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Tag Archives: language

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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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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