It’s green, but which one is it?

“Green with envy.”

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” (Yo, that’s from Shakespeare. Othello, Act III, scene 3.)

There’s envy, and there’s jealousy, and while common usage has conflated them to where perhaps it really doesn’t matter much to anyone anymore, there are times it’s worth knowing which is which. If you’re writing in a more formal register, or perhaps your fiction is a “period piece” with slightly dusty conventions, you might want to know how to use these words in the old-fashioned way. If you don’t care, you can stop reading here. Seriously. Don’t waste your time.  Continue reading

Little old ladies and blue polyester uniform pants

Do you always need to separate a string of adjectives with commas?

The short answer: No.

Here’s a perfect example of when you don’t have to. Consider the phrase “blue polyester uniform pants.” (Thanks to Doug Metz for that!) Would you say “blue and polyester and uniform pants?” I sure wouldn’t. They’re blue polyester, and they’re uniform pants. Take it further. Would you say “blue polyester and uniform pants” if you were talking about that pair of pants? Again, I don’t think so.

The classic phrase often used as an exemplar is “little old lady.” Would you say “little and old lady?” Doubtful. Even if you add another adjective, you still are unlikely to use commas: little old blue-haired lady.

If you wouldn’t use “and” between the adjectives, you don’t need to use a comma, either. It’s a simple test that nearly always works. (I’m hedging a little because I’m certain if I were to make a definitive pronouncement, someone would comment “But Karen . . .” and blow it all out of the water.)

Possessed by possessives

Let’s review possessives. Keep in mind I’m a Chicago gal (as in Chicago Manual of Style) so I use their conventions. If you use a different style guide, you can find those guidelines in your manual.

Michael Jones owns a car. It’s Michael Jones’s car. (Add the ‘s. You say it when you speak, so type or write it, too.)

Michael and Sarah Jones own a house together. It’s the Joneses’ house. (Joneses is the plural of Jones. Add just an apostrophe, because plural possessives don’t take the additional S.

Michael’s work is Mr. Jones’s job. Sarah’s is Mrs. Jones’s job.

And I’ll bet they have separate toothbrushes, so there’s Michael’s and Sarah’s toothbrushes. BUT, they probably own the TV in the parlor jointly, so that’s Michael and Sarah’s TV. (Or Sarah and Michael’s TV. Let them sort that out.)

If they have a friend named Jesus Garcia, and he’s got a car too, that’s Jesus’s car. If you’re talking about the Biblical figure Jesus, you don’t add the S; that’s considered a “classical or historical name,” and those take just the apostrophe. Moses’ tent. Xerxes’ troops. Jesus’ birth.

And I’ll leave it at that. If you have questions, comment and I’ll respond as I have time. It’s copy-editing day here.

This editor talks about editing.

Editors are not teachers. They might have been teachers prior to becoming editors. They might even teach on the side. But they will not teach writers English. That’s not what editing is.

That’s one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve encountered since I’ve been an editor. I taught English, sure. But I became an editor after that, and I’m an editor. Not a teacher. However, that doesn’t mean that in my work I don’t attempt to impart any useful information. I’d be a pretty awful editor if I didn’t try to explain why I made a certain change, or why I’m not making THIS one but perhaps the writer would like to because whatever. Continue reading

I didn’t catch that: Idiomatic speech

“It’s raining cats and dogs.”

“He’s all washed up.”

“That’s straight from the horse’s mouth.”

At least two of those statements are always idiomatic in nature. That is, their meaning is not readily understood by the words composing them. Cats and dogs are not falling from the sky. Horses don’t speak human speech, and nothing I care much about comes directly from a horse’s mouth. (Horse saliva? Thanks, I got mine already.)

But what about “He’s all washed up” as an idiom? He could be ready to eat, and has washed his hands and face prior to coming to the table; he’s all washed up. There, it’s more of a regional speech than an idiom. The words mean (almost) what they look like they’d mean.

Now, what if he’s been given a task to complete on pain of losing his position in something (the workplace, a sports team, the HOA landscaping committee), and he’s failed to do so? We could say “he’s all washed up,” meaning “he failed,” “he’s done for” (an idiom in itself), “he’s finished” (ditto, especially if he’s washed up because he didn’t finish!).

And “I didn’t catch that” means “I didn’t hear you,” usually. Nothing’s been literally thrown, so it can’t be literally caught.

G-string, but g-force

In the category of “things editors need to fact-check,” today we have “G-string.”

First, a bit of culture. Please enjoy this video of “Air on the G-string” by J. S. Bach, played on original instruments. I suspect that means “on instruments originally specified by the composer” as opposed to “instruments the original composer used in his own lifetime,” but I could be wrong. It happens.

When we write about strippers (see why I shared some classical culture first?), we probably write about what they wear. Those little bits of fabric that keep the dancers just on the proper side of the law (except where total nudity is legal, that is) are called “G-strings” with a capital G. According to Chambers, the original spelling was “gee-string” (1878), but by 1891 it had changed to “G-string.” It’s very possible that the term’s related to the string of a violin tuned to G. They’re both about the same width. ::cough:: I exaggerate, of course, but you get the point. Or the picture. Whatever. Also according to Chambers, the first recorded use of the term to refer to something a stripper wears dates to 1936, in Big Money by John Dos Passos.

By comparison, “g-force” is styled with a lower-case g because that’s how gravity is referenced in physics equations. It’s not an arbitrary editorial decision. We need to be aware of why terms are styled the way they are.

And now, I have to get back to this project with the G-string. Something about a demon dancer in a strip club. No Bach, I’m sure.

I’ve been busy.

I haven’t been busy writing blog posts, obviously, but I’ve been busy.

In addition to the moving of the older bonus daughter to her college digs last weekend, I’ve also been juggling multiple editing projects, most of which are in the same phase (starting this month, that is). That means busier than usual. See, we need a new furnace installed, so I’m taking on extra work to make the money to pay the man to install it.


Anyway, I just sent one book back to the author for approval last night. I finished the initial read-through on another yesterday afternoon, and I’m in the middle of that phase with a third one (the shortest of the three, at 57K words). I’m waiting for a fourth to hit my inbox in a week or two; the author’s going to Japan until mid-December or so, and we’ll be in touch while he’s there thanks to the magic of teh intarwebz, but I know he wants to get it to me in a timely fashion so I can turn it around fairly quickly. (It’s the fourth installment in a series, if you’re wondering, and I happen to have edited everything this man has ever written. Everything. No kidding. Watching him develop his skills is like having a front-row seat at Penn and Teller, except sometimes he lets us see past the distractions in a blog post or such. He doesn’t realize how much he’s taught me.)

So anyway, that’s why I haven’t posted here since late August.

Working. Busy. Yeah.

Superannuated Syntax: “Hard by”

“The house sat hard by a small stream.”

It did what? Did it fall from the sky, like Dorothy’s farmhouse, and “sit hard” on someone?

Nothing nearly so exciting, I fear. This phrase means simply “near.” My copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles tells me that this usage of “hard” (with “by”) is archaic and dates to 1526. The meaning of “hard” is “close, of time or place,” but the sense of “of time” is no longer used. Continue reading

Now Offering Critiques!

Clients and supporters have told me for some time now that I should do developmental editing.

It took me a while to come around, but I concur with them. I’m offering critiques for $35/hour, separate from my copy/line editing services. Details are on my CV here. Click on the NEW SERVICE link under INFORMATION.

They talked; I finally listened. Let’s do this thing.

Definitely indefinite, or “Which article should I use?”

I knew I’d written about this before. Here’s the proof. However, I’ll write about it again because it keeps coming back.

The issue at hand is whether one uses a or an before a given abbreviation. I’m sure that you were drilled on this in school (I sure was) by a teacher who insisted that you use a before a consonant and an before a vowel.

That’s partly correct. Continue reading