Friday, September 19, 2008

Knowledge Is Power

I'm back! And it's Friday! Life and work have been crazy, but I'm ready to get back into the full swing of this here blog.

When I write longhand, I'm a huge fan of the ampersand. I use it liberally in almost all situations that call for the word "and."

The ampersand (&) is actually a stylized version of the Latin word et, which means "and."

This is just another example of how important Latin is to English today.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tip of the Week

Let's talk about scare quotes. Here's what CMS says:

7.58 "Scare quotes." Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense. . . . Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.

Oh, how true.

Wait, I need to geek-out for a moment: I love how CMS puts the term in quotes. Hilarious.

Many authors use scare quotes as a form of emphasis. Do not do this. It makes no sense when you buckle down and take a long, hard look at it. Consider:

"Forensic" material can help establish a criminal's guilt.

Obviously, forensic is an important word in this sentence, and the author would like to stress it as such. Perhaps this is a potential vocabulary word. This may seem like a good idea, but this is how the current sentence reads:

So-called forensic material can help establish a criminal's guilt.

Unless this sentence is from a book entitled Forensic Science Isn't Real: 101 Conspiracy Theories, we need to adhere to the notion that forensics is a branch of science. I wouldn't say,

"Genetics" is the reason I have blonde hair.

If I don't believe in genetics, this sentence is dead-on; and it would be a great addition to my book DNA, the Hidden Truth: Scientists Broke Up My Family.

Try using boldface or italics to stress important words in your text—but make sure to be consistent!

And remember, don't overuse scare quotes. Think about that really sarcastic friend you have, the person you can't say anything to without a scathing comment zinging back in return. (If you lack this friend, just think about Chandler from Friends.) When you overuse scare quotes, you become that friend. In written form. You and I may lack the courage to hang up on our annoying friend, but a reader can always put down a book.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tip of the Week

Better late than never, right?!

All the rain and flooding (and power outages) has me thinking about major storms.

When writing about a named storm, such as Hurricane Andrew, always use the pronoun it instead of a gender-specific pronoun.

Even though the storm in my area knocked out my power around 5 a.m., I doubt we'll get a chance to name it. Bummer.

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., 8.83.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Knowledge Is Power

This week has been crazy busy. I actually had plenty more to say than my silence on this blog would lead you to believe. Anyway, I took this morning off (lovely), and am now sitting on my patio enjoying an olive and feta salad with flatbread for lunch.

This afternoon I'll be working on my first-ever print pub queries. Ever since I began freelance writing, I've only worked on web content. I'm curious about the print world, so I'm going to dive in. (Just to let you know, it's taken me two years of freelance writing to just "dive in.")

I promise not all of my Friday trivia bits will revolve around word definitions, but I love discovering new words that have to do with writing or editorial work. It tickles my funny bone.


Main Entry:
Medieval Latin, from Greek anastrophē, literally, turning back, from anastrephein to turn back, from ana- + strephein to turn
circa 1550

: inversion of the usual syntactical order of words for rhetorical effect — compare hysteron proteron

It's interesting because I never knew there was a word for messed up syntax, and now I do!

Next time I'm reviewing a manuscript I can query the author on his or her anastrophe. Hee.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Tip of the Week

Always use the present tense when writing about literature and art.

This is a handy tip for students, teachers, writers and editors of educational materials, and book reviewers.

Even though a lot of literature is narrated in the past tense, writers must use present tense when writing about literature.


Books, poetry, sculptures, paintings--they all exist in the present, despite the fact that they were created in the past. Anything that was created eons ago, but has remained part of our culture is to be written about in the present tense.

For example:

Daisy is the object of Gatsby's obsession.


Daisy was the object of Gatsby's obsession.

The same logic follows when talking about an author's use or method in creating the work:

Shakespeare creates an intimacy between Iago and the audience.


Shakespeare created an intimacy between Iago and the audience.

Initially, you may have to think about your use of tense as you write, especially if you are using quotations from the subject within your work. But don't worry, eventually it will become second nature.

Playing by the Rules

There's some disappointment over at Deb Ng's blog about the amount of job ads being flagged on Craigslist today. The assumption is that these jobs are being flagged to discourage competition amongst writers. It's extremely similar to the disappearing reviews at Barnes and Noble.

This got me thinking about some authors I've worked with in the past. There was one author who insisted that blue jeans was a singular noun. She wanted the sentence to read, "Blue jeans is casual wear." I suggested adding "A pair of . . ." to the beginning of the sentence, or changing is to are. She refused. I then countered with Webster to prove that the term blue jeans is a plural noun. She said, "Well, Merriam-Webster is wrong, and so are you!"

It's so easy to lash out, to disregard the rules. But the most hilarious part about this nonsense is that these people flagging ads to hinder a competitive writer or deleting reviews to help an author—we're all in the same business! We are all in the business of the written word; a business that, arguably, has the most widely-accepted rules regarding how we do what we do. The same people in cyberspace who adhere to the rules of spelling, grammar, structure, and syntax to procure a writing job can't be bothered to adhere to the rules of polite society.

It's much too easy to be a bad person on the Internet; no one really knows you, so who cares if you do something ethically wrong?

Well, I care. Especially when doing so goes against the very foundation of what you're doing it for. Language is built upon rules. The rules can be bent (as most rules have been made to be), but you can't disregard them. You can't spell a word any way you want, and you can't behave any way you want.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Knowledge Is Power

When it comes to Friday afternoons, I'm typically too tired to think.

Plus, I really like useless trivia.

The final word given at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in 1999 was logorrhea. Logorrhea means "excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness

Too bad the final word wasn't irony. Ha.

Firefox believes that logorrhea is spelled incorrectly. The suggestions include gonorrheal, gonorrheas, and gonorrhea. I don't know if I can keep using an Internet browser with such a dirty mind. Shame, Firefox! Also, I don't think I knew gonorrhea had a plural form before Firefox suggested it. How would that even work?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spelling Bee!

While most of my peers will be dressed in faux couture and drinking pink cocktails on their way to see the Sex and the City movie tomorrow night, I will be in sweats and drinking a beer while curled up on my couch. Why?

Scripps National Spelling Bee, of course!

That's right, folks, the national quarterfinals begin today at 2:00 p.m. EDT on!

Okay, maybe I won't be tuning in on my computer today. You caught me. But I will definitely be checking out the semifinals on Friday morning (11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN), and I will definitely be watching the Championship finals in their entirety (8:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. EDT, ABC)!

I know this is super lame, but I cannot help myself. Every year the championship rolls around and I start acting like my dogzillas do over rawhide: I salivate. I love competition; I love words. It's like the Scripps National Spelling Bee was created to be my personal ambrosia. I remember my youth, hunched over a dictionary and the list of words on newsprint studying, studying, studying, only to be bested by Lester Wang. (No, I don't hold grudges. Much.)

The point is that if they would let an adult participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, I would be champion.* (As long as they didn't ask me to spell broccoli, because I have to look that one up every single time.) Wait, no. That's actually not the point. (Even though I would dominate.) The point is this: It's fun to watch kids excel in a subject area that many people have long since given up in favor of spell checker.

Anything that gets kids excited to learn is aces in my book. And anything that gets kids excited to learn while incorporating the drama of a competitive event televised live? Well, that's just awesome.

*It has been said that my competitive streak is not my best quality, but whatever. The people who said that just wish they could win as much as I do.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

References, citations, and sources . . . oh my!

I cited two references in yesterday's post. To be honest, I had to crack open my trusty copy of The Chicago Manual of Style to make sure I was citing notes correctly.

I would say that 70% of the time I go looking in The Chicago Manual of Style, I am just looking for validation. I'm usually fairly confident I know the answer, and I want CMS to back me up. To be my wing man, if you will. The problem is this: Every time I open that damn book, I end up leafing through it for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. And no, that time is not spent trying to find my answer. (That's what indexes are for, people.) That time is spent reading all the information that is on the pages surrounding my answer.

For example, yesterday I was looking up how to include a page number in a citation. Besides figuring that out, I also learned the following things:
  1. If a publisher's name has changed since publication, your citation should show the publisher's name as it appears on the copyright page.
  2. We should use the English spelling for the names of foreign cities.
  3. Page numbers are actually quite unnecessary in citations. (I like to include the page number for future reference.)
And those are just the bits I remember reading offhand!

My point is, CMS has two chapters spanning 161 pages on the eighty million different ways there are to document a source. What in the world do you do if you aren't enthralled by all the minutiae, as I am?

Well, there's always the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide. This was actually put on the web by the powers-that-be over at the University of Chicago Press. It's a little longish, but nowhere near 161 pages. Because this is the official quick guide, I'd probably recommend this one before all the rest.

My alma mater separates examples of citations into those for the sciences and those for the arts, history, and literature. Pretty handy. Actually, I wish I knew about this when I was a student. (Though, to be honest, there was no 15th edition of CMS when I was a student.) Wait a minute, this was number one on my Google search. Does Google know I went to Ohio State?

Well done, Google, you've spooked me again with your creepy knowledge of my life.

Moving on, there's also the classic English usage desk references we've all had at some point in our lives. You know the one I'm talking about, it was probably a 5" x 8" or 6" x 9" trim size with a spiral binding? Yeah, that one. Usually they offer a section or chapter on citations that gives you all the flavors: MLA, Chicago, APA, AMA. These can be good initial sources; but just like I wouldn't buy a car from a catalog, I probably wouldn't take one of these "well-rounded" reference books as law. Remember, specialization is the key to accuracy.

Of course, it sometimes depends on your audience. I have been known to spend hours fine-tuning a biblography, only to find it was ultimately stetted by an author who preferred some obscure style manual. As a writer, you should always ask your editor/professor/client if there is a format they would prefer. Likewise, if you're an editor without a preference, ask your author if he/she has a preference. You may not think it matters to someone, but nobody likes to spend hours making changes that will ultimately be stetted.

Me? I always have a preference, which is why I like it when others don't.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Webster is my boyfriend.

Don't feel unworthy if you look up the same word 200 times. Someday you may not have to look it up anymore, or maybe you always will. The goal of a copyeditor is not to be a perfect speller, but to know what words to look up. *

I remember when I first read this and thought, "Thank goodness. I am meant to be a copyeditor!"

I didn't read this bit of advice until I had been employed in publishing for nearly two years, frighteningly enough. But I clearly remember the wave of relief that washed over me when I realized that I was the luckiest person alive: I had the natural skills to succeed in my chosen career.

There is plenty you can learn about a job, especially when that job is copyediting or proofreading, but the instinct to look up a word you are unsure of is not a learned skill. You can't learn an instinct. You can hone an instinct . . . but, whatever. I'm getting picky. The point is, there are plenty of people who who see "non-symmetrical" printed somewhere and take that hyphen at face value. Me? That's something I actually looked up today while I was working. According to my trusty dictionary, that hyphen is incorrect.

Obviously, we all know of Merriam-Webster because of Noah Webster, the father of the American English dictionary. (You don't? Well, that's another topic for another time.) But what made Merriam-Webster's dictionary the definitive dictionary of the modern era? Because it really is the definitive source for spelling these days. Especially in publishing.

The Chicago Manual of Style uses Webster as its go-to for all spellings, and almost all publishing houses use CMS as their go-to for style. Here's what CMS has to say about Webster:

7.1 Recommended dictionaries.
For general matters of spelling, Chicago recommends using Webster's Third New International Dictionary and its chief abridgment, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (referred to below as Webster) in its latest edition.1 If more than one spelling is given, or more than one form of the plural (see 7.7), Chicago normally opts for the first form listed, thus aiding consistency. If, as occasionally happens, the Collegiate disagrees with the Third International, the Collegiate should be followed, since it represents the latest lexical research.**

The Scripps National Spelling Bee also bows to the lexicographical genius of Webster, using it as their official dictionary.

I guess the overall point is this: If you're looking to invest in a new dictionary, especially if you're employed in publishing or hope to be employed in publishing, you can't go wrong purchasing Webster. And don't be afraid to use your dictionary. Those of us in publishing, be it writing, editing, or proofreading, did not get here by being dumb. It's easy to think, "I am a champion speller; I know that non-symmetrical is a hyphenated compound." But it takes guts to admit that you could be wrong, and pick up that dictionary.

Luckily, I have lots and lots and lots of guts.

*Karen Judd, Copyediting: A Practical Guide (New York: Thomson Crisp, 2001), p. 15.
**Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., 7.1.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Virtual University

If you are looking for a structured class on grammar, word usage, and the basics of the English language, Virtual University [link to] has classes beginning January 28.

For eighteen dollars, you can take up to three classes. Looking at the descriptions of the classes, it doesn't look as though textbooks are required.

I don't have any first-hand experience with Virtual University, but I'm thinking about taking one of their courses to see how beneficial they are.