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Category Archives: Errors

Medalling, podiuming and singular they

Of course this isn't exactly what "medalling" means

Of course this isn’t exactly what “medalling” means

Languages change. If languages didn’t change, we’d be speaking like Chaucer, British and American English would be identical, or we’d still be using words like “chairman”, “crippled”, “omnibus” and all sorts. We also wouldn’t have a way to describe “selfies”, “Brexit” or “omnishambles”.

The verbs formed from nouns, “medalling” and “podiuming” have been heard again recently, as they are every four years in an event whose name is controlled so closely you’re not supposed to go around mentioning it in blog posts. Lots of people have been complaining about these, saying it’s an erosion of the English language, etc., etc.

Now, I’m one for making sure we retain two words with a close but not identical meaning in order to be able to distinguish between different concepts or things. But in this case, it’s not taking away the distinction between two different things, it’s just adding another word to say the same thing. And we form words in all sorts of ways – by blending, shortening, lengthening them and shifting the part of speech they belong to. Once, we weren’t even allowed to start sentences with and or but …

The other wordy thing I wanted to mention briefly was singular they. This is something editors and other wordy people are still arguing – quite bitterly – about. “They” used to be used just as a plural. But, just as we’ve removed words like chairman and dustman from the language to cover the fact that different genders of people do different jobs, over recent years there’s been an acceptance that binary genders – the idea that everyone is either “he” or “she”, has joined up with a common dislike of the clumsiness of using “he” and “she” in alternate chapters or “he/she”, “s/he”, etc. to promote the use of singular “they”, i.e. the use of “they” to refer to one person in the singular. An example would be, “When someone gets to the front of the queue, they should go to the first available window”.

Now, some people rail against this change, but I think that it can be made to work grammatically, it gets rid of clumsiness and it doesn’t exclude people to whom, for whatever reason, it’s not appropriate to refer using binary gender wording. This is standard in my editing, although I’d never make this kind of change without consultation if it appeared more than very sporadically.

I’m not expecting to change anyone’s mind here; I’m just setting out my stall. These are my personal opinions, but these are interesting topics to think about and they’ve been at the front of my mind recently. Thank you for reading!

I generally talk about word stuff in my Troublesome Pairs posts which do distinguish meanings between pairs or triplets of words. Have a look at the index here!

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Be careful, Errors, Ethics, Writing

 

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12 things I learned from the Great Computer Crash of April 2016

deskI have automated back-ups that keep a copy of my work every day. I have a system in place for if my computer fails. I thought I had it all covered, and I almost did – but this is what I learned when my hard drive suddenly crashed in somewhat epic fashion one week last month, followed by another, more catastrophic crash of the cobbled-together system I was working on while plucking up the courage to move to my new computer. I thought it might help other people – do share your tips in the comments!

1. Check your back-ups are working

It’s great to have back-ups running, but do check periodically that they are running.

2. If you have two back-up systems, one immediately accessible, one not, it is the accessible one that will fail

Therefore, be prepared to have a short time without your data before whoever it is that can access your back-up can do so.

3. Have a reserve computer of some kind

Don’t assume you will be able to use your computer after a crash. I had my laptop as my reserve; I would now be using my old computer as a reserve, if I hadn’t broken in.

4. If you have a reserve computer, run maintenance on it every few weeks

That way, when you come to use it in a panic (see 5), it won’t be wanting to do 5,000,000 updates and will have a wi-fi connection that works more quickly than wading through mud.

5. Crashes aren’t predictable but you can predict one thing …

They won’t happen when you have three weeks with not much work on. They will come when you have a busy week. If it crashes twice, that will be in two busy weeks and might make you miss a theatre trip.

6. There is no good time to move to a new computer, but do it as soon as you can

If you get a new computer but you’re baulking on swapping over to it, make yourself do it as soon as you can. Doing that “one last thing” before I moved over was when my second and worse crash – the one that lost data – happened.

7. Always be ahead with your work deadlines

This saved me, just. I lost two half-days but was able to salvage my work. I will even more strive to work ahead of myself.

8. Don’t get so hyper-vigilant that you stress yourself out

I had a separate special folder for all the work I’d done since the crash, on an external hard drive, for far too long, out of fear. That’s the same fear that stopped me moving to the new computer.

9. If you have to upgrade to Windows 10, it’s easier to do on a whole new machine

One positive: I ended up on Windows 10 by default, as my new computer has it. Much less stressful than having to do an upgrade on your current computer.

10. Keep a list of what software you use regularly

Not everything you’ve downloaded, but when setting up a new computer or restoring things from a crash, you might well need this in order to get going quickly.

11. Keep all your access codes, software licences etc. in one handy, easy to find place

I’m not suggesting you write down all your passwords – you can use a system like LastPass if that’s feasible for you, but all those codes and licences, etc. might be needed when reconstituting your computer – keep them somewhere sensible, like a special folder in your email.

12. Have a disaster plan; review the plan; keep everything for the plan up to date

It will happen to you: don’t think it won’t. Keep reviewing that plan. For example, I’m reviewing how I back up my files, although I have contracts in place that don’t allow me to store data in The Cloud.

These are the things I learned. Anything particularly helpful there? Anything to add? I’d love it if you popped your words of wisdom into a comment.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2016 in Business, Errors, Organisation

 

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Adapt or adopt? Adaptation or adoption?

This is a Troublesome Pair that I find very commonly in academic writing, across a whole range of writers. It would be expected in people whose native language doesn’t use vowels (I had a very interesting conversation about Arabic-speakers having trouble with vowels in English) but I also find it in native English-speakers (it’s actually fairly uncommon to find both groups making the same errors)

To adopt something means to take it on as it is. For example, Laura might adopt my process of editing a text, then doing a spell check, then using software to check consistency. If the UN adopts a resolution, it means it takes it into its procedures as it is, with no changes. If you adopt a dog from a shelter, you take it as it is.

To adapt something means to change it according to specific circumstances. For example, Laura might adapt my process by choosing to edit the text, then run the consistency software, then run a spell check. The UN might adapt a resolution to take into account a new world order or the creation of a new country. You might try to adapt your adopted dog’s behaviour if you don’t want it to sit on the sofa.

Adoption therefore means the act of taking on something as it is, while adaptation involves you changing, or you changing something else, to fit the circumstances.

In academic writing, a researcher might well adopt a questionnaire method, but they might adapt someone else’s questionnaire if it needs more questions on widgets and fewer on bath mats, for example.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

 

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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.

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

 

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