White one of these days.) I would therefore write:
Tom leaned forward, a glint in his eyes, and said, “You don’t really mean to imply that we should eat babies, do you?”.
Now you know my dirty little secret, and it’s out in the open. Lest you be tempted to correct me.