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:

Children’s picture books: So few words, so many mistakes!

We’re all guilty of typos at some point, be it due to writing something in a rush, not checking Autocorrect has, erm, autocorrected correctly or because we have something else occupying our thoughts at the same time.

I don’t make a habit of criticising errors in friends’ emails, blog posts or Facebook status updates – what’s the point? – but I tend to be critical when basic errors appear where it really matters.

And this is what I’d like to talk about this week.

This happens all too often in the spellegance household: I get out a beautifully illustrated and typeset book from the library, sit down to read it with the kids, and immediately start noticing typos (I can’t switch off my proofreader’s brain, no matter how hard I try). It wouldn’t be so bad if these were longer books, but these are books of no more than 30 pages, with very few words. And these are for young children to enjoy – children who are learning how to read; children who still don’t fully understand the rules of grammar and spelling. How, then, are they supposed to learn when professional writers and editors aren’t picking up basic mistakes?

A particular bugbear of mine is in the series of Zoe and Beans books (Zoe is a little girl and Beans a dog, for those who haven’t read the books) by Chloe and Mick Inkpen, both well established in the world of children’s books. Yet comma use (or lack of it) seems to be a real problem for them:

Fetch Beans! Fetch!

(Fetch the beans? Are we going to do a spot of cooking?)

What is it Beans?

(?)

Fetch him Beans

(Yes, quickly – he’s hungry!)

Look Beans!

(I give up.)

There are also other issues besides, such as the way ‘Little Bear’ and ‘little Bear’ are used interchangeably and a full stop is missed out altogether, but the comma thing is what really bothers me here, as it’s not a one-off.

In the last batch of library books we had out, we had some odd grammar in rhyming poetry in Upside Down Babies, an otherwise fun and well-written book:

‘What a funny baby, no matter how I try’, Mummy Parrot said, ‘this chick won’t fly!’

What’s wrong with a semicolon or a full stop after ‘baby’?

And this beauty, in The Best Present Ever:

She was posing proudly wearing a beautiful silk dress, that gleamed with gold embroidery, dazzled with diamonds. And yes of course, teamed with stunning perfect pearls!

Oh dear. Even MS Word’s spellchecker knows the first comma is wrong – why didn’t the author or publisher use a spellcheck tool? (Don’t get me started on the missing comma after ‘yes’ in the final sentence.)

The Best Present Ever also had a really odd moment where it got its tenses mixed up in dialogue:

She announced to the King that she had a present for him and it was to be the best present he had ever had. But what could it be? The King tried to guess. “Was it a new crown?” he asked. “No,” said the Queen, “you already have lots in the Royal Jewels Room.” “Was it new shoes?” he tried to guess. “No!” sighed the Queen. “When you already have 412 pairs!” “Really!” he gasped.

(Surely ‘Is it a new crown?’ [etc.] would have been a more usual thing to say…and starting the last exclamation with ‘When’ doesn’t work at all.)

Along with the Zoe and Beans books, I had another series of books in mind, as the last one I tried to read was so full of errors I refused to take it home – but alas! the only one they had to loan out was already in some poor child’s home. I would have had a field day with that one.

I guess the point of this rather rambling post is that if writers, editors and proofreaders can manage to shape a several-hundred-page novel into something relatively error-free, how is it possible to make even one error – let alone several – in books of under 30 pages? If anything, it’s more important to get it right early on than at any other point in people’s lives. Children learn from what adults tell them. If those adults are teaching them wrongly, the same mistakes will be made again and again.

Have you spotted anything in a children’s book recently that’s bugged you? I’d love you to share examples with me on here or on Twitter (@spellegance).

Until next time,

Sarah

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?

Apostrophe or no apostrophe? That is the question…

As I mentioned last week, one of my 2015 resolutions is to read up more on grammar, and I thought I’d share some tips/thoughts every now and again.

I thought I’d start small, with the humble apostrophe.

Why do I still see so many people and companies – both big and small – opting to precede their ‘s’ with an apostrophe when pluralizing? Why are people still struggling with ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? I thought I’d try and clear up a couple of issues with this week’s post.

It’s vs. Its: a simple question.

It helps to remember that ‘it’s’ is just a contraction of ‘it is’. So simply write down a sentence including ‘it’s’, then insert ‘it is’ in its place. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, you should most likely be using ‘its’- or else another word entirely!

Another way to look at it is this: his means ‘belonging to him’ and hers means ‘belonging to her’; therefore its means ‘belonging to it’. For example: She looked up at the building. Its windows were lit up.

Grocer’s apostrophes*

apostrophes-for-sale

I’m sure a lot of you will have seen this cartoon already, but it’s so good I thought I’d share it again…

Wherever I go, it seems like more and more people are falling in love with the grocer’s apostrophe. I’m pretty sure that when I was at school (not that long ago – and grammar certainly hasn’t changed that much since!) we were taught that to create most plurals you simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of a word.

You might have seen my tweets before about misuse of these little fellows (Lidl’s ‘Grocers Case Clementine’s’ and the card in Tesco proclaiming ‘Birthday’s Rock’ being cases in point), but they are everywhere. The OxfordWords blog quotes from the Guardian in 2002:

The apostrophe, it sometimes seems, is like an insect – an apostrofly – over the dining table, alighting where it will.

It really rankles every time I see a ‘Brian’s Taxi’s’ cab drive past. Perhaps it’ll bother me less if I imagine one of those pesky apostroflies has come to a sticky end on the side of the cab.

I can kind of understand wanting to use an apostrophe in an abbreviation (such as signs reading Not suitable for HGV’s, garages offering MOT’s or an old Island Records poster mentioning CD’s) or to refer to years (e.g. ‘1980’s); although it’s still incorrect, it doesn’t look as odd. Or perhaps I’ve just become so accustomed to it that it doesn’t stand out as much.

The good old Oxford English Dictionary points out that there are instances where you can use an apostrophe before a plural ‘s’:

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

Find all the p’s in appear.

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.

They then go on to use bold type, which shows how strongly they feel about the matter:

remember that an apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

There are a couple other uses of the apostrophe that I could go into in more detail, but I’d suggest heading over to the OED’s website, where you can find more detail on how to use the apostrophe in the following contexts:

  • possession (as in ‘its’ above, and also when dealing with nouns and proper nouns ending in ‘s’); and
  • to denote omission (as in ‘it’s’, for example).

To end off, let me quote verbatim from a sign I saw recently:

We are looking for a professional person to join our successful team, the hour’s will be 10 or more, the job will include bar work, kitchen work, and to help set up conference’s, and holiday relief in general dutie’s.

The apostroflies have landed again.

Until next week…

* My husband just suggested I insert a grocer’s apostrophe into the title as a joke, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

My Christmas present to you: proofreading tips (and my year in summary)

With the flurry of activity in the Spellegance family household this morning, it’ll be a short one from me this week!

I thought I’d start with my Christmas gifts to you – firstly, a link to a blog from 9 December, 11 Proofreading Tips to Help You Write with Confidence, which contains handy tips for non-proofreaders to write with confidence, in instances where they don’t have a proofreader on hand.*

Secondly, for all you other bloggers out there, I found this post (admittedly from August 2011, but still relevant) entitled 11 Blog Proofreading Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore.

As the end of the year is rapidly approaching, I thought I’d finish with a quick summary of this year’s happenings, and hopefully illustrate in the process why I love my job…

Since January, I’ve proofread or edited 15 different books – not bad considering I’ve only been working very part-time and have only increased my hours recently. These have ranged from an acclaimed novel written in Brazil and published in the UK for the first time this year to a philosophical look at the nature of belief.

I’ve had a varied and interesting year in factual titles, reading about science fiction films, the philosophy of belief, a massacre in Angola, the state of arts funding in Britain, the Royal Navy during World War I, Aneurin Bevan (the founder of the NHS) and the current situation in and history of Ukraine. I’m finishing off the year in style, with a look at the world of beauty, burlesque and feminism, which seems appropriate given the pressure women’s magazines place on us to be glamorous over the party season!

In fiction I’ve travelled on a road trip round Africa, met a Brazilian girl living by the roadside and her older lover, followed a young Libyan boy on his journey of self-discovery, investigated Finnish murders, had a taste of life in South Africa, experienced life in Ukraine during World War II through the eyes of a German major, and got to know a Maori detective a little better after my previous meeting with him two years ago.

And I’ve become a writer as well as a reader/editor since starting this blog…

This is all in addition to the less exciting elements of my work: business planning, attending training, researching websites and logos, record-keeping and trying to keep on top of Twitter and social media in general.

(And of course there’s the non-work stuff of family and hobbies, but that would be another blog in itself. No wonder I feel tired!)

Things to do, places to be…so I’ll end by raising a goblet of mulled wine to you all! Have a very Happy Christmas, and I’ll see you all in 2015!

Merry Christmas!

Sarah

* Please note that this is not a substitute for hiring a professional!

The pleasure of beautiful writing – an appreciation of some lesser-known titles

Just a quick one from me this week after the whirlwind of school Christmas events, editing work and endless list-making…

It’s all too easy to focus on things that are ‘wrong’ or pick out amusing typos (I still snigger like a child when I see ‘pubic’ in place of ‘public’, and could barely contain my mirth when my husband recounted the tale of an e-book where OCR software had converted the printed ‘burn’ to ‘bum’), but I think it’s also important to celebrate what’s being done well.

Following on from Buzzfeed’s ’51 Of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature’ and their ‘6 Perfect Sentences’ last December, I thought I’d share a selection of my favourite excerpts taken from books I’ve edited or proofread this year. (Please note that I can’t provide the source for some of these, as some won’t be published until 2015.) In no particular order, here they are:

From Nowhere People, Paulo Scott:

In the story she told him there was a colourless girl who very much liked being kissed. One day ‘the colourless girl was by the side of the road when a squad of bikers passed her and one of them threw an apple at her back. She almost fell over, she was hurt. They stopped a few metres on, took off their helmets, laughedat her. The day, which had been lovely and sunny, clouded over. Hurt, the apple looked sad, sadder even than the girl,’ that’s how he wrote it down. And she will watch the leaves on the trees and she won’t know when his leg has gone to sleep and the time has come for them to go.

From a book due to be published in April 2015:

He travelled along a dirt lane, straight and white like a parting in the hair, between fields of new grass where larks sang and quails called out with their three notes, clear like water drops.

Due to be published in January 2015:

The thunderstorm was right overhead now. It was like the sky was pummelling the city in its ribs.

Due for publication in March 2015, this description of the prelude to the protagonist settling down to watch a rugby match on TV:

All was in readiness. The highly decorated (and priced) bottle of Pinot Noir had been breathing for a couple of hours. The fire, craftily tended and force-fed, had worked itself into a yellow-orange fury generating so much heat that the room had been opened up and outer layers discarded. The lamb shanks had been slow-cooked into submission. The panel of pundits had squeezed every last drop out of the bleeding obvious and hedged their bets. The players were about to take the field.

Another book due out in January 2015:

There were fiery and unknowable impulses just below the smooth skin. A frail bravado, an unsettling unpredictability. Above all, he possessed a hungry kind of beauty.

Under the Tripoli Sky, Kamal Ben Hameda:

And, as often happens when the night decides to divulge its secrets, the darkness was vast, like a confession of love. The stars looked on calmly as they busily wove the sky’s face. They were there in their groups, jostling for position as if wanting to console me with an initial burst of chaotic movement, for once forgetting their place in the heavenly hierarchy so that I could touch them with my hand.

And my personal favourite, from the book mentioned above due out in April 2015:

The crickets outside were like steel nibs scratching the dark.

I love the fact that however tedious an editing task may be (I’m sure all editors must hate proofreading footnotes and bibliography sections as much as I do!), I also sometimes stumble across sentences of unexpected beauty and poetry like the ones above.

And with that, I’ll have to love you and leave you, as I have another Christmas concert to attend! Until next week…