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.

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:

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!
S

Don’t leave your editing until the last minute!

In my past life in a communications department, one of the tasks I was regularly given was to do the final checks on magazines and leaflets before they went to press. This activity tended to follow a pattern:

  1. Document written by manager from one department or other (sometimes with input from team, sometimes not, often very last-minute).
  2. Document sent directly to design studio to put into magazine format and ‘prettify’.
  3. Document sent by print team to communications team to proofread before print run of several thousand. (Usually with an impending deadline.)
  4. Enormous email sent back to design studio containing all the corrections to be made before document was suitable to be sent to the public. (This was in the days when you couldn’t annotate Adobe Acrobat Reader PDFs electronically without buying the pro version.)
  5. Disgruntled email received by communications team from design studio, who’d spent a lot of time making the document look nice, asking why there were so many corrections needed. (A classic case of ‘shooting the messenger’?)
  6. Disgruntled email received by communications team from manager who’d originally written the document in question, asking why the design studio were stressing about the changes that needed to be made. (Messenger. Dead.)

My point is this:

Any document going out to the public – whether it be a beautifully printed and bound book, a four-page leaflet or a web page – is a sales pitch for the author, organisation or individual. However beautiful the finished product looks, glaring typos will make many readers question the quality of the service or work provided, as touched upon in my blog entry in November last year, Are spelling mistakes costing you money?

In the publishing world, you’d never get an author submitting their work directly to the typesetter to be laid out ready for print. There will, at the very least, be a diligent copy-editor checking the whole text for

  • correct formatting;
  • spelling and grammar;
  • factual accuracy;
  • internal consistency; and
  • adherence to the house style or style guide.

After the manuscript has been copy-edited it will be typeset (i.e. made to look like an actual book rather than a Word document) and then passed in its typeset form, usually as a PDF document, to a proofreader for a second read-through. The annotated (either on paper or electronically) PDF will then be returned for the typesetter to make the amendments before the book can be approved for print.

So why do people cut corners so often? The case discussed at the beginning of this post was a cash-strapped public body, so perhaps they’d be reluctant to hire a copy-editor or proofreader separately, but all it needed was for the writer of each document in question to send the original, in Word, to the communications team before it went to the design team. That way the errors in the original would have been removed at a sensible point in the process, everyone would have been happier, and a lot of time would have been saved.

Next time you’re writing a document for print or a web page to go on your site, think of this post… (And think of me!)

Sarah

P.S. As a footnote to the story above, shortly after I left the department, the communications toolkit we’d developed was due to be rolled out to all staff. One of the guidelines was to send all printed publications to somebody in communications to be correctly formatted, edited and proofread before the design stage, and mentioned that perhaps using the style guide set by the organisation (‘conveniently’ located about six mouse clicks away on the Intranet site) would be useful. Hopefully this would also be applied to the website (although I had more doubts about this as it was based on a content management system and the people allowed to write for it varied vastly in their abilities). I wonder if anything has changed in the last four years?