A descriptivist editor seems like a contradition in terms: What are they going to do? look at the copy and say, “Yep, that’s what the author wrote”? But he points out that there’s a difference between throwing eggs at your neighbour’s house because he uses “impact” as a verb, and getting paid by your neighbour to edit his writing and leaving “impact” in place. You’re the editor. But extreme prescriptivism doesn’t make sense either. If you’re going to try to freeze language at a certain stage, which decade are you going to choose as the one time when English was correct? Bill suggests that style guides should lag a little behind the general trend: seeing e-mail with the hyphen today may look a little old-fashioned, but it doesn’t disturb a reader as much as email did in the late nineties.
Although obviously language is changing, Bill is skeptical about the supposed trend toward lowercasing and the trend to closing hyphenated compounds. In fact, he says, there seems to be a law of conservation of hyphens. The same people who close generally hyphenated compounds lever apart words that have been closed together for a hundred years.