Tag Archives: language

Aglet or ferrule?

DictionariesThis is a cheeky one. Of course you all know the difference between these two lovely words. But I like them, and it’s my blog, and you never know who might look things up (even “mandrel or mandrill” is quite popular).

An aglet is the little tube that you find on the end of your shoelaces, usually made of plastic but sometimes of metal. Sweetly, it apparently comes from the French for “little needle”, even though it doesn’t really look like or act like a needle in itself, but is used to help you thread the lace through the holes.

A ferrule is the little plastic or rubber cap that sits on the end of a walking stick or umbrella and prevents it from getting damaged.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Curb or kerb?

DictionariesHere’s one suggested by my friend and editing colleague, Linda Bates. As a special bonus, it has a US / UK English twist. How exciting!

A kerb is a noun meaning the stone edging of a pavement or path. There are some verbs associated with kerb, notably kerb-crawling, which is driving slowly on the lookout for a prostitute.

Curb is a noun meaning a limit or control (“I’m imposing a curb on the amount of alcohol you can drink at home”) and a verb meaning to keep in control or limit (“I’m curbing the amount of alcohol you can drink at home”). A curb is also a type of bit used in a horse’s bridle.

And, excitingly, American English uses the same word (curb) for both!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Altar or alter?

DictionariesHooray, I seem to be doing these posts more regularly again now. They have lots of fans, so hope regular readers are pleased. Of course, if you’ve just found this post having searched for “altar or alter”, you’re going to be a bit confused by that statement, as you’re visiting from way in the future. This “Troublesome Pair” is but one of a whole series of them I’ve been posting for a few years now. Do pop to the links at the bottom of this post to find the whole alphabetical list of them!

Right, anyway … alter or altar?

Altar is a noun and refers to specifically the table in a Christian church, usually at the front, where the bread and wine are consecrated for communion, and more generally, to any flat-topped box or table that is used as the focus for some kind of religious ritual.

Bonus pair: What’s a shrine, then? A shrine is a place that’s regarded as being sacreed or holy because it’s associated with some kind of god / deity, or a reliquary or container containing holy relics. So you do religious things at an altar and a shrine keeps them safe.

Alter is a verb meaning to change (or change something or cause something to change) in appearance or character. In US and Australian English, it also means to castrate or spay an animal (so many bonuses today!)

“After she observed the seriousness of the actions performed at the altar, she altered her behaviour in church and stopped giggling during the services.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Hanger or hangar?

DictionariesHooray, it’s time for another Troublesome Pair (for any new readers, this was a series I used to run that I’ve recently restarted). This is another one suggested by my Australian friend Matt Patten, as he spotted an example just the other day.

A hanger is something that you hang something from – a clothes hanger being the obvious example.

A hangar is the big shed that an aeroplane lives in.

Nothing more I can say, really!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on September 15, 2015 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Expectancy or expectation?

DictionariesFor those who’ve been following this blog for a while, you might remember the Troublesome Pairs series I used to publish regularly. They’ve been very popular, and I certainly haven’t run out of them, but I didn’t seem to get the time to do them. But I have some more coming up, and here’s the first one! This one was suggested by my Australian friend Matt Patten, who’s asked me to write about a few Troublesome Pairs recently (and not so recently) .

I have to admit that this was one of those that I had to look up to check. But there is a difference (hooray) and it’s all about the level of certainty …

Expectancy is the anticipation or hope that something will happen – and that something is usually a pleasant something. It also refers to a future prospect, as in “life expectancy”. Expectant, the adjective, as we might imagine, means anticipating or hoping that something (pleasant) will happen – so you have expectant mothers, etc.

Expectation is the strong belief that something will happen – not necessarily positive. You can expect a storm or an inheritance (and in fact, someone’s “expectations” is an old-fashioned term for their prospects of inheritance.

“It was my expectation that the expectant mother would soon be seen travelling around with a pushchair.”

Note: nobody associated with this post is expectant!

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Is this editor weird? or, It’s all about the books (am I allowed to use that phrase?)

Pile of style guides and dictionariesIt’s my birthday today, and I’m anxiously listening for the doorbell. I’m expecting a delivery … of a style book for an editing style I don’t use very often, but is the style being used for a large project I’m working on. I know that there are online dictionaries and guides to editing styles (although in fact the one for this particular guide is a bit tricky to access), but I just prefer to work with a printed work.

Is this editor weird for doing that, though?

I’ve talked about using paper for keeping records before now, over on my more personal blog (which started off as a record of going full time and is now more of a book review blog). I do my tax returns online, and I keep financial records on spreadsheets and using my accountant’s online software, but I like to note down the work I do for my clients in a book. I star and filter emails that have jobs to do in my email inbox, and have a Gantt Chart to help me work out my deadlines and priorities, but I write a list of jobs and a daily to-do list in a physical book, using a fountain pen.

So, I obviously like printed and paper materials and records.

I have a nice wide-screen monitor on my PC, on which I can fit two A4 pages comfortably. But, I like one of those to be the job I’m working on, and one to be my own style sheet (because even if you’re using a set style, there are always details you need to keep noted down to send to the client with the job or to go to anyone working on the document after you). So it suits me to have a book on my side desk, ready for consultation.

I make sure that I keep my editions up to date, which is pretty easy to do when you swim in a sea of lovely editorial colleagues, and I buy the new ones when they come out. If there’s something not in the editions, I might do an online search (or ask my colleagues), I certainly check Google for which use of a word is more common / Wikipedia (for the basics and links), Library of Congress and other sources for facts, etc., and when I’m doing other jobs such as transcribing or even localising, I look up online as I go along – but when I’m doing straight editing or proofreading, I like to use my books.

The funny thing is, I edit almost exclusively online. I’ve done thousands of jobs, and only two of them have been on paper (and one of those was a pro bono project, and the other was for someone who didn’t want me to use the standard proofing markup!). I wonder if I’d happily use an online source if I did more paper editing … I think not, actually.

Am I weird? Am I behind the times? Or do others of you eagerly await a lovely, shiny new style guide to pop through your door, even if it’s not coinciding with your birthday?


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My work is being proofread – why do I need to use Spell Check?

Spell check buttonI recently posted a how-to article about using Spell Check (well, one for Word 2007/2010 and one for Word 2013, actually). Today I want to talk about why you should use Spell Check, even if you’re using an editor or proofreader of the human variety to check your work.

Using Spell Check before you send your work to your editor

So, you’re using an editor to check your work: why on earth should you need to run a spell check first?

I’m not talking about going through your document with a big pile of style guides and dictionaries by your side. I’m talking about taking maybe half an hour to press the spell check button and go through your manuscript removing the obvious errors. You know, the ones where you spell it obvis errrors.

As an editor, it can get a bit frustrating when you’re picking away at typos (form for from, fried for friend) which are composed of ‘real’ words (which obviously a spell checker program won’t notice) and then you find a load of fromms or frends which a spell check would have eliminated. And here’s the thing: we’re human. If we’re concentrating on picking up your incorrect spellings and non-existent words, we’re less likely to be able to concentrate in detail on what we’re supposed to be doing: making your language express your thoughts and meaning as clearly as possible.

Yes, we can run a spell check for you, and if I spot more than the odd error that this would eliminate, I will do that myself. But it’s time-consuming. And that’s another thing: time-consuming. Some editors charge by the time spent, some by the word. I’m a charge-by-the-word woman myself, but if you’re paying for someone’s time, why pay them to do something you can do yourself?

So, there are two points to bear in mind here:

  1. If your work isn’t spell checked, your editor will be concentrating on those issues and less able to go deeper into their work
  2. If you’re paying by the hour, you’ll be paying extra needlessly

I have to add here that it can seem a little impolite, too, to not run a spell check before you send the manuscript in to your editor. A little bit as if you’re the creative person with the big ideas and you’re sending it off to the paid help who will sort out things you’re too important to do. I’m pretty sure that this is NOT the case for the majority of authors, but it’s always best to avoid that impression if at all possible. See the caveats below …

What if I don’t know whether spell check is correct?

That’s fine. We’re the experts, you’re the creative one. If you’re not sure of your spelling and which word is correct, you can always either leave a note in the margin or let us know you ran a spell check but you’re not sure of a few things. In fact, spell check itself isn’t always correct (see below). All I’m saying here is that the fewer avoidable mistakes there are in your manuscript, the better the job that I’m able to do for you.

Times when pre-spell-checking isn’t appropriate

I’m not a monster and I’m not inflexible – nor are the other editors I know. We’re a kind and helpful bunch. If you have issues with your spelling, dyslexia or any other special situations, of course we’re not going to reprimand you over issues in the spelling in your document. Also, if you’re using voice recognition software, I’m not actually sure how the spell-checker works in that situation (if someone who uses such software wants to comment, that will be very so useful and I’ll include your notes in an update).

However, it is important to let your editor know if you have any special issues like these. It will help us to do a better job for you, and perhaps even to explain our choices and changes in a way that’s easiest for you. Also, we can look out for particular artefacts that might arise in your manuscript because of the way in which you’ve written it (voice recognition software is notorious for inserting homophones into the texts it produces). As I said, we’re an understanding and helpful bunch, and we want to help you in the best way possible.

Using Spell Check when you’ve received your work back from your editor

No – I don’t mean right away! Well, if you find a load of legitimate errors  you might want to speak to your editor (although nobody’s perfect and no editor I know can do 100% perfect work: we’re human). But, most of the time, your manuscript is going to come back to you either in Word with Track Changes turned on or in an annotated PDF which you then need to update. In both of those cases, you doing the corrections can allow errors to creep in. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just what happens.

I learned this the hard way when I received my last manuscript back from my editor. I accepted changed as I went along and did one final Accept all changes once I’d reviewed the document, but some oddities had crept in, especially in the spacing around punctuation. Luckily, I noticed in time, ran a quick spell check and got it all sorted out – but if someone who’s an editor herself can manage to introduce errors when dealing with her editor’s edits (sorry!), I’m going to assume that anyone can manage to do that!

Beware: Spell Check is not always right (gasp!)

There is a caveat here.

Much of English grammar is not totally prescriptive. There are often two ways of going about doing something, especially when you look at hyphenation and capitalisation. This means that when you’re spell-checking after the edit, you should bear in mind the style sheet that your editor’s sent you. If they’ve chosen a particular word form to make things consistent in your manuscript, I’d consider keeping it even if the automated spell check says it’s wrong (in its opinion). Microsoft software appears to use something called the “Microsoft Manual of Style“, but obviously if you’re working to a particular style guide such as Oxford or Chicago Manual of Style, they will over-ride Microsoft if there’s a clash. A classic example of this is “proofreader” – that’s the accepted way of writing the word in most of the major style guides, but Word Spell Check does like to change it to proof-reader. I’d kind of assume your editor knows how to (not) hyphenate that one, but do bear this in mind when you’re doing that final check.

Also, if you’re writing creatively, your editor might have left something in which is correct, but creative, while spell check (even without grammar check) might take issue with it. A classic example I find is spell check trying to change they’re to their, irrespective of the actual correct use of the word. So beware on grammar or word form choice issues like that – you can always check back with your editor or consult a style guide if you’re not sure.

This article has talked about why writers should use spell check even if they have an editor. If you’ve got an opinion on this, or a good reason NOT to use spell check, do please post a comment below! And if you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do share it using the share buttons!

Related posts on this blog:

Using Spell Check in Word 2007 and 2010

Using Spell Check in Word 2013



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