Partaking in pedantry

I’m being up front about this one, folks. I’m being pedantic and I know it.

Once again we’re looking at the difference between formal usage and informal, or so it seems from what I can gather. The words in question are partake and participate.

Strictly speaking (you’ll notice I said “strictly”), to partake in something is to take a share of it. It’s most often used when speaking of a meal, or of something in which those who participate literally take something. (There’s that other word . . .)

To participate in something means to take part in it (not take a part of it). We participate in social media conversations. We participate in intramural sports. We participate in choral singing. Nothing’s being taken; we’re taking part, we’re spending time and energy.

The Encarta World English Dictionary shows “participate” as the third (last) possible meaning for the word “partake.” That means it’s used in that manner, but it’s not the best meaning/usage. “Partake,” however, does not appear anywhere in the definitions for “participate.” “To take part in” does not necessarily equate to “to take part of.” (Pesky prepositions and their nuances . . .)

Strictly speaking, the title of this blog post should be “Participating in pedantry.” I’m not taking anything away. I’m taking time and energy to compose it, proofread it, and post it. I’m participating in an activity. And, were I to be copyediting someone’s work and find “partake” used where “participate” is the better choice, I would note it as such in a comment. It really can matter. Not always, but often.

Now, I’m off to plan dinner, of which my husband and I will partake later tonight. (We will participate in the act of dining, and partake of the meal.)  Pedantry is optional, but available.

Usage tip for 9/17: Omit the word, keep the hyphen

“But Karen, that makes no sense!” Not yet, it doesn’t, because I haven’t told you what it means. Hold yer horses; we’re going for a little ride.

It’s covered in the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Ed., under section 7.84: Omission of part of a hyphenated expression. “When the second part of a hyphenated expression is omitted, the hyphen is retained, followed by a space.” That is a concise statement, but doesn’t really explain the why of the practice.

You know how I like to go on about GUM issues. Heh.

 
I’ll use an example from some of the work I’ve done in the last couple of days. The writer nailed it out of the gate; I made no correction (I didn’t need to!) or comment, but she queried me anyway. Nothing wrong with doing that. Also, there was nothing wrong with her writing. So, here we go.

“Make it a two- or three-course meal.”

What’s that hyphen doing after “two?” It’s indicating that there’s an understood word (one that’s not physically present, but that is contextually present) attached to “two,” and it appears later in the sentence attached to another similar word (in this case, the word “three”). Rather than repeating the same word twice (or more, in some cases), you can eliminate it and retain the hyphen from the full construction to indicate the actual sense to the reader.

Huh?

Rather than saying “Make it a two-course or three-course meal” you can remove the first “course” but retain the hyphen attached to “two.” “Make it a two- or three-course meal.” It works backward for a reader. When you see a hyphen attached to a word in that way, you have a signal that there’s a word later in the sentence attached to another similar word in the same way, and that will give you the full sense of what’s being said.

And of course now I could go for a three-course meal. Indian or Thai?

 

You say employer, I say employee

“Okay, okay,” you say. “Pointing out typos and other copy editing failures is fun and all, but does any of this stuff really matter?”

Well, how about this? In Albuquerque, New Mexico, officials recently wrote up a proposal to increase the minimum wage and change how employees receive tips, hoping to get it on the November ballot. More than 12,000 people signed it, and the proposal seemed on its way to a slam-dunk victory, before someone noticed an error in a key section. Here’s the troublesome passage:

The measure would also require that starting in 2013, employers of tipped employees like waitresses and waiters be paid at least 45 percent of the minimum wage in cash wages from their employers.

See the problem? According to the wording above, who will be receiving the wages here? That’s right—the employers. Obviously, it should be the employees who will benefit from the change in minimum wage and tips, not their bosses. But that’s not what the proposal says. Councilor Ken Sanchez, one of the sponsors, said that if the proposal passes as is, lawsuits will probably be filed against the city.

As you might imagine, changing the wording of a government proposal after it’s been voted on involves just a bit of bureaucracy. Albuquerque city councilors are thinking about letting the current proposal appear on the ballot and also putting up another version with corrected wording. (Sure—that won’t be confusing to voters.)

Whatever happens, this is a good lesson in clear writing, good copy editing, and/or careful proofreading—take your pick.

(Here’s the source of this story.)

 

 

Two really unfortunate typos

Hi, folks! I haven’t been too present on the blog lately. I was away for much of last week on a family vacation, and tomorrow I’m heading to GenCon to see old friends, but I recently found* two typos that I had to share. Consider them snacks to tide you over until a real post comes along.

First, you’ve heard of Porsche, right? Their cars ain’t cheap, so you’d figure the company would have a little money to invest in producing great ads. However, they seem to have skimped on the proofreading in this series of billboards promoting their Boxster. I always say if you’re going to misspell the name of your own product, you might as well do it big.

Next up is this obituary, which contains a hilariously inappropriate acronym in the photo caption. Apparently, some folks on Twitter have called this the “worst caption fail of all time.” I really don’t know how this particular error can be explained. You’d have to go out of your way to make this mistake. One theory is that the caption writer meant to signify “lots of love,” but that just makes me LOL.

(When I say I “found” these typos, I mean I read about them online. One of them was sent to me by a friend, and one of them was discovered while browsing. I much prefer taking photos of real typos in the wild, but until Karen and I launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund our world travels for that very purpose, a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do what a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do.)

Everyone can decide for themselves.

No, really. Everyone can make their own decisions about the singular “they.” (I happen to know that Ray and I are on opposite sides of this particular issue. I’m posting about it only because someone I’ve known longer than I’ve known Ray posted about it over on my Facebook wall about a half-hour ago, and in the process of responding to her, I relocated the two wonderful blog entries that helped me face my fear of “singular they” and move past it.)

You may or may not realize that being up in arms over “singular they” while remaining placid about “singular you” could be called hypocritical by some. (Not by me, but by some who are even more rabidly grammar-nerdly than I. There are such people. Oh, yes, there are.) I point this out as a matter of concern for my readers’ relative safety while roaming the Internet.

Once upon a time, long long ago (but not in a galaxy far far away), “ye” (now “you”) was the plural second-person pronoun, and “thou” (now mostly extinct except in historical and fantasy writing) was the second-person singular. Over time, the latter fell into disuse and the former became the acceptable catch-all second-person singular and plural pronoun. And that, my readers, is how we wound up needing phrases like “all of you” and dialectical constructs like “you’uns” and “all y’all” (because “y’all” is singular, you know?). Pitching a fit over a singular they, but accepting singular you without question, causes some people to react very badly indeed. Of course we’re still in the very midst of the shift for the singular they, while most of us were raised with the singular you (unless we lived in Yorkshire in the 1940’s, for example, when “tha” was the dialectical form of “thou” used in everyday speech).

And so, here are the links I mentioned at the start of this ramble. I hope that if nothing else you will find them entertaining. (I can also hope that some of you might decide that the singular they makes sense, just like the singular you does.)

http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2011/12/16/pronoun-agreement-out-the-window/

http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/01/05/dogma-and-evidence/

I want to address one more point, because I can hear the thought rumbling around out there in the ether. While I have come to accept the usefulness of singular they when the gender of the antecedent cannot be known and I want to avoid the wordiness of “his or hers” or “himself or herself” or what-have-you, when I am copy editing this is an issue I discuss with the author. If said author is apoplectic at the concept of the singular they, I will do my best to recast sentences to not need gender specificity. If said author is receptive to the concept, happiness ensues. It’s all part of my job, ensuring that the author’s voice is clear even after I’ve fixed all the problems. This isn’t really a problem. It’s a choice–one that everyone can make for themselves.

 

I’m not making this up. Honest.

I’ve been ranting a lot here and elsewhere about the sorry state of ebooks from indie authors, relating to the (apparent) lack of editorial skills (paid or otherwise) applied to those ebooks. I decided to provide concrete examples from the book I’m currently trying to read. I say trying, because I want to read it, I want to enjoy it, but the appalling number of errors is really harshing on my serenity, dude.

I won’t name names or titles, or say where I got the book. I will say I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, though. If I’d parted with any money for this I’d be pretty upset. More upset than I already am. At least having paid nothing for it, I can’t bemoan the loss of money I could have spent on, I don’t know, food or gas or something useful. All I’m losing is time.

These, then, are actual errors from an actual book. I’m not making this up. Honest.

I will note that I’m only 25% of the way through the book, according to my Kindle. I took a tip from another editor and started highlighting errors as I came across them. What an eye-opener that was! I mean, I knew there were errors; I can’t not see them. Proofreading is hardwired into my brain. However, highlighting them makes them seem that much worse. Now I really can’t not see them.

Some of them I’ll explain, some I’ll let speak for themselves. By all means comment if you don’t understand why I’ve called something an error. I’ll do my best to enlighten. I will also state that I’m not quoting full sentences, but only the portions containing the error. It’s also important to know that the writer is from the UK, so some of the mechanics just drive me batty on principle and some of the word choices are unfamiliar to me.

#############

no sights, no sound (For parallelism, I’d change that to “sounds” in this description of a setting.)

standing next to it, was M (Delete that unnecessary comma.)

lit up the lens of his glasses (Unless he’s wearing a monocle, he has lenses, plural.)

gunge (As an American English speaker, I didn’t know this word. It’s a UK term that I figured out contextually and then checked against a dictionary online. If I had been editing I might’ve queried it even after finding the definition. Therefore, this isn’t so much an error as a language issue–but I’m still pointing it out as something that can stop readers in their tracks.)

” . . . we can-.” (Oh, dear me. No. Not even in British usage. If the sentence/thought isn’t finished, there’s no period, no full stop, whatever you wish to call that dot at the end. Also, rather than a hyphen, I’d have used an em-dash to indicate the sudden breaking of the thought/speech. This particular mechanical error occurs throughout the book. I cheated and looked ahead, so I know.)

“Just one . . . at a time”. (Again, no. The period’s at the end of the spoken sentence, so it goes inside the closed quotation mark. I’ve read quite a few blogs lately about US vs. UK mechanics, and quotation marks with other punctuation is one of the most confusing things on both sides of the pond. However–no. It’s a sentence; it has a definite end; put the period inside the quote.)

alright (It’s not all right to use this. It’s all wrong. Two words. Always. All right? Thanks.)

small with a blue studs on top (It’s either a single stud, or perhaps this is a possessive missing its apostrophe and its object. I think it’s the first, and I’d delete that “s” on the end of “stud.”)

industrial sized Hoover (Adjectives made from two words–called compound adjectives–are often hyphenated. “Industrial-sized.” To a point this comes down to the editor’s preference in conjunction with a style guide, such as the CMoS. I far prefer the unambiguous hyphenation to an open version that in some cases leads to confusion or misunderstanding. That, and I like the look of the hyphenated form. So there. I suspect that in this case one might argue that “industrial-sized” is a temporary compound. I’ve not looked for the term in any dictionaries, so I can’t say. The concept is familiar to anyone who shops at places like Sam’s Club or Costco, though.)

give a once over (The idiom is hyphenated. “Once-over.”)

cotton weaved interior (I’m not entirely clear on the intent, here. I think the writer means the interior of this particular wig is woven from cotton. I’d have suggested changing it to “woven cotton interior.” On further discussion with the writer, I might have ended up with something more like “woven cotton cap,” since I believe that’s what the base of a wig is called–the part that fits the head like a cap, that is. I’m indulging in conjecture, of course.)

cheers and laughter . . . was a cacophony (I’d recast this, because while it seems a quick fix to say “were” and have the plural form for the plural subject, we’re also in that messy area of reciprocity. The sentence can’t be easily reversed using the same words (“cacophony” as the subject requires “was,” but “cheers and laughter” as the subject require “were”). I’d suggest recasting the sentence entirely to avoid the issue, and perhaps use the verb “created” instead of the form of “to be,” which is the heart of the problem.)

To the greying ice cream man, he couldn’t help but think . . (The greying fellow is the “he” following the comma. The sentence needs to be recast to eliminate the clumsiness. Perhaps “To the greying ice cream man the crowd looked like nothing so much as a cross between . . . .” Trust me, that’s where the sentence was going. I didn’t want to type the whole thing as it appears in the book, though.)

white-clothed (Again, this needs a hyphen.)

The driver slammed the breaks (No he didn’t. He slammed the brakes. A live proofreader would’ve caught this one.)

her inner thighs ran red raw from . . . (It took me a while to realize what’s needed here, I think because I was getting numb from the number of errors assaulting my editorial senses. Inserting a comma after “red” helps quite a bit, but I still would query the “running red” part. I know the condition the author’s describing, and I wouldn’t use the term “running” with it. “Were chafed and red,” perhaps. The way it’s written sounds like a hemorrhage.)

marine life getup (Another case here of needing a hyphen to create an adjectival compound. “Marine-life.”)

baggy (Pants are baggy. The plastic bag is a “baggie.”)

un-amused (Here’s one of the hyphens that was missing from the compound adjectives. It doesn’t belong in this word; “unamused” is a closed form.)

pre-occupied (Here’s another one. Delete it and close the space. “Preoccupied.”)

buy one get one free offer (Now we’re back to needing hyphens. “Buy-one-get-one-free offer.”)

collapse on to the floor (Usage problem. One could say “collapse on the floor” or “collapse to the floor,” but “collapse on to” is just poor usage.)

oxidisation (Aside from the UK s-for-z spelling issue, this just isn’t a word. The one the writer wanted was “oxidation.”)

pressed him for a minutae (sic) more (Just–no. No. One cannot have “a minutiae.” “Pressed him for more minuitae” preserves the author’s word choice and is grammatically correct. I had originally written another suggestion with a different word entirely, but I like this one much better. And I corrected the misspelling.)

spaghetti bolognaise (If you’re going to write about a food, know how to spell it. Particularly when the food is regional Italian, like “spaghetti Bolognese.” Capitalize the “B” because this is a proper adjective.)

############

That’s where I stopped taking notes for the time being. You’ll notice I’m not fussing about pacing, or characterization, or plot, or any of those bigger things. I’m not a story/fiction/developmental editor. I’m a copy editor and a proofreader. I see these little things that many people seem to consider “nitpicking.” They’re far from nitpicking, though. They’re signs of someone with an imperfect grasp of grammar and mechanics who would have done well to have hired someone like me–or any other professional copy editor/proofreader–to look over the work before publication. Then, readers like me wouldn’t find themselves becoming irritated and unable to enjoy the story because of the plethora of errors in the “nitpicky stuff.”

I’ll also say: I learned a new phrase from this book. “Keep schtum” means “keep quiet, particularly if you’ll get in more trouble otherwise.” While it sounds Yiddish, it apparently came from the criminal culture of the UK. It might come in handy someday, so I’ll tuck it away for later.

I would hope that this has shed some light on how a typical copy editor’s brain works while they’re reading. (I think I’m typical, anyway. I’m damned good at what I do, but I don’t think I’m all that special when compared to other professional copy editors.) That’s why I did it. Not to point at a writer and chastise his work. Not to complain for no reason. To point out the kinds of errors commonly made, to explain how I would correct them and why, and to provide an example of why writers really should drop some cash on professional editing and proofreading for their hard work. That’s all, really.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

What I think we do, and what I think we don’t do

GRAMMARGEDDON! has been here for almost a month, so I think perhaps it’s time to have a little “state of the blog” post. (That, and I don’t have a really blog-worthy grammar/proofreading/signage/etc. subject for today. So. There you have it.)

Originally, Ray and I figured this would be pretty tongue-in-cheek. He came up with the name and I loved it, and off we went. We got the domain name (thanks to my husband for his quick-thinking techie brain!), downloaded the software, and poof. Bloggage. It didn’t take long before the tongue-in-cheek side took a back seat to the more serious (annoying? pedantic? educational?) side, probably because I took off with posts faster than my partner, Ray.

Maybe I have a larger axe to grind. I really don’t know. I do know that I really miss working in the publishing industry as a copy editor. I really, really miss it. Hence, my attempt to re-enter as a freelancer, to reforge some connections, and perhaps get a foot in a different publishing door. One never knows.

Anyway . . .

I think, firstly, we’re here to entertain. Not just ourselves, but our audience–you few who have already found us and left your comments, and (we hope) many more to come. To you who’ve been here and commented, thank you. Especially those of you who have said more than “Nice blog, liked it.” We’d love dialogues with you folks! Ask questions, disagree (respectfully, of course), and generally follow Wheaton’s Rule #1: Don’t be a d*ck.

Secondly, I think we’re here to educate. (I know I am. I was an educator before I was a copy editor, and I’ve never really stopped doing either one no matter what I did as a day job.) If we can do that humorously, so much the better. I’m not out to pound things into people’s heads. I’d rather say “Hey, this thing over here is wrong, and here’s why,” and explain how to make it better. As a corollary to that, I don’t think we’re here to nitpick, either. I’m not about to make a post about the single error I found in Author A’s book. We make mistakes. Of course we do. Even if we use software to assist in our work, errors can still slip past. As yesterday’s post discussed, it’s a matter of degree. One or two errors, no big deal. The same error repeated throughout a book? Kind of a big deal. That error, and a few others as well? Definitely a big deal–at least to a copy editor.

Thirdly, and I do think I can speak for Ray as well on this one, we’re here to create a presence for ourselves that could help lead to more work. We’re both professionals; we worked together for a number of years at what I will readily call the best job I’ve ever had. We know one another’s work and respect it (and each other). Reaching out by linking to other writing/editing/publishing blogs seems to be a sensible method of working toward that presence. Perhaps some of them will choose to reciprocate. That would be great. I would love to find that happening, as it would signal to me that we’re on the right track here.

So . . . right. We’ve worked out something of a schedule, with me taking the day shift and Ray the evenings, and we each shoot for one post a day. So far, so good.

Comments are, as always, encouraged and welcome. Thanks to everyone who’s been here already. Tell your friends. We’re open 24/7. Clean up after yourselves. I’m not your mother.