MLA SNAFU

I promptly returned the book–I am officially boycotting the 8th edition.

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In MLA’s 7th edition, brackets were used to “add or slightly change words within a quotation for reasons of grammar or clarity”. In MLA’s 8th edition, one must instead change the grammar of one’s own sentence and leave the quotation as completely untouched as possible, brackets apparently only to be used when adding information, never to replace ungrammatical or unclear information.

And that, my friends, is an example of change for the sake of change. Because not only was the old rule better, but the writers of the 7th edition actually took the time to explain MLA’s position. In the 8th, you instead get a single, unclear example, without any real explanation of a guiding principle. They say, briefly, that explanations of unclear pronouns may be inserted beside the unclear pronoun. And elsewhere, they say that quotations should be used sparingly–WHAT?–and that they should remain untouched.

I briefly bought the 8th edition in order to find out whether the rumors I had seen on the subject were true. And they were. And so, I promptly returned the book–I am officially boycotting the 8th edition.

Not just because I disagree with many, many of the rule changes. And not just because I think most of them were made simply so that they could justify putting out a new edition (after all, it’s being marketed as a “new MLA style”). No, I’m furious at the lack of organizing, general, guiding principles, and I’m furious at the inadequate use of examples. You cannot offer a single example, tailor picked to make clarifying brackets seem reasonable as they have done, without also tackling examples where such clarifications would be obviously cumbersome, unuseful, and without conventional justification. I am ashamed of them.

And so I become like those ancient and venerable professors and teachers, hanging onto an antiquated version of MLA, often from decades past. Until MLA comes up with something better than the 8th edition, though, I plan to keep using the 7th as my style guide. It is clearer, it offers better and more totalizing examples, and it doesn’t create new conventions for the sake of new conventions.

While I have already switched over to Chicago for citation style, MLA has always been my style guide for prose, and so I am disappointed to have to part ways with them.

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