Monthly Archives: March 2011

On a different type of language

Time for another guest post, this time from Gary Jones. I met Gary through my hobby of BookCrossing and have done some copyediting work for him to complement his web development skills. I really like this beautiful meditation on a very different kind of language from that usually discussed on here.

Here’s what Gary sent me when I asked for a biography – I can’t put it better myself, so I won’t!

Gary Jones is a freelance web developer from Basingstoke with a keen interest in anything to do with the web. He specialises in WordPress sites using the Genesis theme framework. You can follow Gary on Twitter.


I write code for a living. It could be in one of many languages, but all require careful checking as one misplaced or missing character could cause a fatal error and kill a website completely. Debugging code can be fun, or it can take hours to find where one single comma or semi colon is missing. There are many types of error within code, but pretty much all of them can come down to one thing – human error.

Code can have a beauty of its own. Whereas an author might weave a lavish scene with in-depth explanations of intricate details, the most impressive code is often the smallest fragment that does most of the work; one line of code that culminates from the conditional logic, foreach and while loops, switch statements and concatenations that kick-starts the application into life.

Encapsulations, polymorphism and synchronicity await those who dare to delve a little deeper. Code patterns, gradual degradation, progressive enhancements, refactorisations, even the terms related to code are elegant, and that’s just what good code should be – elegant, accurate and concise.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Guest posts, Language use, Writing


Tags: , ,

Why bother? The value of proofreading

A while ago, I asked people what they’d like to see me writing about. One that came up there, and has come up since, and before, and whenever I mention I’m a proofreader/copyeditor, is … “why bother?” Why can’t people just express themselves however they want, with whatever spelling, grammar and punctuation they fancy?

I have to state my own view here; that’s all I can do. And furnish some examples, many drawn from a discussion I had with peers in the copyediting business, on a forum to which I belong. I fall in between the prescriptive and descriptive camps when it comes to spellings, grammar, etc. and their (inevitable) changes. I glory in new words and word-formations (I’ve been slightly obsessed with the -gate suffix for more years than I care to recall) and I find it fascinating to see how language changes with time. I don’t think it should be fixed, nailed down and not allowed to change. But I still care deeply about clarity and precision of expression. And, in my opinion, if you don’t know the rules and how to apply them, if you don’t *care* about the rules and how to apply them, then the clarity of what you’re expressing can easily be lost, and your meaning may not come across as you intend it to.

Please note, I am not criticising those who don’t know the rules, or have difficulty applying them. How could I, when my own clients include people whose English is not their first (or second, or third) language, dyslexic people, people who’ve not been taught at school or college how the rules work. I like a laugh at a dodgy shop sign as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t point out those things publicly in this blog, or ever want to make people feel I’m mocking them. But if you are not sure what to put or how to write it, there are reference materials all over the place, and people like me and my colleagues, who can help out.

So, some examples (thanks again to the Copyediting-List folks for providing some of them)

— A purple people-eater is purple and eats people, but a purple-people eater eats only the purple ones.

— Here’s a fascinating link showing the importance of word order:

— Here’s an example of how important language is in the legal field. And it’s not just in the legal field – while many students are not marked down for grammar and punctuation these days, a friend who lectures in speech and language therapy does, as a mistake in someone’s notes can cause many problems down the line.

— On a similar note, haven’t we all got colleagues or other people we communicate with who may not have great written language skills? Doesn’t it devalue their opinions a little in your mind, when everyone’s laughing at the latest email or sign?

— This is a long one, but it shows the importance of punctuation!

Dear Jim:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?

Dear Jim:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

— Capitalisation matters too, in this great example from Andy Mabbett:

One area of capitalisation that divides even experts in the field is around species names. There are many types of black-headed gulls, and lots of little gulls, but only one species called Black-headed Gull (and it has a brown head!) and one species of Little Gull. Consider:

“Is that black-headed gull a black-headed gull?”

“No, that’s a little gull. The little gull on the railing is a black-headed gull.”


“Is that black-headed gull a Black-headed Gull?”

“No, that’s a Little Gull. The little gull on the railing is a Black-headed Gull.”

— A classic: Let’s eat Grandma!/Let’s eat, grandma!

— Lynne Truss did well out of this one: Eats, shoots, and leaves/Eats shoots and leaves.

— This one comes in various forms and with various names… I would like to thank my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.

Publishers and other purveyors of words have style guides, academic departments ask their students to reference books read in a certain way, and proofreaders and copyeditors (and copy writers) use reference materials such as the ones I’ve discussed before, to make sure that what they produce is clear and consistent. We do this, I think, on behalf of the reader, so they’re not distracted by mistakes, howlers and inconsistencies. My aim in my work is to help the writer express themselves clearly and accurately, so their readers can read their texts simply and easily, using their brainpower and concentration to absorb the concepts of the text at hand, or just enjoy a work of fiction without having to puzzle over the word the author meant to use.

So – why bother? Do you think I should? Do you think we should? And have I answered the question?


Tags: , , , ,

On the semicolon

A while ago, I wrote a post about blogging more for 2011, asking people what they’d like me to write about; I had several replies. The responses had different themes: business issues; what I got up to during my working week; and specific things like the use of the semicolon and capitals.

I love the semicolon; I think it’s a thing of elegance and beauty. I use it a lot in my copyediting work, often swapping in a semicolon for a comma; I never know which changes my clients accept, but I hope those are some of them!

And now I’m going to stop trying to use it in every sentence. Like a bright colour in a room or a choice swear word in a conversation, it’s perhaps best used sparingly if you’re to get the full effect.

So: a definition. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the semicolon thus: “n. a punctuation mark (;) indicating a more pronounced pause than that of a comma.” It also reminds me that it’s written semicolon, and not semi-colon, causing me to (a) check this in my other sources and (b) amend what I’ve typed already here.

And when do we use it? Here, I turn to New Hart’s Rules, which is recommended by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and so is a style bible for me. Basically, you use a semicolon to divide two or more main clauses which complement or parallel each other and could stand as sentences in their own right. Basically, this makes the text flow better, as instead of being divided up into choppy, short sentences, you can create one, or a series of, balanced and elegant statements. Remember though, folks – if the second clause explains the first, a colon is more appropriate.

You can also use it in a list, in two ways: either where the items in the list have commas within each item, and a semicolon between each item will clarify matters (“They pointed out, in support of their plea, that they had interviewed all of the candidates, successful and unsuccessful; that they had contacted those people, by telephone if possible, who had not been successful; and that they had written to all the others”) or where there is a list separated from the rest of the sentence with a colon, as in my initial paragraph, above.

Interestingly for my international work and readers, there is no difference here between British English and American English.

Here ends my short lesson on the semicolon. Go on, try using one today!


Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Language use, Punctuation, Writing


Tags: , ,

So what does a proofreader / copyeditor / transcriber / copy writer actually do? (2)

Last month I posted a quick update on what I’d been up to, which seemed to be of interest both to those who know me and wonder what I do on those days when I’m not working at the day job and the evenings I have to rush back to my desk, and those who were keen to know what people in my profession actually do. So I thought I’d make it a semi-regular post, and I’ve done quite a lot of varied work this month…

In the past 4 weeks I have…

Copyedited two essays for a client undertaking a physiotherapy qualification, documents a client was submitting for professional development, 2 essays for my regular Taiwanese client.
Copyedited a newsletter and re-written one e-booklet on osteoporosis/copyedited one on the lower back for my regular physiotherapist client.
Written all of the copy for 2 websites, one for a motivational speaker, the other for a printing and graphic design company.
Re-copyedited a previous client’s PhD on the EU.
Copyedited a PhD thesis on psychology.
Substantively copyedited a science fiction novel.
Copyedited several articles, a longer piece and a company annual report for a new client who is a translator in Finland.
Copyedited and proofread one quarterly and one monthly publication for my regular American Club customer.
Copyedited and proofread a crime novel translated from the Italian.
Transcribed two interviews for my regular music journalist client.
Copyedited a dissertation on art for a Japanese client.

A nice mix of regular customers and new one-offs, and I did a bit of everything (proofreading, copyediting, copy writing and transcribing) which was fun.

Coming up:
Copyediting and proofreading a large American Club website.
Copyediting the next novel in a series.
A couple of PhDs where I’m waiting for the clients to finish working on the text.
More work tidying up translations from Finnish to English.
More work on American club monthly, quarterly and annual publications.
More physiotherapy newsletters and e-booklets.
More Italian crime novels.

For info on how I work with students and ensure they maintain authorship of their work, please see this post. And of course we all know the difference between copyediting and proofreading now, don’t we!


Tags: , , , ,

Buzzwords in business and elsewhere

Time for another guest post, this time from Bernadette Jones from first4admin. Bernadette runs a Virtual Assistance company which offers administrative and secretarial support – and I work with her when she needs to offer my particular services to a client. She has also been a vital support to me in my first steps into the business of Networking, generously sharing tips and hints on how to proceed.

When I asked people if they would like to post a guest post on this blog, I didn’t specify what I wanted them to talk about, as long as it was related to words, business, etc., i.e. loosely related to the usual subjects of this blog. We’ve had Linda Gillard on creative writing, and we’ve got posts on training and writing marketing materials coming up. But for now – well, what are your favourite new buzzwords?

Buzzwords to the rescue!

Words are marvellous and buzzwords, in particular, are becoming more and more frequent. I stumbled across the word “greentailing” the other day, which defines either the selling of environmentally friendly products, or the use of eco-friendly methods in order to run a business. “Greentailer” is the noun derived from this word. Companies such as Walmart are pioneers of this form of retailing, and this form of business can only prove to become more popular as people are now more aware of environmental issues and are more likely to purchase from a company showing that it has the environment at the core of its business ethics.

Another buzz word which I have heard more and more of my friends use now is “glamping” which is used to define a luxury way of camping – brilliant! I have yet to hire a tepee or a yurt in order to camp, but I have already purchased Cool Camping England, published by Jonathan Knight, Paul Marsden and Andy Stothert. This is an excellent publication, giving information about very special places to camp in England. It is going to be one of my resolutions for 2011 to find a glamorous way of camping. Roll on the Summer!

“App” is also another buzzword which I particularly find appealing, and the American Dialect Society have elected the word “app”, which is a computer or smartphone application, as Word of the Year for 2010.

No doubt 2011 will serve to be another year where more and more buzzwords become more commonplace.


Tags: , ,