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Food for thought: How language affects our eating habits

By Samita Sarkar

Editors know that language is a powerful tool. In fact, ourfood world is shaped by the language we use and the ways we communicate with each other. The language we use changes the way we see things. The rhetoric of war, for example, is used to dehumanize the enemy, and the rhetoric of law is used to plead a case or pass a bill. There is also the rhetoric of food, which is used by chefs and restaurant owners to make us feel hunger.

In an interesting book entitled Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists, author Jason Del Gandio describes rhetoric as “the science of discourse…what people say, how they say it.” Rhetoric is persuasive. Moreover, it evokes emotion. Del Gandio points out that rhetoric can be defined not only as discourse, but also as “the practice and study of how people create their realities.” He pursues a powerful example with the term collateral damage, questioning how phrases that minimize implied violence affect the public mindset.

Consider terms such as escargot and caviar in comparison to cooked snail or salty fish eggs. The first two terms denote wealth, luxury, and delicacy; the latter two seem meagre and unappealing—reptile food, maybe—but they wouldn’t sound appetizing to too many humans. Some food for thought: most people have never considered what it means to eat an egg, which is the reproductive waste of a chicken.


Exploring the ethical grey zone of academic editing

academicBy Samita Sarkar

Some time ago, when I was a student at York University, an English professor warned us against the dangers of having our papers professionally edited, equating it with co-writing and plagiarism. I wondered if this were true, since various editing businesses openly distributed their cards around campus. When I opened my editing business a few months ago, I realized there was a high demand for editing papers, theses, and academic journal submissions, so as a new business person I had to re-evaluate my professor’s advice. That same professor had thought that online courses promoted “lazy learning,” so maybe I didn’t have to agree with her on everything! After all, there is a huge difference between writing and editing.

Still, an editor must consider a number of things before agreeing to take on an assignment in academics, whether it involves an essay, a thesis, or a journal submission. In this field in particular, it is especially important to draw an ethical line as to where editing ends and rewriting begins.

Before accepting a project in academics, or indeed in any field, editors should ask their client to sign a contract that makes it crystal clear to all parties what will and will not be done as part of the editorial assignment. The sample contract provided on the EAC website is a great place to start; it includes an indemnity clause which protects editors from issues such as copyright infringement on the part of the author. The EAC document also provides guidelines for ethical editing of dissertations. As an added safeguard, editors can ask students to have their professor or supervisor co-sign a contract before editing commences.


Punctuation styles on different sides of the border

By Samita Sarkar

Some time ago, a client contacted me when her manuscript was sent back for revisions because she didn’t use “American punctuation.” So what does that even mean?

It may seem odd, but depending on the part of the world you reside in, you will not only face pronunciation and spelling differences, but even differences in where you place your commas and periods. According to British conventions, periods should be placed outside of quotation marks. For example:

He told me, “Remember where to place your periods”.

This is different from American punctuation standards, where the conversation might go as follows:

She said, “Remember, you’re in the United States now.”

However, the rules change when exclamation points and question marks are part of the quoted material, in which case the British switch to the American way.


The importance of language as shown by ancient Maya civilization

Maya Code

By Samita Sarkar

Recently, I watched an informative PBS documentary about the history of the Maya language called Cracking the Maya Code (watch it online here). Much like the other indigenous civilizations of the Americas that encountered Europeans hundreds of years ago, the Maya experienced cultural and linguistic oppression at the hands of Spanish colonizers. Under the sixteenth-century Spanish inquisition, the Maya were tortured or killed for engaging in “superstitious” behaviour, such as writing in their language or worshipping their gods. A zealous friar, Diego de Landa, made it his mission to destroy Maya hieroglyphs, seeing them as tools of the devil. He sanctioned the mass burning of hundreds to thousands of Maya books—the exact number will never be known.

To us editors, the act of burning countless ancient texts seems worse than blasphemy, but to the mercurial Friar de Landa, it was a powerful method of oppression. And it worked—by the eighteenth century, there was no one left who could read or write Maya.

Only a handful of Maya books survived, and they resurfaced in the late 1880s. Linguists tried for decades to crack the Maya code using only a few books and glyphs carved into ancient Maya pyramids. Written Maya had a script of 800 symbols, and it was taken for granted that these were logographs and not phonetic letters.