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Troublesome words – refusenik

Troublesome words – refusenik

I try not to be an over-prescriptive fuss-pot when it comes to language,* believing the important thing is clarity and accepting things change with them, while obviously, as I do here, trying to share examples where, say, there are two different words that mean subtly different things and thus should be retained and used. I know people get very cross about the use of words like “decimate”, and when I get a little bit cross about things, as with swathe or swath a while ago, I try to remember to make a point of looking them up and finding out whether our big dictionary sources back me up, or not!

Here is a (perhaps more obscure) case in point. I keep hearing the word refusenik being used to describe someone who is actively refusing to do something, usually to prove a point or in some form of protest. School uniform refuseniks and the like. I knew the term in its original meaning, which is the highly specific one describing Jewish people in the former Soviet Union who were refused to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. I kind of expanded this in my mind to incorporate all people whose exit from a place is refused. The emphasis here is on the fact that they are being refused exit – someone else is doing the refusing and they are the passive objects of the refusal (grammatically speaking).

But I checked my sources, and there we are: a refusenik is perfectly able to simultaneously be someone who refuses to do something out of principle and someone who is refused exit.

** Did you notice the at least three rules I have broken in this post to prove my point about not being fussy?

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2017 in Be careful, Language use, Writing

 

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Possum or opossum?

DictionariesBecause possums are known for playing dead, I thought this would be a good post for April Fool’s Day. But I’m posting this after midday in the UK, so it’s only still appropriate in later timezones than ours. Ah, well.

So, what’s the difference between opossums and possums? Well … there is and there isn’t a difference.

An opossum is an North American marsupial which is from the family Didelphidae and is handily also sometimes known as a possum. The word opossum was borrowed from the Powhatan language in the 1600s.

When Americans or those who knew the opossum first went to Australia, they found there was a similar-looking BUT NOT THE SAME animal from the Phalangeriformes family, and promptly christened it the possum. Except that it’s sometimes called an opossum.

Here’s the North American type, the opossum (or possum) (both pictures used from Wikipedia  on creatives commons licences):

North American opossum

and here’s the Australasian variant, the possum (or opossum):

Australasian possum

You’re welcome!

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

 
 

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Undulate or ungulate?

My husband, Mr Libro, likes these words, he suggested last week’s too. I have to say I agree with him, too, even if any confusion between them in likely to be more of a typo than an error in meaning.

To undulate means to move smoothly in a wave-like manner.

An ungulate is a hoofed mammal, such as a cow. I thought it only meant hoofed animals that chew the cud, so you really do learn a new thing every day!

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

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Undulant or unguent?

This is a Troublesome Pair suggested by Mr Libro, my dear husband. I’m not sure anyone will get these mixed up, but they are fun words, aren’t they? A bit of a tongue-twister, too …

Undulant is a second adjective that originates from undulate (the more common adjective is undulating, but why have one adjective when you can have two lovely unusual ones?). So it means something that is undulating, or moving with a smooth, wave-like action.

An unguent, which is a noun, is a soft and viscous or greasy substance which is used either for lubrication or as an ointment.

So now you know.

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

 
 

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Mucus or mucous?

I haven’t posted a Troublesome Pair for ages but I’ve had this one up my sleeve (erm, no, I haven’t, that would be disgusting!) for ages and hadn’t got round to posting it. With a Birmingham Cough going the rounds still, this seemed a seasonal post; my apologies to the more sensitive reader. It is a valid and troublesome pair, though!

Mucus is the noun, i.e. the thing itself: slimy stuff that gets secreted by animals and even plants (it’s more commonly known as mucilage in plants, though mucilage is also, in general a viscous bodily fluid or secretion).

Mucous is the adjective – so mucous membranes secrete mucus, for example.

Bonus word: mucilaginous is the adjective that goes with mucilage. I bet you’re glad you asked, aren’t you!

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

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Warn or worn?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by my friend Linda quite a long time ago; I have revived these Troublesome Pairs posts yet again, so watch out for some good ones coming up over the next few weeks.

This is a tricky one for those who get vowels mixed up; often people coming to English from a language that doesn’t mark vowels in the same way, such as Arabic, can get caught out by all our very similar words, especially when they sound almost the same.

To warn, a verb, means to alert someone about something which is about to happen, usually bad. You can issue a warning (the noun) or be warning (verb) someone about the problem.

Worn is the past tense of wear OR an adjective arising from it, and both words have two meanings: to have on the body, as in clothes (I will wear a hat today) or to do with erosion and damage through constant use or friction, etc. (the water of the river has worn through the rock to make a valley; I have an old, worn book that has been damaged by years of use).

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

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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How to Make the Switch to Fiction Editing (by Sophie Playle)

How to Make the Switch to Fiction Editing (by Sophie Playle)

I’d like to welcome Sophie Playle from Liminal Pages to my blog today: Sophie is a fiction editor and also trains other editors to do what she does. I tend towards working on non-fiction, marketing, informational and academic texts myself, but if you’re interested in moving into fiction editing, Sophie outlines here the ways to start going about this. I hope you enjoy reading this excellent article; do post a comment or share the article if you’ve found it useful. Over to Sophie …


So you’re a freelance editor. You’ve done the training, built up your business, maybe even tucked a few years’ experience (or more) under your belt. By day, you edit textbooks. Or technical papers. Dissertations. Journal articles. But by night … you lose yourself in the latest Man Booker Prize winner, or perhaps a heady romance or a brain-tingling sci-fi.

And you wistfully think to yourself: I wish I could spend my days editing books like this. Editing novels. But you don’t have the right skills, you tell yourself. And besides, you’ve already built your business, and fiction editing doesn’t really come into it. (Other than the occasional proofread that comes your way.)

If you harbour the desire to become a specialist fiction editor but are worried about changing your business model, I’m going to tell you step-by-step how you can make the switch. Really – it is possible! What you need most is a shift in focus and a plan.

Step 1: Change your mindset

We build our identities around a number of factors. One of the more dominant is what we do for a living. It’s often the first question we’re asked when we meet new people. ‘So, what do you do?’ Changing our profession feels like changing a core part of our existence. Scary stuff, no?

But you’re more than your job; your job doesn’t define who you are. We grow and change throughout our lives. Just because you’ve set yourself down a certain path doesn’t mean you have to stick to that path forever. ‘I’m a biomedical-sciences editor’ can become ‘I’m a fiction editor’ if you want it to.

If you’re not entirely happy with the business you’ve built, you can change it. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed at building the right business for you. It simply means the time has come for a change. Your business has served you well to this point, but you’re ready to steer it in a new direction.

Big change can be scary. But if you’re feeling stuck in a rut and wish your professional life were different, it’s scarier to think you’ll be in the exact same position feeling the exact same way ten years down the line.

Step 2: Build your confidence

Editing fiction can be quite different from editing other kinds of text. You need to pay extra-close attention to the author’s style. Different characters will have different voices, too – you can’t make them all consistent. Then you might have to consider whether the author has deliberately deviated from convention for effect. (Did the author mean to use the passive voice continuously throughout this passage?)

But don’t panic. I want you to remember two things.

  1. You’re already skilled. Proofreading and copy-editing focus on the technical side of writing rather than the artistic side of writing. A misplaced modifier is still a misplaced modifier whether your editing a thriller or a journal article. And a homophone is still a homophone. You already possess the skills to spot and correct these mistakes. And if you’re proofreading or copy-editing a novel, that’s still exactly the kind of thing that’s required.
  1. If you’re an avid reader of fiction, you’re already an informal expert. Reading fiction might seem like just a hobby, but I bet you’ve subconsciously absorbed a whole lot of information about what makes for good writing in fiction. If you know your stuff as a reader, you can apply this knowledge to editing novels.

For more tips in this area, read my guest post on Louise Harnby’s blog: How to edit fiction with confidence.

Step 3: Increase your knowledge

A lack of confidence almost always comes down to a lack of knowledge. I hope the above points will make you realise that you know more than you think, but there’s even more you can do.

  • Learn about all the different types of fiction editing. The path to publication for novelists is not quite the same as it is for other types of writers, and editors can come into the fold at different points along the way. You might already possess the skills to provide proofreading and copy-editing at this point, but perhaps line or development editing interests you, too – in which case, you’ll likely need to bolster your knowledge.
  • Learn how to adapt your editing style. I’ve already touched on this point, but generally being open to rule-bending to allow for style while still applying a degree of consistency is key. This is where your informal knowledge comes most into play, and where you’ll need to both exercise your judgement and hone your querying skills!
  • Study the craft of writing. There are many excellent books out there on how to write fiction. If you want to develop your copy-editing skills, focus on books that talk about style, self-editing and point of view. (Try The Art of Fiction by David Lodge, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley.) If you want to develop your line or developmental editing skills, read books on bigger topics like plot, story and characterisation. (Try Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated by Roz Morris.) You could also take a fiction writing class and learn by doing!
  • Read novels analytically. As an editor, you might find you do this already. (I know I always have ­­– I can’t seem not to!) Read slowly, carefully and thoughtfully. Take notes in the margins and underline passages, if you like. Keep a reading log and write out your thoughts. You’ll learn so much about fiction editing by simply reading with awareness. Grab a copy of Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose for more advice on how to do this.

Step 4: Re-do your website

Now that you’ve built your confidence and knowledge, it’s time to take the leap. If you want to edit solely fiction, I strongly advise that you market yourself as a specialist fiction editor. Not as a generalist who also happens to edit fiction. But as someone who just edits fiction.

Why? Imagine for a moment that you’re an author who wants to self-publish. You have a crime novel that’s ready for copy-editing and you’re looking for someone to take on the job. Who do you choose? An editor who works on business flyers, cook books, journal articles and the occasional novel? Or the editor who focuses solely on novels? It makes sense to choose the editor who has their head firmly in the novel-editing game.

It makes sense to make fiction editing your niche.

The most important thing you can do now is totally re-do your website. Your website is one of your key marketing tools, and you want it to attract and engage the right clients – people looking for a fiction editor. This may seem like a big task, but it’s essential if you want to make the switch to fiction editing.

Step 5: Build your client base

It would be short-sighted to immediately sack all your current clients and expect a boatload of fiction clients to land straight in your lap. I know you don’t think that. In fact, it’s probably one of the things stopping you from making the switch.

Instead, keep working with your current clients – even though you’ve now totally changed your website. (They probably won’t notice anyway.) As the fiction editing enquiries start trickling in, start dropping your existing clients. You can always keep the ones that bring you the most benefits if you really want, but eventually you’ll be able to transition to full-time fiction editing, at your own pace.

Of course you’ll also need to start marketing yourself as a fiction editor. Most people won’t land on your website by chance, so you need to start point prospective clients towards it – through directory entries, online and in-person networking, advertising, content creation and so on.

And there you have it!

Switching your business model to specialise in fiction is perfectly doable but requires a little courage and some careful preparation.

If you’d like to know more about setting up a fiction editing business – and would also like some guidance and feedback as you make the transition ­– my online course, Start Fiction Editing, goes into much more detail.

 Come and join us – and make the switch! Visit www.startfictionediting.com to learn more.

Sophie Playle runs Liminal Pages (liminalpages.com), where she offers editing to authors and training to editors of fiction. She’s a Professional Member of the SfEP and often packs her laptop into a rucksack to run her business while traipsing around Europe.

 
 

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