Punctuation marks – how confident are you that you’re using the right one?

No time for a proper blog post this week (paid work has to take over, I’m afraid), so instead I hope you’ll enjoy this blog post from Oxford Dictionaries’, 6 punctuation marks you might be using incorrectly. I’ve talked about some of these tricksy characters in past posts (see for example February’s post Colons in the red corner, semicolons in the blue…which one will win?), but the OED’s guide goes a step further.

If you’ve ever found yourself unsure about using any of the following: possessive apostrophes, semicolons, colons, ellipses, hyphens or dashes, then it’s well worth a read.

‘Til next time…

Hey, tweeps and bezzies! New Scrabble words: ridic, or long overdue?

In light of yesterday’s news that Collins Dictionaries have updated the Scrabble dictionary to include around 6,500 new entries, it got me wondering if this would put younger players at an advantage for possibly the first time in the game’s history. Before the 2015 update (the first in four years), older participants have often been ahead of the game due to having had more years to gather interesting vocabulary.

All this could now be changing, as many words commonly associated with social media and the ‘younger generation’ have crept into the latest Scrabble dictionary. (I know there are plenty of over-30s who are fluent in their use of social media and modern parlance, but based on my circle of friends I know relatively few who are totally comfortable using terms such as ‘lolz’, ’emoji’ and ‘thanx’.)

Before I started working as a copy-editor and proofreader, I considered myself to have a pretty wide vocabulary, and over the course of my work I’ve become familiar with the definitions of many more words. However, these are ones which already appear in standard dictionaries. I’m far less sure of the meaning of many terms which my much younger cousins and their friends think nothing of using on a day-to-day basis.

Many of the people they spoke to for New Zealand website Stuff seemed to echo my bewilderment at some of the terms used. Dench*, anyone?

I was surprised when I got 5/7 on BBC Newsbeat’s quiz on the meanings of some of these new words, but suspect that if it hadn’t been multiple choice I might have failed a little harder.

Metro also brought out their own quiz, this time without the multiple choice option. This time I got 27/42. Why not give it a go and see if you can beat my score? Shouldn’t be too difficult to manage!

In light of my poor performance, I think it’s time I got reading through the full list and doing some revision, otherwise I might get left behind in the digital age! I’m not sure I’ll be able to make full use of some of them in everyday conversation without sounding like Nathan Barley (“What’s up, my tweeps**?”), though…

* Excellent.

** Twitter users.

Part 2 of the proofreader’s voting guide: The Green Party

Just a short one this week from me.

Earlier this week, I finally got the last of the main parties’* campaign leaflets – from the Green Party – through my door. For the sake of equality, I thought I’d make sure I included my thoughts on this one.

The Greens, with 11 errors, managed to actually complete the sequence of consecutive numbers which started with the Lib Dems’ 10 and ended with Labour’s 14. Pretty impressive, even if it was unintentional! Most of them were punctuation mistakes this time (missing commas, the insertion of a rogue space, hyphens instead of en or em dashes and missing full stops at the end of bullet points), and the worst weren’t all that bad – ‘de-regulated’ in place of ‘deregulated’ and the random capitalization of ‘academies’, ‘free schools’ and ‘local authority’. Not really that much to complain about.

Assuming I was going to vote based solely on the number of errors, I don’t think it would be fair to choose a party with the numbers so close together. Perhaps the best option would be to spoil my ballot paper instead…

* Disclaimer: Obviously Plaid Cymru (who an online quiz told me I should vote for) and the SNP are also ‘main parties’, but as I don’t live in Wales or Scotland I am unable to vote for them and have not received any literature from either party.

The proofreader’s guide on who to vote for

Firstly, apologies for the lack of bloggage the last three weeks. School holidays and competing work demands forced my hand! I thought I’d return this week with something topical (as opposed to tropical, since a foreign holiday is not on the cards any time soon), as election fever is definitely upon us.

Following various articles doing the rounds on social media about basic errors and typos appearing in the various parties’ election propaganda, I thought it’d be interesting to decide (theoretically, of course!) who to vote for based solely on which party had the least number of mistakes in their literature. It would be easy to use this forum as a soapbox for singling out a particular party who many have accused of being ‘uneducated’, but I’m going to do my best to remain impartial here.

BBC News ran the story of Sebastian Kindersley, the Lib Dem MP who managed to misspell ‘language’ in his campaign leaflet. It wouldn’t have been such a bad error if it hadn’t been part of a sentence about tightening up English language tests for people moving to Britain.

The BBC also had a good article this week, ‘Misstakes and mispellings’, which was all about orthographic crimes committed by those competing to represent our communities in Westminster.

It’s not all been the candidates, their promoters, publishers and parties at fault, though – in my neighbouring district, the council preparing the postal ballot papers managed to somehow misspell one of the parties’ names!

I’m not going to try and duplicate what’s already in these pieces. Instead, I thought I’d be more scientific about it and total the number of mistakes made in each party’s campaign leaflet (based on local literature delivered to my house in the district of Copeland, West Cumbria, UK – I can’t comment on similar literature elsewhere).

As of today (Friday 24 April), I have received pamphlets from four different competitors: the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP. I’ve actually received many different missives from UKIP, but for the sake of fairness I’ll only tally the mistakes on our candidate’s main leaflet for the ‘science bit’ (I may refer to other errors at a later stage).

After counting up the errors, here are my results (in alphabetical order, lest I be accused of having a preference):

Conservatives = 12

Labour = 14

Liberal Democrats = 10

UKIP = 13

As you can see, there isn’t a lot in it. I guess we’re looking at a hung parliament with no clear majority…

Let’s take a closer look:

Conservatives (12)

Despite the number of errors, most of these were pretty minor, with most being issues with spacing or punctuation. The worst offenders for me were.

helped by our Help to Buy and record low interest rates.

‘Scheme’ missing after ‘Help to Buy’ here.

first time buyers.

Should be ‘first-time buyers’.

Labour (14)

Labour didn’t do as well as the Tories here, with some odd punctuation choices and illogical and inconsistent capitalization of subheadings. So we had

There’s a lot of hard work still to be done: but our brightest days are ahead of us.

Odd punctuation; would expect a comma rather than a colon.


Massive new nuclear investments in Copeland and Barrow means that

Should be ‘mean that’.

This investment won’t just make our major road safer, but it will boost business and bring our communities closer together.

Should read something like ‘make our major road safer; it will also boost business…’

Budget cuts imposed by the coalition

Should be ‘the Coalition’, at least according to the Coalition’s website.

My favourite (or least favourite?) of all was this horrible sentence:

Budget cuts imposed by the coalition have caused us tough times, but with Labour’s local plan to protect and develop our health services, to invest in and improve our schools and training facilities, to regenerate our town centres and to create an opportunity economy for everyone in Copeland means that we can build a better future for Copeland.

The late repetition of ‘Copeland’ is downright ugly, but what about the sentence’s length?Eat your heart out, James Joyce!

Liberal Democrats (10)

‘Only’ 10 errors for the Lib Dems makes them front runners in my imaginary election, but they’re still ones that shouldn’t be there. For example, despite being chair of his local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society for 17 years, our Lib Dem candidate didn’t think to include the apostrophe in ‘Alzheimer’s’.

Also, bulleted sentences don’t always follow on logically from the first part of the sentence, so we have

In Copeland the Lib Dems have helped rebuild our economy and delivered… 3,800 local people have had a £800 tax cut , 4,180 more apprentices In [‘in’] West Cumbria, Won Equal [‘equal’] marriage for local couples.

Surely ‘An £800 tax cut for 3,800 local people’, ‘in West Cumbria’ and ‘equal’ are better options?

And good ol’ random capitalization rears its ugly head again:

‘Think before you Vote’

Why the capital ‘v’?

UKIP (13)

I have to admit that I expected worse from UKIP, as they seem to have a bit of a reputation for their candidates being ‘uneducated’. Based solely on the number of errors in their candidate’s main leaflet, however, they don’t appear any less educated than the other three parties discussed above.

So we have a couple of relatively minor errors:

I wish to see a better Local NHS

What’s wrong with ‘local NHS’?

yours sincerely, Michael Pye


However, the real doozy was the fact that the leaflet consistently misspelt his promoter and publisher’s address (twice in this leaflet, and on four out of five different pamphlets sent to me). The address given is ‘The Pavillion 36 Duke Street Millham Cumbria’ [it should read ‘The Pavilion, 36 Duke Street, Millom, Cumbria’. Oops.]

As an aside, I’ve also just taken another look at the other four leaflets my local UKIP candidate sent me. In them the two that mention his address call the road ‘Daleview’ (it is, in fact, ‘Dale View’), one has the wrong mobile number (an extra digit has been randomly inserted), one gives his email address as michaelpye~ukiplocal.org (which won’t get you anywhere if you try and contact him), one gives a non-existent postcode (there is no ‘CLA18’ area, no matter how hard you look) and one not only spells the publisher’s building and town name wrong but also dispenses entirely with the word ‘Street’ and the postcode!

I guess I’m only left with the option of voting for the party whose candidate hasn’t actually sent any literature out yet – the Greens. Of course, that may all change come tomorrow’s post…

When Spellcheck won’t help you…and Autocorrect fails.

Spellcheck is many people’s favourite tool when writing; it’s great for picking out niggly spelling and grammatical errors. However, what it’s less good at is spotting words used out of context. If it’s in the dictionary, it’s deemed ‘acceptable’.

So you get odd things happening at times, such as articles where the writer has obviously become confused by two homonyms, and the results come out something like these (the below come from a Digital Tutors blog post about the game engines Unity and Unreal):

one engine might rain supreme

And this particularly poorly structured sentence – who are its ‘dominants’, exactly? The people who’ve been oppressing a game engine?

When it comes to mobile games that is where Unity really shows its dominants, with many popular mobile games created with it, it’s really become a mobile developers go-to game engine.

Finally, the penultimate paragraph has this recommendation:

‘We’re so krazy, we eschew dictionaries!’

First of all, apologies for not blogging last week. I’ve been simultaneously editing two books, and paid work took over a bit, culminating in me realising at midnight on Friday that it was probably a little late to be thinking about what to post twelve hours ago.

This week’s post/rant is called ‘Spell it however you like – it’s still wrong’.

Why, oh why do some companies give themselves a name that sounds perfectly reasonable, but is spelt in a ‘unique’ way? I know it’s easier to potentially trademark a name further down the line if no one else uses that spelling, and that people can still understand what’s meant, but we’re not back at primary school learning phonics.

I’m thinking here of pack leaders like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Bratz dolls (I particularly dislike ‘Slurpee’, but that’s not so much a misspelling as a horrible word), although there are plenty of places out there who present a challenge to accepted orthographic standards.

Take ‘Krazy’, for example. I just googled the word and found one of the top hits to be a company named Krazy Kool Kastles, who hire out bouncy castles in Northern Ireland. I bet they don’t abbreviate their name very often. (Returning to Krispy Kreme for a moment, at least their Hull branch had the sense to drop its ‘KKK Wednesdays‘.)

Just the first three pages of Google bring up Krazy Playdays (soft play centre), Krazy Horse (motorcycle shop), Krazy Kat (theatre group), Krazy Kev’s (magician and balloon modeller), Krazy About Pizza (take a wild guess), Latin Krazy (dance teaching) and Krazy K9s (dog training). They’re so crazy that they shun the curly c!

It’s also interesting to me that when I just googled the name of a company that used to be known as ‘Wonderous Ink’ (and which used to have a list of FAQs on its website, one of which was a long explanation of how ‘wonderous’ was an older and well-established spelling of ‘wondrous’) that it has now changed its name to Wondrous Ink. I guess they got sick of all the Facebook and Twitter comments they were receiving about the company name, but they’ll never manage to erase the Google Images search results that clearly show the older (and incorrect) spelling (shown below). Which is a shame, because their books look lovely. The Internet elephant has a very long memory.

wonderous ink

I could probably go on for hours and trawl the Internet for more examples, but let me leave you with my favourite example, and the one which triggered the thought for this week: QwinnT’Sentiel Beauty. The name caught my eye when the company car was parked next door, and no matter how many times I reread it, I find it virtually impossible to commit the ‘correct’ name to memory. I know ‘quintessential’ is quite a tricky word to spell, but surely easier than ‘qwinnt’sentiel’? They may provide a fantastic service – I’m not doubting that for a moment – but I find the fact that I can’t spell their name really off-putting. And this company is a reseller of Younique cosmetic products, a name which really makes me cringe (although I guess that’s more a matter of personal taste, as spellegance no doubt is to some people)!

‘Til next week,


Literary ‘fails’: jumping on the ‘Fifty Shades’ bandwagon to make a point

First of all, I’ll hold my hands up and say I haven’t read the Fifty Shades books. I can’t therefore judge whether they’re gripping reads or garbage, but Grammarly‘s article ‘Fifty Shades of Grammar Mistakes‘ on the Huffington Post website illustrates perfectly the kind of issues that I have when reading an otherwise ‘good’ book.

If you’re anything like me, then these kind of errors – and worse ones – will leap out at you from the pages as if they’re in bold text, taking you out of the story. Since working as an editor and proofreader, I’ve become hyper-aware of what’s ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ in written work, but my history of spotting dodgy writing goes way, way back in time, to when I was about eleven and used a red pen to correct errors in the film tie-in book Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I remember, aged 15, being outraged that there were so many editorial errors in the copy of Faye Weldon’s The Life and Loves of A She-Devil that I got out of the library. Of course I didn’t annotate this copy – I’m a model citizen! – but the bizarre change of the lead character’s shoe size part-way through the book has stayed with me in my ‘top 10’ of fails ever since.

As an adult, I’ve tweeted companies to point out misspelled signs in various departments and emailed publishers regarding glaring mistakes in novels. For example – and yes, it’s Fay Weldon again, but I’d like to say for the record that I think she’s a great writer and I think her books are generally very well written, here is an email I sent to the publisher regarding the Corvus 2010 hardback 2010 edition of Kehua!:

Please find listed below the errors I found when reading ‘Kehua!’ a few months ago, in case any further editions haven’t picked up on these. This wasn’t an official ‘proofread’ – they are just things I noticed when reading for pleasure:
p.40, line 11: “I won’t do change it,” she said.
p.170, line 6 from bottom: quote from Janice starting “Janice replied, ‘A hymn. Glad that I live am I…” This makes it hard to figure out where Janice’s speech ends and the narrator’s voice takes over again.
p. 210, line 3: “She had made an Australian friend, Dionne, on the boat over.” BUT p. 210, lines 7-6 from bottom: “They both went to elocution lessons to get rid of their New Zealand accents.”
p. 228, line 15 from bottom: “Mary Stopes the birth-control heroine” (Marie)
p. 232, line 18: there is an extra gap between ‘Joey’ and ‘Matthews’.
p. 237, line 5 from bottom: “He is a big, handsome fleshy man, carelessly dressed, bright-eyed and forceful” (missing comma after ‘handsome’)
p. 261, line 13: “Alice took the tube down to King’s Cross” (Tube)
p. 311, chapter heading: “Another’s day’s writing” (Another day’s…)
p. 325, glossary: extra tab has been inserted so the definition of ‘tohunga’ is not lined up with the other definitions.

Perhaps you think I need to get out more!

Or take this email I sent regarding a rather major plot point in Dolly: A Ghost Story, by Susan Hill:

When speaking to Edward, Leonora says on p. 97, lines 9-11 of chapter 14: “Though as I am older and my mother [Violet] was older than yours [Dora], it would seem fairer that I get the lion’s share.” However, on p. 21, lines 1-3 of the second section, it says, “Kestrel Dickinson had been an only child for fourteen years before two sisters were born, Dora first and then Violet.”
This tactic hasn’t netted me any extra work so far, but I like to imagine it’s all part of me changing the world, one comma at a time.
If you enjoy ‘fails’ in writing, another copy-editor and proofreader who I know through LinkedIn has a fun Facebook page called ‘Dale’s Fails‘, where she collects particularly choice examples and usually posts a few a day. If you’re on Facebook, head over there and check out her page!
Finally, if anyone’s wondering what to get me for my next birthday, you can’t go wrong with Jenny Baranick’s Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares:
missed periods
I’m happy to read about grammar for work or pleasure – surely a sign that I’m in the right profession?
Until next time!