Tag Archives: language

Definite articles: CIEP social media picks, April and May 2022

Welcome to ‘Definite articles’, our social media team’s pick of editing-related internet content, most of which are definitely articles. If you want our pick of our own recent content, head straight for ‘CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2022’.

In this column:

  • Celebrating books
  • All things fictional
  • Different ways to be an editorial professional
  • Behind the scenes
  • What words do
  • Learning about language
  • A Thursday funny

Celebrating books

Our review begins in the first week of April, with the London Book Fair. This massive publishing event last took place in person in 2019 so there was plenty to celebrate. There were more than 500 international exhibitors, 400 speakers, 75 first-time exhibitors and 125 events. ‘Are you there?’ we asked our social media followers, and got two contrasting responses on LinkedIn that seemed good representative samples: ‘Sure am; and making great connections, having fantastic conversations and acquiring new knowledge!’ and: ‘I wish!’

You’ll recall that at the end of the last ‘Definite articles’ we celebrated the return of Charles Darwin’s notebooks to Cambridge University Library this spring. During April and May we enjoyed two more tales of long overdue book returns: a London library book returned almost 50 years late (its fine would have been £1,254) and another returned to a library in Ipswich from Croatia, 64 years late. One follower on Facebook responded: ‘Oh wow! I’m definitely returning my library book tomorrow! Thanks man …’

We mused on our relationship with books, which are ‘Portable Magic’ but sometimes over-valorised, according to Emma Smith who has recently written a history of reading. An article about whether it was OK to treat books as ornaments got our followers chatting, as The Guardian covered the story that celebrity Ashley Tisdale’s shelves were filled with books she had purchased simply for decoration. This has been a growing trend since Zoom made public the insides of all our houses, but one of our followers revealed a different reason for buying books indiscriminately in bulk:

I lived in a Victorian terrace house and wanted some extra sound insulation on the wall we shared with next door. I put up shelves and filled them with books from charity shops. I didn’t read the blurb on the back, knowing that I would stick to my favourite genre if I did. I certainly didn’t read every book I had on the shelves but it made for interesting insulation and I read books I wouldn’t have otherwise.

All things fictional

An article we shared in April about the psychology of fiction demonstrated how reading could be transformational, helping us develop empathy and social and cognitive skills as well as teaching us about ourselves. We encouraged our followers into this positive pattern in April and May, posting articles about female sleuths, Jane Austen and food, Dracula (125 years young!) and the classics recommended by OUP if you’re a fan of TV shows like Bridgerton and Sanditon. We shared fiction-based Friday funnies, too: ‘Gentler genres for these tough times’ from Tom Gauld (including Soothing Sci-Fi and Dainty Dystopia) and ‘Classic Novel Merch’ (including the Lord of the Flies Swatter and Jane Eyre Freshener) from John Atkinson of Wrong Hands.

We also looked at the benefits of writing fiction, even when the world seems like it’s on fire: a process that not only offers solace to the reader but changes the writer for the better.

The fiction editor’s point of view was well and truly covered, too, with articles from CMOS on exclamation marks in creative text and whether the subjunctive mood – expressing ‘an action or state as doubtful, imagined, desired, conditional, hypothetical, or otherwise contrary to fact’ – was right for fiction. ‘Would that it were’, wittily responded one Facebook follower, although the article made it clear, using numerous examples, that the subjunctive was indeed right in certain circumstances.

Different ways to be an editorial professional

We posted content about many different types of editorial professional in April and May, including publishing project managers, cookery editors, indexers and, er, rabbits. We looked at the different ways editors and proofreaders work, from using Google Docs and CMOS for PerfectIt to marking up PDFs. We also considered where they worked, with an article that talked about the variety of attitudes worldwide towards remote working.

One thing that all editorial professionals can relate to, however, is that feeling when you see a mistake in a text you’d previously been rather proud of your work on. Iva Cheung captured the torture of this experience in her cartoon ‘Blues’.

Behind the scenes

There was an insight into one editor’s behind-the-scenes issues in ‘Clients hire me to edit their books and then get angry about my feedback’. Our followers offered a range of advice, many sensing that the editor seemed weary of the work. They suggested expanding into other areas of editing, which might return the editor refreshed to their original sphere. Followers also recommended being more cautious about accepting work and improving editor–client communication. Another article, from Editors Canada, was relevant too. It talked about building long-term relationships with clients to make freelance life less stressful. This approach could also be an answer to the issue of low rates and the undervaluing of freelance work in the creative industries, which the #PayTheCreator campaign, from the Society of Authors and others, seeks to draw attention to.

We also got an insight into the publishing stories behind famous books from A Christmas Carol to Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Did you know that originally these works were self-published? There was a lesson on how too much pressure on authors can lead to big mistakes like plagiarism, and a look at what’s behind an acknowledgements section.

What words do

We heard the latest from the Historical Thesaurus of the OED, which has recently expanded many of its categories. One of these was ‘types of rock music’, to which has been added ‘darkwave’, ‘queercore’ and ‘nu metal’. Among the other words and terms we educated ourselves about were those that described admirable qualities, new eco-words, odd insulting words and those with a ‘toothy’ quality, such as ‘you managed that by the skin of your teeth’. One of our Friday funnies covered the Scottish word ‘beastie’. The illustration, with 12 creepy crawlies, each of which bore the caption ‘beastie’, delighted our followers, who said ‘This is awesome’ and ‘One of my favourite words!’, although one pointed out: ‘I’m sure that at least one of those specimens is a critter.’

There was more talk of the differences we find in languages and dialects, and the way we view certain words and terms as a result of our lived experience. We got a primer on the language of Shetland; we discovered how American Sign Language reveals that the evolution of language sometimes occurs just to make our lives a little easier; and we considered how speakers of different languages name and categorise experiences like colour, smells and touch differently. Within one language alone there are varieties in how we pronounce certain words and terms, and James Harbeck surveyed the different ways we say ‘succinct’.

Or you could make up your own words. In ‘Riverbankhungrydeerwillow: How we give names to nature’, Marc Peter Keane explored how we could reflect the connections between things in the process of naming them.

It matters what words we give things, and this was powerfully conveyed by CIEP Advanced Professional Member and Wise Owl Louise Bolotin in an interview for the Editing Podcast in May. Louise is dying of cancer, and she couldn’t have been clearer about how unhelpful it is to frame her experience as a ‘battle’ or apply to it any sort of verbal sugarcoating. No talk of ‘journeys’, please, however well meant.

Learning about language

As ever, during April and May we posted lots of articles about the nuts and bolts of language. Why is plain language a good idea (and may even make your readers admire you)? Could poetry be key to making science accessible and inclusive? Are capital letters harder to read? When should you use ‘You and I’ and not ‘You and me’? Plus apostrophes, contractions and the word ‘like’, which, in a fascinating article, was lifted from being an often-scorned bugbear to a richly nuanced indicator of intelligence. Grammar Girl covered other discourse markers, such as ‘you know’, saying that ‘conscientious people use discourse markers, such as “I mean” and “you know,” to imply their desire to share or rephrase opinions to recipients’.

A Thursday funny

We’ve mentioned some of our Friday funnies above. One popular funny didn’t appear on a Friday, however, but a Thursday: 12 May, Edward Lear’s birthday and National Limerick Day. We shared Brian Bilston’s ‘Four Imperfect Limericks’, and many of our followers responded with their favourites (thank you all!), including ‘There once was a man from Hong Kong/Who thought limericks were too long.’ That’s it. That’s the limerick. #genius.


For more picks from our social media team, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. See you online!

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: feathers by Pierre Bamin, bookshelves by Paul Melki, rabbit by Hassan Pasha, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A Finer Point: Placing modifiers

What are modifiers, and where should they be placed in a sentence? Cathy Tingle investigates.

One of the best ways to get a learning point to stick in your memory, I’ve found, is for it to feature in feedback from someone you respect – a peer or a tutor. It’s something about the combination of ‘Oh no, this person I respect thinks I’m doing this wrong’, ‘Oh no, I’ve been doing this wrong for ages, which means everyone must have noticed it’ and, if it’s feedback from a course you’re taking, ‘Oh no, this thing that I’ve been doing wrong has caused me to almost fail this assignment’. Mortifying, and therefore memorable. Something that has never left me from the CIEP’s Copyediting 2: Headway course is my tutor’s suggestion that I ‘struggled’ with ‘the placement of modifiers’ and this had lost me marks. She was right; in fact, I had paid virtually no heed to the placement of modifiers. What could have caused them to fall off my radar?

What is a modifier? Ask the kids.

In Making Sense, David Crystal introduces the principles of grammar through his observations of Susie, his young daughter, as she learned to talk. At the point at which Susie starts to apply adjectives to nouns (‘a silly hat’), Crystal remarks that she’s learned ‘that some words can be subordinate to other words, sharpening their meaning – making it more particular. Grammarians talk about one word modifying another or qualifying another’.

I find ‘modifier’ a useful term because you don’t need to specify if it’s an adjective, an adverb or anything else, like a participle. It can be a word, or, like most dangling modifiers, it can be a phrase. The important thing is that a modifier modifies: it ‘gives information about’ something else in a sentence.

My theory is that as we use modifiers in new ways, on social media and in other informal settings, or when chatting, we can become less strict about them. ‘What even is that?’ is a sentence my son has used since he was small. The adverb, ‘even’, applied to the ‘is’, is meant to express incredulity or surprise, it isn’t misplaced, and it adds an emphasis the speaker obviously feels is necessary. But it’s not the way I would have spoken as a child.

What can go wrong with modifiers?

So, when are modifiers wrongly placed? When either of the following happens.

  1. It’s unclear what they’re modifying.
  2. They appear to be modifying the wrong thing.

‘Coming out of the house, the street was festooned with bunting’ is a dangling modifier – the modifier (‘Coming out of the house’) dangles in the absence of a subject, and this allows misinterpretation. In this sentence it could read as if the street is coming out of the house. Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty suggests a funnier example, ‘Hiking the trail, the birds chirped loudly’, which sounds as if the birds were hiking. To fix it, you’d need to include the subject of the sentence – the person or people hiking – as near as possible to the modifier.

Modifiers that have been variously termed ‘squint’, ‘two-way’ and ‘shifty’ appear between two elements, either of which they might modify. In ‘my dog who growls often chases cats’ it’s unclear whether the dog growls often or chases cats often. To make the meaning clear, it’s simply a matter of moving the modifier away from the danger zone and closer to the element being modified, so it either reads ‘my dog who often growls chases cats’ or ‘my dog who growls chases cats often’.

Only seeking clarity

As with much of the work we do, then, clarity is what counts. Which other modifiers should we look out for when editing or proofreading? I’d recommend taking notice of ‘all’, which I often misplace when writing. But the one that many grammar and language books mention is ‘only’. As Benjamin Dreyer puts it: ‘a loosely placed “only” can distort the meaning of a sentence entirely’. Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz, in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, advise that the rule is ‘to place the only directly before the noun, adjective, or verb it is to modify’ and they give a good example of the different meanings its placement can give:

Only CanDo Company works to serve the interests of its client.

CanDo Company works only to serve the interests of its client.

CanDo Company works to serve the interests of its only client.

These days, ‘only’ tends to be the modifier that sets off my copyeditor’s radar. But is this always necessary? Einsohn and Schwartz say that ‘language experts agree that the rule may yield to idiomatic expression’. Dreyer notes that ‘normal human beings front-load the word “only” at the beginning of a sentence’, as in ‘If you only see one movie this year …’. And Oliver Kamm cites musical cinema to suggest that ‘only’ should be placed according to the rhythm of the sentence: ‘The jazz song “I Only Have Eyes for You” … doesn’t imply that the other organs are uncaring.’ Merriam-Webster sums it up:

After 200 years of preachment the following observations may be made: the position of only in standard spoken English is not fixed, since ambiguity is avoided through sentence stress; in casual prose that keeps close to the rhythms of speech only is often placed where it would be in speech; and in edited and more formal prose only tends to be placed immediately before the word or words it modifies.

Hopefully keeping your reader happy

‘Hopefully’ is one of those words that some people very much dislike being placed at the beginning of a sentence (although I put it there all the time, I don’t know about you). Bill Bryson explains the problem:

Most of those who object to hopefully in its looser sense do so on the argument that it is a misused modal auxiliary – that is to say, that it fails to modify the elements it should. Take the sentence ‘Hopefully the sun will come out soon’. As constructed that sentence suggests (at least to a literal-minded person) that it is the sun whose manner is hopeful, not yours or mine.

So it’s a form of, what, dangling modifier, missing a subject? To be more precise, according to Dreyer it is a ‘disjunct adverb’ as it modifies ‘not any particular action in the sentence … but the overall mood of the speaker of the sentence’. ‘Hopefully’ is not the only disjunct adverb: ‘thankfully’ and ‘admittedly’ are examples of others. But, as Fowler’s puts it: ‘It is hard to think of another word which has provoked such revulsion and condemnation.’ Dreyer adds: ‘I’m not sure how “hopefully”, among all other disjunct usages, got singled out for abuse, but it’s unfair and ought not to be borne.’

In the end, it comes down to the reader, as it pretty much always does. Fowler’s concludes its introduction to the various uses of ‘hopefully’ with:

Among whatever audience you are writing for, there are bound to be people who detest this word, as opposed to the majority, who will probably pass over it without comment. You might therefore wish to consider how important the opinion of the detesters is.

Hopefully we ourselves are nearing a conclusion. If the placing of the modifier in a sentence isn’t causing any sort of ambiguity, consider your reader. If they are traditionalists (or tutors) be sure to place your modifier directly before the element it is modifying, and don’t use ‘hopefully’ in the sense of ‘it is hoped that’. But if not, you could perhaps leave things as they are. Just don’t let modifiers fall off your radar completely.

Resources

Bill Bryson (2016). Troublesome Words. Penguin.

David Crystal (2017). Making Sense. Profile.

Benjamin Dreyer (2019). Dreyer’s English. Random House.

Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz (2019). The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A guide for book publishing and corporate communications, 4th edition. University of California Press.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern Usage, ed. by Jeremy Butterfield (2015). 4th edition. Oxford University Press.

Grammar Girl. Misplaced Modifiers. quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/misplaced-modifiers

Oliver Kamm (2015). Accidence Will Happen. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Merriam-Webster. Placement of Only in a Sentence: Usage guide. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/only#usage-2

Walden University. Modifier Basics. https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/modifiers

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, is a copyeditor, tutor and CIEP information team member.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: hat by Artem Beliaikin, kitten by Francesco Ungaro, sunshine by Lukas, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Definite articles: CIEP social media picks, February and March 2022

Welcome to the first edition of ‘Definite articles’, our social media team’s pick of internet content, most of which are definitely articles, for editors and proofreaders. If you want our pick of our own recent content, head straight for ‘CIEP social media round-up: February and March 2022’.

In this column:

  • Special days and news events
  • Reading recommendations
  • Thinking about language
  • Dashes, slashes and book stashes

Special days and news events

There were a number of special days during February and March 2022. On 11 February, the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we shared Cambridge Dictionaries’ look at how we talk about science, and on 8 March, International Women’s Day, we encouraged our friends and followers to read about Hidden Sci-Fi Women of the OED, from Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne, to Storm Constantine.

3 March was World Book Day, as many parents scarred by this annual festival of competitive literary costume-creating will know. We gave them a non-costume-based chance to get their kids into literature by posting National Geographic’s ‘Seven literary destinations around the UK to inspire children’, which included Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, the inspiration for AA Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, and (checks notes) Scotland. Which sounds as if National Geographic might have forgotten that Scotland is a large and varied country until you read that 2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories.

Not long after World Book Day was World Poetry Day, and to celebrate this we posted ‘A little light verse’ by Brian Bilston: a poem in the shape of a lightbulb, which considers how many poets it would take to change one.

And we looked forward to a very special day in the summer: the Queen’s Platinum, er, ‘Jubbly’? As all sorts of souvenirs and memorabilia started to emerge in preparation for the big event on 2 June, the BBC ran a story about a particular set of crockery that celebrated ‘the Platinum Jubbly of Queen Elizabeth II’. ‘I would love to buy one of these pieces!’ declared a follower on LinkedIn. Well, move fast: there are only 10,000 available and they’re fast becoming collectors’ items, partly because of their Del Boy connotations. ‘Cushty’, as one Facebook follower observed.

The news wasn’t great during these two months. Publishing Perspectives published an interview with a Ukrainian publisher, Julia Orlova, who described the working conditions in early March for her publishing house, Vivat, and her determination to continue producing books for those in Ukraine who needed them. ‘“We provide electronic versions of books for children who are now staying with their parents in shelters,” she says. “And some of our staff continue to edit manuscripts whenever possible. We try our best not to stop the process of creating books.”’

Also in early March came the news that Shirley Hughes, children’s author and illustrator, had died. Hughes was famous for her character Alfie, among many others, and our followers paid tribute: ‘Wonderful author and illustrator. I’ve loved her books since they were read to me by my parents, and I love them even more having read them to my own children, and to the children I’ve looked after for many years. Reminiscent of a simpler and less frantic time.’

As is often the case at this time of year, the weather made news too. As Storm Eunice took hold in mid-February, we posted ‘The problem of writing poems on a wild, stormy day’ by Brian Bils … sorry, the rest of the name seems to have blown away. Who was the poet? We may never know.

Reading recommendations

At the beginning of February we posted a story from the Washington Post about a reading recommendation: by eight-year-old Dillon Helbig, of his own book, entitled The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis and signed ‘by Dillon His Self’. Dillon took his book on a visit to his local library with his grandma and while he was there slipped it onto one of the shelves. The library manager said: ‘I don’t think it’s a self-promotion thing. He just genuinely wanted other people to be able to enjoy his story … He’s been a lifelong library user, so he knows how books are shared.’ Dillon got his wish. The book has been officially added to the library’s collection and can be borrowed. In fact, there’s a long waiting list.

This lovely story was a good start to a couple of months during which we shared a whole host of reading recommendations, from 12 books to read in celebration of America’s Black History Month to the overlooked masterpieces of 1922, magical books you’ll keep coming back to, ten new books to read in America’s Women’s History Month, what TikTok’s book reviewers are recommending and the longlist for the International Booker Prize.

We also enjoyed The Guardian’s series ‘Where to start with’, and posted its pieces on the works of Agatha Christie and James Joyce.

Thinking about language

As if considering the works of James Joyce wasn’t already giving our language-processing centres enough of a workout, article after article about the meanings and implications of language was posted by our tireless social media team. These included new terms such as swicy (sweet and spicy) and seaganism (‘the practice of eating only plant-based foods and seafood’), and the use of light verbs which ‘get their main semantic content from the noun that follows rather than the verb itself’. Examples are take as in ‘take a walk’ or do as in ‘do battle’. There was a moderate reaction to this among our thoughtful followers, but no one made a comment.

We explored the taste of words in how food is written about, and also in the experience of synaesthesia, where ‘words have an associated physical experience as well as a meaning’. Occasionally that association can be flavour. Someone who knows all about this is James, who describes journeys on the London Underground when he was a child. Tottenham Court Road was his favourite stop: ‘“Tottenham” produced the taste and texture of a sausage; “Court” was like an egg – a fried egg but not a runny fried egg: a lovely crispy fried egg. And “Road” was toast. So there you’ve got a pre-made breakfast.’ Fascinating. And delicious.

We are always looking to learn more about inclusive language. Early in February we posted a piece about a new gender-neutral pronoun, ‘hen’, in Norwegian, and then a few weeks later we shared an OED panel discussion, ‘Language prejudice and the documentation of minoritized varieties of English’, and a response to it by CIEP member Robin Black.

Bringing new and inclusive language together, we posted an article explaining what it means to be ‘out of spoons’. Spoons have become a metaphor for energy, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty explained, which is particularly useful in helping people with a disability, condition or chronic illness explain what their lived experience is like; for example, they might start the day with only a certain number of spoons, and with every activity they might lose one or more of these spoons. Fogarty explored how the concept has proven so useful that it has become widespread, with a new self-named ‘spoonie community’ and the use of the term as a verb, as in ‘spooned out’.

Dashes, slashes and book stashes

Our social followers enjoy a quiz and we’re only too happy to oblige. During February and March 2022 we posted quizzes on dashes and slashes (both courtesy of CMOS), and book stashes: ‘How well do you know your library quotes?’ One notable quote that didn’t feature in this quiz was ‘Librarian, Happy Easter X’, a message that landed in a pink bag in Cambridge University Library, along with two priceless missing notebooks belonging to Charles Darwin, in March. After careful verification of the notebooks the story broke in early April, which is too late for our February and March survey but, a bit like Dillon Helbig’s home-made library book, it’s far too good a story not to include in our collection.


Join us again in June (after the Jubbly) for our pick of April and May’s internet gems, or if you can’t wait you can always follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. See you online!

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: fruit by Lukas, storm by Diziana Hasabekava, spoons by Vie Studio, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Editing outside your experience

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, recently spoke to PEN, the Professional Editors Network, members and guests about how to be a radical copyeditor when editing language that describes the experiences of those outside our own life experiences. Nicholas Taylor shares his takeaways from the event.

The Radical Copyeditor’s seven principles for editing text

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, spoke to PEN, the Professional Editors Network, members and guests about how to be a radical copyeditor when editing language that describes the experiences of those outside of our own life experiences.

Whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, disability, religion or faith, socio-economic background or any of the other many ways we describe ourselves, as editors, we are going to come across texts that describe people who don’t share the same backgrounds and experiences as ourselves. As editors, we are going to come across language that describes those experiences and we need to edit that with sensitivity and awareness.

Being an editor is not about sticking to a set of arbitrary rules, Alex reminds us. It is about being sensitive to language that describes people and affirms their lives and backgrounds, being aware of the rules, where they came from and figuring out which ones to apply, in context. As editorial professionals, we should be considering who those rules serve, where they came from and their impact on marginalised communities. As we know, language is always evolving and as professionals, we should be aware of changes in usage, terminology and trends.

Alex told us about the effects of an author’s choice of words. Language has the ability to:

  • dehumanise,
  • pathologise and
  • invisibilise.

Dehumanising language causes people to look the other way when its targets are suffering, completely othering groups and erasing their voices from the conversation.

Pathologising language stigmatises people who have different experiences. The language used can make people feel that they are ‘wrong’ simply for having those backgrounds or lives and that their lives need to be fixed.

Invisibilising language takes the experiences of people, whether through appropriation or erasure, communicating the idea that a group of people no longer exist. All three of these are particularly problematic and are something that editors should be looking out for.

As always, we are reminded that context matters, but our primary concern should be to avoid harm. Caring for the readers, writers and ourselves is important, Alex reminded us.

Alex took us through seven principles for editing text.

1. Be appropriately specific

Using specific language to describe people, rather than awkward or inaccurate generalisations, is going to be more inclusive. For example, describing ‘LGBTQ+ people’ is not helpful if you are trying to talk about ‘same-sex couples’.

2. Avoid euphemisms

Using euphemisms suggests that the right language is ‘wrong’ or something to be avoided.

3. Counter dehumanising language

Avoid using adjectives as nouns or equating people with a label or condition.

4. Respect self-identification

If people use a certain language, term or phrase to describe themselves, use this. You should not edit this language to make it ‘correct’ if it’s the language they use.

5. Use gender-inclusive language

More than just correcting fireman and postman, use non-sexist, neutral language. Singular ‘they’ works for both those who use this as a pronoun and for more general cases, replacing ‘he/she’ constructions.

6. Be mindful of metaphor

The idea of blackness and darkness vs whiteness and lightness is well-known, especially in fiction, but this language has the power to reinforce stereotypes.

Hands in darkness holding a candle

7. Challenge imperialism

Alex spoke about this from the perspective of someone from the US, but more widely, editors need to challenge the ideas of a collective ‘we’ approach. Who does that ‘we’ exclude when we talk about that?

There are opportunities to develop a more conscious approach to language at every stage of the editing process, from developmental editing right through to proofreading. Whether we are editorial freelancers or in-house editors, we have opportunities to ensure that language is inclusive. Publishers and presses have responsibilities, too, Alex reminds us.

At the heart of this approach is care: care for the reader, the writer and for the editor. The focus should not be on avoiding ‘offence’ or ‘getting into trouble’ but on not causing harm. When we edit, particularly language and topics that fall outside of our own experiences as individuals, we need to be tuned in to the potential to cause harm.

Using conscious language requires a lifetime commitment. It isn’t going to happen overnight and we may find that it feels awkward or clumsy at first. But language is important and we should take the time to learn from others who have experiences outside of our own to fully understand how language works for them.


The CIEP produces resources to help editors and proofreaders. These EDI resources include:

Read about where the CIEP stands on EDI 


About Nicholas Taylor

Nicholas Taylor (he/him) is an editor, proofreader and occasional writer. He specialises in working with LGBTQ+ texts, both fiction and non-fiction, and works to make text more inclusive for the whole LGBTQ+ community. He is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: hands by Anete Lusina on Pexels, candle by Myriams-Fotos on Pixaby.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP. 

A Finer Point: Capitals in titles – title case

Capitals for some words, lowercase for others, and what exactly is a preposition anyway? Cathy Tingle tries to navigate the nuances of title case in headings, and in the process discovers the importance of editorial judgement.

At the end of October 2021’s A Finer Point we were running breathlessly away from the surprisingly complicated zone of sentence case, with its proper noun, identity and emphasis landmarks, towards what we were hoping would be the more straightforward domain of title case. And, four months later, we’re finally here (quite a long run, that). Let’s take a look around.

Getting our bearings

It’s tricky to know what to call this place, as it has many names: maximal capitalisation, initial caps, title case, headline style, smart capitals.

Ah, well. Even if we can’t settle on a label, it should be fairly easy to identify the characteristics of the style. Let’s consult good old New Hart’s Rules on what it calls ‘maximal capitalization’. It says to capitalise ‘the first letter of the first word and of all other important words’. Hang on a minute – what does ‘important’ even mean? Don’t panic: Hart’s has a list.

Nouns, adjectives (other than possessives), and verbs are usually given capitals; pronouns and adverbs may or may not be capitalized; articles, conjunctions, and prepositions are usually left uncapitalized.

Oh. That’s two usuallys and a may or may not. Which suggests very strongly to me, friends, that where we are, in fact, is in the vast realm of editorial judgement.

How can we possibly hope to get our bearings, then, when it comes to title case? Well, let’s start by hanging on to something that at least appears solid by trying to identify what’s never capitalised – or pretty much never.

What not to capitalise

Right then, in general, unless they are the first word in the title don’t capitalise the following word types:

  • Articles: a, an, the.
  • Conjunctions: joining words, for example and, or, but, for, so.
  • Prepositions: words that express a relation to something, for example on, off, of, to, by.

Sounds simple. But actually it’s not. It’s with prepositions in particular that we run into difficulty, because they’re not all nice and short like the ones listed above. Some, like beneath, between, against, around, towards and within are much longer, and would look odd uncapitalised. Which is partly why some style guides have a rule that all words of four letters and longer should be capitalised. For others it’s five letters or longer. Chicago style, bravely (or perhaps with a certain unfussy genius) advises lowercase for all prepositions, regardless of length. Let’s see what Benjamin Dreyer, in Dreyer’s English, has to say about that:

If you say ‘prepositions are invariably to be lowercased’, as some indeed say, you’re going to be up against titles like Seven against Thebes or I Served alongside Rommel, and that certainly won’t do. The cleverer people endorse lowercasing the shorter prepositions, of which there are many, including ‘at’, ‘but’, ‘by’, ‘from’, ‘into’, ‘of’, ‘to’, and ‘with’, and capping the longer ones, like ‘despite’, ‘during’, and ‘towards’. I’ll admit that the four-letter prepositions can cause puzzlement – I’d certainly never cap ‘with’, but a lowercase ‘over’ can look a little under-respected.

Ah, sometimes capping a four-letter preposition, and sometimes not. Interesting and confusing at once.

But – and it’s a big but

To add to the intrigue, Dreyer then addresses but. I’ve listed it in the previous section as a conjunction, but, unfortunately for us, it is so much more. In fact, but is:

  • a conjunction (‘Yes, but no’)
  • a preposition (‘Everyone was using sentence case but me’)
  • an adverb (‘We are but four sections from the end of the article, so hang in there’)
  • or a noun (‘But – and it’s a big but’, although that phrase always makes my 9-year-old son chortle, as if the second but, the noun, is furnished with an extra t. (Eye roll.) If you’d prefer a less snigger-triggering example, Dreyer gives ‘no ifs or buts about it’.)

But is only one of many words that fit into various word-type categories. There are also, as Dreyer points out, such things as phrasal verbs, which are likely to contain a word you’d usually lowercase (‘Oh, Come On!’ we might shout back exasperatedly, if it were possible to shout in title case).

What to capitalise

Before we bid farewell to Benjamin Dreyer for now, we must note that he would always capitalise the last word, as well as the first word, of a heading in title case, as would Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz, authors of The Copyeditor’s Handbook, which contains an excellent section on headline style. Predictably, this isn’t a universal rule.

However, capitalising nouns, adjectives and verbs in title case is pretty much a sure thing. As this should be fairly self-explanatory it’s only left to me to remind you that ‘be’ and ‘is’, though small words, are verbs and should always be capitalised … ah, unless in exceptional cases, such as those outlined in a recent CMOS Shop Talk article which explored whether ‘Is’ should always be capitalised in titles, or to conform to a style decision not to capitalise forms of the verb ‘to be’, a feature of Intelligent Editing’s Smart Capitals style.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a headache.

Books on a bookshelf

What else now?

Stuck in the middle, according to Hart’s at least, are pronouns and adverbs, the may or may nots of a title. So, just a reminder of what they are:

  • Pronouns are stand-in words and phrases for a name or names, from they to Her Majesty (which is actually capitalised for quite another reason, but you get the idea). Some are short enough to seem unimportant: he, it, but in general they are capitalised.
  • Adverbs answer questions such as ‘how?’ ‘when?’ and ‘where?’. They modify verbs, adjectives, prepositions, determiners, other adverbs, and sometimes whole clauses and sentences. Examples are happily, then and quite. Adverbs generally have at least four letters but the two-letter as can also be an adverb, as in ‘title case is different from sentence case, and just as annoying’.

Why might we not capitalise these words? One reason might be aesthetics. We’ll consider this in a minute, but first let’s look at colons and hyphens.

Capitalising after colons and hyphens

Say you’re applying maximal capitalisation style to a title and there’s a colon, and after it is an article. What do you do then? In many styles you’d capitalise whatever word follows a colon, even if it’s a word that you wouldn’t usually capitalise:

Title Case: A Miserable Exploration

So there’s one more complication for you. Sorry.

How should we treat text after a hyphen? Many of us are used to seeing that lowercase e after the hyphen in the title of Butcher’s Copy-editing (last published in 2006), and reflecting that it must be like that for a reason and therefore maybe we’d better do the same, although some of us have closed up the hyphen in ‘copy-editing’ in our own communications (because of this exact issue? Er, maybe) so we don’t have to make this decision any longer. However, it’s worth remembering that even though Butcher’s is a titan in its field, it’s still produced within a house style, and house style should always be your first port of call for such decisions. But if it doesn’t cover this point? Hart’s says:

When a title or heading is given initial capitals, a decision needs to be made as to how to treat hyphenated compounds. The traditional rule is to capitalize only the first element unless the second element is a proper noun or other word that would normally be capitalized … In many modern styles, however, both elements are capitalized.

You could imagine this working with ‘Copy-Editing’, as both parts of this compound can stand alone as words, but what about when there’s a prefix before the hyphen, such as ‘Re-’, ‘Ex-’ and ‘Co-’? In a recent discussion on the CIEP forums Sue Littleford gave an alternative to modern-style capping: ‘The guidance I usually follow … is to cap the second part if the first part can stand alone, and if not, not.’

The final judgement

Say we’ve capitalised our nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns and adverbs, and lowercased our articles, conjunctions and prepositions, and we’ve made any necessary exceptions according to our style guide. What’s the final arbiter for decision making about capitals? In the end, both Hart’s and Dreyer defer to how things look. Dreyer talks of the ‘visual euphony’ that might influence a decision to capitalise (or not), and this is what Hart’s says:

Exactly which words should be capitalized in a particular title is a matter for individual judgement, which may take account of the sense, emphasis, structure, and length of the title. Thus a short title may look best with capitals on words that might be left lower case in a longer title.

To retain some semblance of consistency, review your titles against each other in a list, which you can do in Word (left-hand navigation pane) or simply by copying and pasting them into a separate document and studying them hard. Then try your best to articulate the basis of your decisions on the style sheet for those who follow you in the process. Doing this will help you, too.

If you’re working in a US style, a miraculous link was posted on the CIEP forums a few weeks ago that can act a good basic guide to capitalising in title case (particularly after hyphenation), though, like everything to do with title case it seems, it shouldn’t be seen as absolutely conclusive. But that might be a good thing. In an increasingly automated arena, assessing the nuances of capitalisation could be one of the final areas that will stay firmly within the realm of editorial judgement.

Resources

CMOS Shop Talk. ‘Is “Is” Always Capitalized in Titles?’, https://cmosshoptalk.com/2021/08/24/is-is-always-capitalized-in-titles/

Benjamin Dreyer (2019), Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Penguin Random House UK, pp. 248–51.

Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz (2019), The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A guide for book publishing and corporate communications. University of California Press, pp. 185–7.

Intelligent Editing, ‘Capitalization of Headings’, https://intelligentediting.com/docs/perfect-it/understanding-perfect-its-checks/capitalization-of-headings.html

New Hart’s Rules (2014). Oxford University Press; section 8.2.3

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle holds the variously capitalised titles of CIEP Advanced Professional Member, copyeditor, proofreader, tutor and CIEP information team member.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: bookshelf 1 by Karim Ghantous on Unsplash, bookshelf 2 by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

5 ways English usage has changed since 2000

Anyone who’s stumbled on unfamiliar terms in a Shakespeare play knows that English vocabulary has changed over the centuries. But what about over the last couple of decades? When we use language every day, it’s easy to miss the subtle changes that are taking place over time. Rosie Tate takes a step back to look at five ways in which English vocabulary has changed since the turn of the century.

1. Tech talk

Our lives have drastically changed with the rise of technology – and the English language has followed suit. The need to name new inventions and concepts has given us memes, hashtags, cryptocurrencies, blogs, vlogs, tweets, paywalls and much more. The word ‘selfie’ (which feels to me like it’s been with us forever) was first used by an Australian in 2002 – and only went into the OED as a new word in 2013, beating ‘twerking’ and ‘bitcoin’ as word of the year.

Technology has changed the meaning of some words – like ‘catfish’, which used to refer only to a fish but is now also used to describe someone who fakes their online identity for fraudulent purposes. Some old words are used differently – like the noun ‘friend’, which is now also used as a verb (to friend/unfriend someone on social media). And words that started off in written form as abbreviations – like LOL and FOMO – have now made their way into our spoken language.

2. Words to describe the climate crisis

Although terms related to climate change – ecocide, global warming, greenhouse effect, extreme weather, eco-warrior – existed before 2000, their use has sharply risen this century as environmental crises have multiplied. Some newspapers have actively decided to change the language they use to report these stories. The Guardian, for instance, changed its house style in 2019 to reflect the urgency of the crisis, favouring ‘climate crisis or emergency’ over the more neutral ‘climate change’, and ‘global heating’ over ‘global warming’.

New words have also appeared. We’ve all heard of ‘microplastics’, the plastic debris that gets washed into our oceans and causes damage to wildlife. We can also now label our fear of environmental doom (‘eco-anxiety’) and have a word for those who deny anything of concern is happening (‘climate denier’).

3. Coronavirus (vocabulary) is everywhere

In just a couple of years, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed our ways of living – and our language has adapted accordingly. Words that we rarely used before 2020 – quarantine, self-isolate, social distancing, lockdown, key workers, furlough, PPE – have become commonplace. By April 2020, ‘coronavirus’ was one of the most commonly used words in the English language – its usage even surpassing that of the word ‘time’, according to the OED.

But as well as technical and medical terms, the pandemic also gave rise to linguistic creativity. New words were invented to make sense of what we were going through and to inject some fun into difficult situations – like ‘quarantini’ (a cocktail you drink while in quarantine) or ‘blursday’ (a day in the week that feels the same as the day before).

4. Lost words

As well as new words being added to our repertoire, others are falling into disuse. Dictionaries regularly cut words out to make space for new ones. Collins Dictionary has dropped words like alienism, bever, brabble, charabanc and frigorific from its smaller print dictionaries, a decision that reflects how little these words are used. Let’s face it, when was the last time you used the word ‘brabble’ (which means ‘to argue’)?

More worryingly, though, was the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s decision to remove 50 words connected to nature in 2007. It caused public outrage, though not until 2015 (when someone finally noticed). Words such as ‘acorn’, ‘bluebell’, ‘dandelion’, ‘ivy’ and ‘willow’ were cut, while words like ‘broadband’ and ‘blog’ were added. The word ‘blackberry’ (referring to the edible berry) was out, while the Blackberry (mobile phone) was in. This points to a shift in our lifestyles – more tech, less nature – but it begs the question: are we losing the ability to label the natural world around us? Are we more likely to use the general word ‘tree’ than to recognise an oak, cedar or willow tree? (If you do feel the need to reconnect to the natural world, I strongly recommend Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass as an antidote.)

5. We’re (a bit) more inclusive

Individuals are demanding that language be fairer – it shouldn’t exclude groups based on age, race, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation. Many organisations and brands have taken this on board by using inclusive terms – gender-neutral pronouns, for instance – and encouraging their staff to use pronouns in their email signatures. There’s been a lot more media coverage on the topic, though it is of course still contentious – should we use the word ‘guys’ to include women? Do we all use ableist language without realising? Although we have a long way to go when it comes to using inclusive language, there’s growing awareness of it – and that’s more than can be said for the 20th century.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. We know that the English language is constantly evolving, uncontainable and used by each of us in a unique way. If you have noticed changes in how you or others have used English in recent years, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


The CIEP is working to embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) across everything we do. We aim to foster an environment where all members feel safe and equally able to contribute to CIEP activities.

Explore our EDI resources


About Rosie Tate

Rosie Tate is co-founder of Tate & Clayburn, a London-based company that offers copyediting, proofreading, copywriting and translation services to clients worldwide. A first-class Oxford University languages graduate with an MA in Documentary Filmmaking, she’s an experienced editor, writer and producer, having worked for Oxford University Press, the BBC and Save the Children.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: selfie stick by Steve Gale; dandelion by Saad Chaudhry, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP information director.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Context is everything: how learning a language shed new light on my editing practice

In this post, which moves from Hollywood film stars to the hairdressers and Dutch language textbooks, Julia Sandford-Cooke explores how learning a new language helped her to reflect on her professional skills.

I often think about Antonio Banderas. Well, not the Spanish actor specifically, but rather his character in the 1999 film, The 13th Warrior. He plays Ahmad, an Arabic-speaking scholar improbably taken prisoner by Norse warriors whose chief interests are picking fights and gossiping around the campfire. In a famous (and possibly unintentionally hilarious) sequence, Ahmad quietly observes their chatter. It is initially unintelligible (the actors are apparently speaking modern Norwegian) but, as time passes, English words creep in, indicating his growing understanding, until he’s suddenly able to insult their mothers with astounding fluency and a confident grasp of complex grammar. Subsequent dialogue is in English, which now represents what we understand to be the language of the Norsemen.

These days, the movie is remembered almost as much for this scene as for being one of Hollywood’s biggest financial failures, allegedly making a $130 million loss. It’s a clever and memorable cinematic concept but, in my experience, not a very realistic way of learning a foreign language.

Gossip goal

I sit in the hairdressing salon, my face as fixed in concentration as Ahmad’s, while the stylists and customers chat in rapid Dutch. After just over a year in the Netherlands, I, like him, would love to decode the juicy gossip around me but merely listening to a new language will not miraculously make me fluent in it. I can make out the odd word but it certainly doesn’t pop out as English (well, apart from ‘Netflix’ and ‘weekend’). Instead, it just sounds vaguely familiar and by the time I’ve looked it up in my mental dictionary (‘“makkelijk” … I know that one … “Difficult”? No … “Important”? No … ah, I have it! “Easy!”’) the conversation has moved on and I still have no idea what they’re talking about. And as for speaking to them – well, I won’t be insulting their mothers any time soon or, more likely, complimenting them on such a flattering cut ‘n’ colour. But it’s my ultimate objective to be able to take part in their conversations.

It’s all about confidence

Antonio Banderas’ first language is, of course, Spanish, so it’s somewhat ironic that his character hears familiar words as English. My Amsterdam friends whose first language is Spanish all learned English at school and now speak it fluently and rapidly. If they forget the odd word, it doesn’t matter – they just keep on talking and we understand them just fine.

Significantly, they’re also much more likely than the first-language English speakers I know to have focused on learning and speaking Dutch since moving here. Yes, it is true that everyone can speak English here so there is an argument that it’s not worth the hassle, but personally, I feel that if you want to integrate in a country, you should at least make an effort to learn its language. In any case, I’ve found that just because they can speak English doesn’t mean they will, which is fair enough, I suppose. And it’s also pretty useful to understand what you’re being told in emergency situations, or on public transport.

Perhaps the habit of learning languages is more ingrained in those who do not speak English as their first language. It’s pretty common for these immigrants – both adults and children – to switch between three or four languages. Much of it is about confidence – going out onto the unforgiving streets knowing you’ll make mistakes and trying not to care.

My personal lack of confidence is mixed with an equally unhelpful stubborn pride. I insist on conducting business in bad Dutch in shops and cafés and while having my COVID-19 vaccination, even if waiters insist they don’t understand my slight mispronunciations or I get jabbed in the arm I sleep on. And then I go home and cringe at the fool I’ve made of myself. Speaking isn’t even my forte in English so it’s no wonder I struggle so much in Dutch. It’s some consolation that my Spanish-and-English-speaking friends admit that learning Dutch as an adult is hard because our confidence drops as we get older and we’re more aware of the implications of getting it wrong.

So how do these experiences affect my editing practice?

Learning Dutch has made me look at my work from several new perspectives.

Being a beginner.

It’s humbling to start from scratch. There’s so much I don’t know and I have to work very hard to know it. I’ve been in the conscious incompetent stage of learning for quite a while now. It simply isn’t easy, whatever Ahmad might think. I hope this awareness makes me more empathetic with writers and other people I interact with professionally. And of course, this doesn’t just apply to learning a language – it applies to learning any skill.

Being an expert.

At the same time, it reminds me that I’ve been through the editorial wilderness and emerged, after more than 20 years, with a huge experience and solid skills that clients value. It’s taken a lot of work and effort to get here but it has been worthwhile. I can prove to myself that persistence pays off.

Keeping me alert.

Editing is an intellectually stimulating profession. Learning a language before and after work often feels like yet another way to tire my brain. But it also exercises slightly different aspects of my mind, and just watching Netflix of an evening feels less and less of a constructive way to spend my time.

Brushing up on my grammar.

I have to admit that it draws attention to my tenuous grasp of grammatical theory. The argument that ‘children can learn a language without trying and therefore so can you’ just doesn’t fly. I have to consciously decode the word order following a coordinating conjunction or the effect of an inactive word form. My middle-aged mind has to consciously think ‘Ah, that’s a modal verb, which sends the second verb to the end of the clause as an infinitive’. That’s not a thought the average toddler has.

Understanding mistakes.

Anyone who has edited the writing of those for whom English is an additional language will have noticed particular mistakes relating to the authors’ translations of their thoughts into English. There are plenty of examples from Dutch speakers but recently I passed a woman trying to explain to someone that he could get the item he wanted from the ‘warehouse’ down the road. She meant department store – warenhuis in Dutch. It is illuminating to realise why certain errors occur.

Drawing attention to learning methods.

I’m a textbook editor but I rarely open my Dutch textbook, other than to check the grammar rules. Interaction is key (whatever Ahmad might think). Purists may sniff at the gamification of language learning in apps such as Duolingo and Babbel but actually, I find their bite-sized, repetitive and memorable methods convenient and engaging. I currently have a 467-day streak in Duolingo, meaning I’ve actively practised my Dutch on the app every day for about 15 months. But I combine it with watching (or trying to watch) Dutch movies, listening to Dutch music (Dutch rhymes in a very satisfying way) and having fairly regular face-to-face Zoom lessons. Julie, my lovely tutor on iTalki , is endlessly cheerful and patient, even when I’m clearly speaking complete nonsense. And, of course, there’s no substitute for immersing myself in everyday situations like, for example, going to the hairdresser. All of this suggests that those who produce learning materials should think holistically – no single method is enough – and, of course, no student approaches learning in the same way.

So I often think of Spanish-speaking Antonio Banderas as an Arabic-speaking scholar listening to Norwegian-speaking actors speaking English to represent speaking Norse. Learning a new language is hard. But one day I too will be able to decode the gossip and maybe even join in – without cursing anyone’s mothers. Not intentionally, anyway.

About Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has spent more than 20 years in publishing and just over one year in Amsterdam. When she’s not speaking bad Dutch, she writes and edits textbooks, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her and posts short, often grumpy, book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: Amsterdam canal by Ethan Hu; Dutch flag in Amsterdam by Luca Lago, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

How can corpora help editors and proofreaders?

How often have you needed another word for a common term or phrase to avoid repetition? You can turn to a thesaurus, but there is a much more comprehensive source of inspiration accessible online. Ana Frankenberg-Garcia explains.

To make texts accurate and readable, we are required to evaluate other people’s words and wordings. However, people express themselves in different ways, and it is not always straightforward to tell whether documents need to be changed or how they can be improved. This is especially true when the subject matter, terminology or style of the text at hand is not entirely familiar. Dictionaries, glossaries, style guides and online searches can help, but not always. That is when we turn to more experienced colleagues. But what if they too don’t know the answer? What if they give us conflicting responses? What if it is late at night and we have an early morning deadline? Don’t worry, a corpus can help, and can often help more than any other source you have used before.

What is a corpus?

A corpus is a collection of authentic, machine-readable texts sampled to be representative of the language or language variety we wish to focus on. For example, a corpus consisting of a large number of business letters written by business people going about their normal routine can help us observe how words are objectively used in business correspondence.

How can corpora help?

Imagine you are not sure whether a business email should end in I look forward to hearing from you or I am looking forward to hearing from you. A corpus such as Professor Yasumasa Someya’s free Business Letter Corpus, with one million words of UK and US business letters, will do the trick. Compare the search results for looking forward and look forward.

First, you can see that look forward, with 997 occurrences, is more conventional in business letters than looking forward, with only 161 hits. Note that this is just in UK and US business letters, not the entire internet, so you know exactly where your results are coming from. Next, you can see that corpus software aligns the expression searched in the centre of your screen, which means you just need to scroll down to inspect every single occurrence of it. Reading ‘vertically’ makes finding out how words are used in context much faster and easier than reading linearly, as we normally do. And indeed, if you observe the context of how these wordings are employed, you will notice that looking forward tends to occur in more informal circumstances (eg fun night, great show, long chat), whereas look forward is used more formally (eg favourable reply, challenging career, future opportunity).

Another thing that corpus software does is help you to find out, in seconds, how words are used together.

Imagine you have a blank and can’t think of a verb to go with opinion. If you run a search for opinion in the enTenTen corpus (with 38 billion words of current English), you will not only be able to scroll down results like the ones shown above, where you can spot verbs like give, sway and form, but you can also carry out a further search step where the software automatically counts, ranks and sorts all the words that occur, say, four words to the left of opinion. This will generate a list of words frequently co-occurring with opinion, which you can scroll down and notice verbs like express, voice and share (see right).

Or, even better, you can sort this list to zoom in on just the verbs that occur in the context of opinion (see far right). There is no space here for more examples, but there are countless other ways in which corpora can help editors and proofreaders.

How can editors and proofreaders access corpora?

Until a few years ago corpora were only accessible to researchers, but nowadays anyone with access to the internet can consult one. A good place to start is the no-frills, free, online SkELL (Sketch Engine for Language Learning) corpus. The British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English can also be accessed free of charge. If you want more English corpora, and corpora in many different languages, the incredibly powerful Sketch Engine tool used by big dictionary makers is available for a modest subscription fee.

Anyone who works professionally with language can benefit from corpora. Corpora are, after all, where lexicographers and linguists get the raw material they need to compile dictionaries and other language resources in the first place. Although corpora don’t provide us with black-and-white answers, they do give us access to how words are used in the real world, in ways that allow us to draw our own conclusions. Even when it is late at night and we have an early morning deadline!


This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Editing Matters. CIEP members can access the Editing Matters archive.


About Ana Frankenberg-Garcia

Ana Frankenberg-Garcia is the programme leader of the MA in Translation, University of Surrey. Her research focuses on applied uses of corpora in translation, lexicography and language learning.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: letters by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

 

The 2021 CIEP conference: Benjamin Dreyer in conversation with Denise Cowle

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Cathy Tingle reviewed Benjamin Dreyer in conversation with Denise Cowle.

The plenary session of this year’s CIEP conference was particularly eagerly anticipated by those of us who enjoy Benjamin Dreyer’s expertly crafted Twitter posts and devoured his fun yet bracing book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Benjamin Dreyer has a way with words, and in this short talk and longer interview with Denise Cowle, the CIEP’s marketing and PR director, he didn’t disappoint – even over a jumpy connection which added to the feeling that he really was speaking to us live from New York.

Like many of us, Benjamin Dreyer came to editing after trying other things. Following a casual-sounding introduction to the production editor of St Martin’s Press by a writer friend who spotted his talent, he was given some freelance proofreading work. It became an apprenticeship in copyediting. In those days, editing was done on hard copy. ‘I was seeing what sort of questions copyeditors asked. I saw there was more to this than “let me fix your spelling and let me see your subjects and verbs agree”.’ Asked by Denise whether he would tell new editors to start out by proofreading, Benjamin advised: ‘You should get your feet wet doing proofreading. It’s a lower-risk job, for us and for you. It’s one of the best ways to really learn how the editing works, to really see what the copyeditor does.’

Moving on to employment at Random House, Benjamin worked among some of the leading lights of editing including Bob Loomis who had been there such a long time that he remembered Faulkner visiting the office.

Random House has no house style: ‘Every book has to be approached on its own terms, with fresh eyes, with a fresh brain, to try to make the book into the best possible version of itself that it can be.’ This has been the mission of Benjamin Dreyer’s working life. He tells new editors: ‘Read the first 25 or 30 pages of a manuscript with your hands behind your back. Pay attention to what’s going on before you start working on it.’

As Random House’s copy chief, Benjamin famously only has one copyediting client these days: Elizabeth Strout, author of the Olive Kitteridge books, an arrangement that came about after Benjamin walked into her then editor’s office and pronounced her latest book ‘remarkable’. How did he find the experience of being edited when Dreyer’s English was in production? He asked for a particular copyeditor, much as Elizabeth Strout did with him, and described his editor’s method, of providing him with a better version of his own text, as ‘wonderful’. ‘You sound more like I sound than I sound’, he would say to her: a standard of editing for us all to aspire to.

You can’t interview Benjamin Dreyer without asking certain questions, and Denise did this expertly. One was about his outspoken disapproval of those who eschew the series (or serial, or Oxford) comma. I held my breath. But Benjamin protested a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek mischief, and explained: ‘There has to be this balance of truly, earnestly wanting to help and to get them to laugh, to pay attention.’ And so a stooshie – a great Scottish word that Denise used and Benjamin wrote down for future use – was avoided.

Right at the end of the interview – if there had been credits they would have been rolling – Denise posed the question suggested by Louise Bolotin but that we all wanted answered: ‘Why when Random House merged with Penguin was the new company not called Random Penguin?’ We weren’t the first to ask, it seems: ‘Everybody wanted and prayed that Random Penguin would be the way. People designed rogue logos. But we ended up being Penguin Random House. And that’s OK too.’

And then it was over, and so was the conference, and after we’d mopped ourselves up following CIEP chair Hugh Jackson’s closing remarks, those of us who tweet headed back to Twitter where we found a lovely message from Mr Dreyer: ‘I just had a spectacular time talking to the wonderful folk at @The_CIEP, and we didn’t come to cross-cultural blows! #CIEP2021.’ Utterly correct.

Cathy Tingle is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She is a non-fiction copyeditor and proofreader, runs copyediting training for Publishing Scotland and is a member of the CIEP information team.

You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Easy English

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Anna Baildon reviewed Easy English: The principles of writing for people with low literacy and what editorial professionals can learn from them, presented by Cathy Basterfield.

What is Easy English?

One of the reasons I attended this interesting session is that Easy English is a new concept for me.

Cathy described Easy English as ‘writing for people who haven’t got functional literacy’. She showed us examples of Easy English documents which made it clear that this is the polar opposite of the writing styles we often work with as editorial professionals. But Cathy emphasised the myriad texts which we encounter in our daily lives and which are inaccessible to many people.

Cathy has many years’ experience in speech pathology and working with people who use non-verbal communication. Our chair, Hugh Jackson, noted that Cathy pioneered the development of Easy English, so we were in good hands. Delegates contributed some thought-provoking questions, most of which Cathy answered in the time available.

Why do people need Easy English?

Easy English caters for people with the lowest levels of literacy. This may be related to a disability or other reasons. It was sobering to consider the impact of being unable to access information that I take for granted – Cathy mentioned the significant health, social and economic consequences – and to see data showing that a surprisingly large proportion of adults do not have the literacy to manage day-to-day tasks.

Easy English is most commonly used for information that people need, such as health information or terms and agreements. (I learned that there is an accessible information standard that all NHS and adult social care providers in England are legally required to follow.) Easy English is generally not used for the cultural, leisure and news content which people with higher literacy read for pleasure and engagement reasons. Cathy said that research shows that people with low literacy do want to read these richer types of material. This demonstrates an even greater potential for applying Easy English approaches.

One very interesting point Cathy made was that Easy English can be effective for people with higher literacy levels. She gave an example of a document about court proceedings that was useful to someone at an intensely stressful and emotional time.

Some nuts and bolts

Cathy used example texts to demonstrate some Easy English techniques. We learned that we should use:

  • a lot of white space
  • directly relevant illustrations (not photographs) to help convey the meaning of the text
  • short words and sentences
  • minimal punctuation
  • positive phrasing
  • bullets to separate items in a list.

I liked the idea of ‘unpacking the language’ so that the meaning becomes accessible.

Headlines I’ll remember

  • It’s hard to write in Easy English!
  • Access to written information should not be a reading test. It should be enabling.
  • Access to information is a right. ‘Access’ means that a person reads, understands and knows what they can do.

I agree with conference organiser Beth Hamer that Cathy gave us ‘a different perspective’ and challenged our assumptions. I can see that Easy English is related to plain English and Easy Read, but that it goes further. I would like to explore these specialisms after I’ve completed my core training. In the meantime, it will be interesting to spot opportunities where I can use the principles in more subtle ways in my work.

Thank you to Cathy, who joined us live from Melbourne where it was late evening.


Useful resources

Cathy’s website: https://accesseasyenglish.com.au

CIEP guide: Editing into Plain English https://www.ciep.uk/resources/guides/#EPL

CIEP training course: Plain English for Editors https://www.ciep.uk/training/choose-a-course/plain-english-editors/


Anna Baildon is an Entry-Level Member and is relishing CIEP training to strengthen her expertise. She has worked in niche librarian roles in higher education and has significant experience in wrangling non-fiction copy into a publishable state. Anna has degrees in English literature and librarianship and a lifelong affinity with words. She plans to freelance, offering both copyediting and proofreading services.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.