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by Indu Singh
In the first chapter of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, the author poses a challenge to his readers: go a week without writing any of the words out of a list of what he considers pointless adverbs, including very, rather, really, quite, just, so, surely, of course, and in fact. However, Dreyer singles out one adverb for his most extreme dare: “Feel free to go the rest of your life without another ‘actually.’”
According to Dreyer we are all writers now—we write blog entries, term papers, social media posts, emails, memos, product reviews—and he wants us to be better at it. He attempts to not only guide but also bully, cajole, amuse, and even challenge (as demonstrated above) the readers into becoming stronger and more effective communicators on paper and screen. He believes that if he can at least convince us to give up some of these ineffectual adverbs—these “Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers”—he will have automatically transformed us into better writers by the end of the week.
As a practising copy chief for Random House, Dreyer earns his living by polishing others’ work, and his feelings about his profession run the gamut from pragmatism to passion. “On a good day, [copy editing] achieves something between a really thorough teeth cleaning…and a whiz-bang magic act.”
Interview conducted by Adrineh Der-Boghossian
A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the W5: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.
Please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (and where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.
I’m an editorial consultant at Bell Canada and my job is a mix of editing and consulting on document design. Editing people who have to write for their job is different from editing writers and it comes with some interesting challenges. I have to be extra careful of how I give feedback and part of my job is educating the team on clear communication.
I’ve been an editor for about eight years. I live in Toronto with zero cats but two kids who sometimes pretend to be cats.
(Oxford University Press, 2017)
By Christine Albert
Some words are so familiar that it feels as though we instinctively know what they mean. And when we don’t, we use a dictionary to read its definition and determine how it can be placed alongside other words to form cohesive narratives. But how often do we think about the history behind the word itself, the changes it’s gone through and the nuances it provides the English language and the topics being discussed?
In The Story of Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language, David Crystal examines the verb to be, highlighting the meanings created and used throughout its long history. A linguist, editor, and prolific writer, Crystal is well-known for his research in English language and has published over 100 books and almost 500 articles on topics such as religious language, Internet language, and clinical linguistics. Each chapter of The Story of Be is dedicated to a specific function of the verb, ranging from the more philosophical (“existential be”) to the scatological (“lavatorial be”). In the latter chapter, for instance, Crystal muses on the origins of the saying “Have you been?” to denote using the washroom, delving into past literature to see when this phrasing began. Alongside these explanations are numerous examples from a variety of sources, including literary, pop culture, religious, and technological. And sprinkled throughout the book are text boxes that focus on the history of the word’s various tenses, showing their development from Old English to modern times and their regional uses. (more…)
By Michelle Waitzman
Working in front of a computer monitor all day, as most editors do, takes a toll on your eyes. Here are some tips on how to reduce the eye strain that can lead to fatigue, headaches, dry eyes, and loss of concentration.
Beware of Glare
Glare is caused by light reflecting off your monitor and into your eyes. It can come from your windows or from light fixtures and lamps. Glare makes it harder to read your documents, reduces contrast, and can reflect bright spots into your eyes causing you to squint. It’s best to reduce glare at the source, but if that isn’t possible you can purchase an anti-glare screen to attach to your monitor.
Glare from daylight can usually be fixed by moving your monitor to a better position. Your monitor should be perpendicular to the window in the room, so that the daylight hits it from the side. Placing your monitor in front of the window will cause the backlighting to be too strong, which makes your monitor appear dark. Placing your monitor across from the window will cause the most direct glare.
Even with the monitor angled correctly to the window, glare can be an issue when the sun is low in the sky. Curtains or blinds are the best way to control the amount of daylight entering the room. (more…)
The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected]
By Carol Harrison
Does the current state of world affairs leave you without words? Thankfully Planet Word, the soon-to-be museum of linguistics in Washington, DC, won’t be. And did you know there is also a National Museum of Mathematics in New York? For me, both celebrate languages.
On January 14, Zhou Youguang died at 111 years old. If you’ve learned to read and write Mandarin using Hanyu Pinyin, you have him to thank.
Pardon me while I geek out. I can’t say enough good things about the movie Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Finally, a science-fiction film that’s about communicating with aliens, not shooting them up! If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ve seen a sample of how the language looks. Wired’s Margaret Rhodes talks to the people who created the alphabet. Oh, and a shout-out to Jessica Coon, an associate professor of linguistics at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages, who consulted on the film! Now I’m off to find Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella “Story of Your Life” on which all this is based.
Back down to earth, or perhaps flying a few feet above the ground, the BBC’s Andrew Evans finds out how falconry sank its talons into the English language.
Have current events got you riled? Do you plan to join a march? Want your placard to pack extra punch? Let linguist Daniel Midgley help.
Carol Harrison is editor-in-chief of BoldFace and freelance editor and writer at Muse Ink. When she isn’t focusing on words, she’s focusing her Nikon D3200.
This article was copy edited by Ambrose Li.
By James Harbeck
There has been much discussion of the Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. I have no interest in weighing in on whether his work is Nobel quality—I won’t pretend to understand the judges’ criteria—but I do have some thoughts on the question of whether a songwriter is even eligible to be awarded the prize.
There is no Nobel Prize in music, or in songwriting. So we can’t say that he should be considered for a different category unless you think songwriting is more appropriate to the Peace Prize, or perhaps to Economics. No, if he’s getting a prize, Literature is it. The question is whether songs qualify as literature—whether, to be frank, they’re good enough, or whether they’re “just songs.” There’s something of a privileged-genre attitude, a white-marble image of literature (that is, the truly worthy kind of text) as being cool prose in dry books that silently dissects humanity’s problems, not in the noise of a musical performance.
This has about as much basis as the white-marble image of Greek statuary, which, we now know, was originally painted bright colours. We ought to remember that the novel, as such, has only existed for a few centuries. Narrative texts pretending to any literary merit were expected to be written in verse until early modern times. And why was that? Because the written literature was, originally, the lyrics of songs and chants and declamations to music. The vaunted Greek drama had not one word that was flatly spoken. The psalms of the Bible were for singing. Beowulf was incomplete without a harp to aid the recitation. The fact that we have peeled the spoken from the sung, and ultimately the silently read from the spoken, does not have any bearing on the human insight conveyed in the words. Poetry has been deemed worthy of the Nobel: Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney, and Wole Soyinka have all won it, and it is terrible to think that they might have been ineligible if they had, like Leonard Cohen, been driven by economics to set their poetry to music. (more…)
By Jaclyn Law
So many conference sessions, so few time slots! It’s impossible to be everywhere, so I chose topics that are right for my business and day-to-day work, right now. My picks (shared below) lean towards technology-related topics, but where are you going?
- “Editing Copy for the Mobile Web and App Development,” Christina Vasilevski
Mobile tech fascinates me. My partner is a mobile developer, and occasionally I get a glimpse of what’s involved in putting together effective, intuitive mobile sites and apps that people actually enjoy using. I’d love to find projects in this space.
- “Editing for the Web Without Lowering Your Standards,” Erin Brenner
I already work with website copy, and I’m hoping to pick up lots of pointers at this session. Clients sometimes ask me about best practices for web copy—a good example of how the role of the editor is expanding. Who better to learn from than the editor-in-chief of Copyediting.com?