Subjected to your approval . . .

Before I get rolling here, I wish to thank Deborah Bancroft for suggesting this particular pair of problematic phrases. I welcome suggestions from you, readers, so please don’t hesitate to leave a note here via the Submissions form or to contact me by either Gmail or through my G+ profile. (I am also on the Book of Face, but am much less active there. It could be quite a while before I would find your message to me.)

Now. Where was I? Oh, yes. “Subjected to” and “subject to” are the subjects of this post. They do not necessarily mean the same thing. Except when they do. And yes, the one I used in the title is incorrect. Did you get that answer right? Did you know there was a quiz? There’s almost always a quiz . . .

The key here isn’t even the spelling. It’s the pronunciation. The meaning depends on the pronunciation of “subject” — subJECT means one thing, SUBject means another.

“Subject (sub – JECT) to” is an idiomatic expression meaning “to cause someone/something to experience something” (thank you to the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms for that definition). This phrase may use “subject, subjected,” or “subjecting” and be correct. The accent is always on the second syllable for this particular meaning.

“As a teacher, I subjected my students to regular doses of Shakespearean language in everyday speech.”

“The auditor is subjecting all the ledgers to close scrutiny because of a discrepancy in the Entertainment entries for the month of May, 2011.”

“Be careful, or I’ll subject you to Coen Brothers movies for the rest of the weekend.” (For the record, I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan. Deal with it.)

“Subject (SUB-ject) to” indicates that one thing needs to happen before another will be allowed.

“Students’ attendance at the film night is subject to parental approval as indicated by returning a signed permission form.” [Unless the parental approval form is returned, the students cannot attend the movie.]

“The prisoner may be allowed more time in the yard. However, this is subject to her adherence to rules regarding conduct in the common areas within the block.” [If she doesn’t behave indoors, she won’t be allowed more time outside.]

“The vegan option for our feast menu is entirely subject to us being able to find the proper ingredients in time.” [If we can’t find the right kind of tempeh or TVP, all bets for a vegan dish are off.]

And this post’s title? Rightly it should be “Subject to your approval.” I’m not causing the post to experience anything. Rather, I am writing it and and hoping that you will approve. So, subject (SUB-ject) to your approval, I might find encouraging comments on this post in a day or so.

On the other hand, I could be subjected (sub-JECT-ed) to your disapproval, indicated either by utter silence or by nasty notes left under my door. Or here. Or at G+. I’ll be wary, in any case.

Should you ask a disinterested friend for an opinion?

Today’s topic is another “by request,” this time from an author whose work I’ve edited. She wants a post about the difference between “disinterested” and “uninterested.” I hear and obey. (This time, anyway.)

First let’s look at the prefixes. Both ultimately come from Latin. Dis- means “apart, away, asunder” and has “a privative, negative, or reversing force” on the words to which it is affixed. (You do remember, don’t you, that prefixes and suffixes are collectively referred to as “affixes,” right? Of course right.) Un- means “not.” That’s all. Just “not.”

Disinterested means having no interest in something in the sense of being unbiased, impartial (“apart from interest”). Judges are supposed to remain disinterested in the cases on which they are called to rule. They need to be on the outside, in order to make the kinds of decisions required by their position. I don’t think we can call them uninterested, though, because . . .

Uninterested means indifferent, not caring about or being bored by a subject (“not interested”). Think of being talked into going to an event about which you have no interest whatsoever (whether it’s the opera or a football game doesn’t matter). You’re uninterested in it, and aren’t likely to have a very good time.

An enlightening discussion of these two words and their current common usage is here. I’m sorry to tell you that the Cliff Notes version is: “Disinterested” is overtaking “uninterested.” I’m very unhappy about that; here’s another pair of words with a shade of difference in meaning that I think is worth preserving. I’ll spare you all my rant on the down-side of a living language and just say this is part and parcel of it — the loss of useful distinctions thanks to poor education and (yes, I’m going there) uninterest (not disinterest!) in the outcomes.

Here is another excellent breakdown (and I’ll say, I wrote my bit before I read this, so there).

And the answer to the title question? Yes, if you want an unbiased opinion from someone who doesn’t have a stake in the answer.

He may not have a stake, but he's got a gavel and he knows how to use it.
He may not have a stake, but he’s got a gavel and he knows how to use it.

In days of . . . you’re? No . . . your? Nope . . .

Yore.

Here’s another by-request post, the subject of which you’ve already guessed. (I’m sure of this. You’re smart people.) I know I did a usage tip about this within the last year, but it’s been lost to the sands of time (and Google), so . . . once more into the breach, dear friends.

Your. You’re. Yore. Two of those are personal pronouns. One is a noun. (And, honestly, I don’t see the noun confused for the pronouns very often, myself — but the issue was brought up, so I’ll discuss it. That’s how I roll.)

Your is the second-person singular and plural possessive pronoun. “Watch your step.” It denotes a thing belonging to “you,” whether “you” is one person or many people. (I’ve written before about “thee/thou” and “ye.” Modern English has no separate second-person singular pronoun. “Thee/thou” went out of style. It’s all you, as they say.)

You’re is the contraction for “you are.” (I know you all know this, too, but I’m something of a completist so I’m saying it all again.) The apostrophe replaces the “a” from “are.” When you see an apostrophe, you can be sure the word is either a possessive or a contraction. (There are a very few exceptions to this, but that’s a different post, I think. I don’t want to muddy the waters here.)

Yore is a noun meaning  “time past and especially long past.” (Thank you, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.) Nowadays it’s often used in a mock-nostalgic sense. It is also noted as being “chiefly literary.” In other words, you aren’t likely to find it in an article in Time Magazine. Interestingly, yore was an adverb in Middle English, but a noun in Old English. I’ll let you poke around on the internet and find out the details for yourselves if you’re so inclined.

I’ll also note here that I’ve never gotten a request about your/you’re that included “yore” from a US writer — only from those in the UK or Canada (so far). I’m not sure what that says, aside from “US writers do not appear to be prone to using the word yore.”

In days of yore, your daily bread was made from grain you grew yourself. You’re in a much better position today, I dare say.

Style manuals are your friends. Honestly, they are.

It occurs to me that many of the questions writers ask in editorial forums (such as the Writer’s Discussion Group at G+) could be answered by a little research. I’m not saying it’s not good to ask; I’m saying that research is a highly useful skill, and writers would do well to practice it. When you want to know how to spell a word, you use a dictionary. (Maybe you even use a misspeller’s dictionary, if you have a serious problem. That’s what they’re for, after all.) When you have a question about how your text should appear, you consult a style manual (or two, or three). If you’re working “to spec” there’s no question about which manual you should use. You use the one you’re told to use, period.

How many spaces after terminal punctuation? Do I use single quotes or double for direct speech? How do I form a possessive of a name that ends in -s?  Are names of restaurants italicized, or enclosed in quotation marks (or perhaps something different from either of those)? What’s the difference between an em dash and an en dash, and how are they used? Should there be terminal punctuation after items in a bulleted list? Should I use “noon” and “midnight,” or “12 p.m.” and “12 a.m.?” And are there periods in those abbreviations, or are they set in small capitals? What about a range of times? Do I have to put the abbreviation after each time, or only the last one?

All excellent questions, and all answered by any one of the major style guides out there. Used copies are readily available if you don’t want to shell out for a new one. If you’re writing fiction, chances are you’ll lean toward CMoS (the Chicago Manual of Style). That might be your best option for nonfiction, unless that nonfiction is medical in nature; then perhaps you’d want to look at the AMA (the American Medical Association) style manual. If you’re writing for the education field, it’s a good bet that you’ll need to check the Modern Language Association’s guidelines (MLA). And, if you’re doing general research work in an academic setting, chances are good you’ll need an APA (American Psychological Association) style manual.

My “day job” consists of copyediting and proofreading content for social media sites for a national supermarket chain and its subsidiaries. I use the AP (Associated Press) manual for that, per the company standards. (AP is used for many news outlets; it’s a very spare style, focused on getting the maximum information into the minimum space.) The company I work for also has a house style guide for the things that AP doesn’t cover, and that document is constantly undergoing revisions (mostly because the two of us who freelance for them ask questions and push for answers, to make it easier on both their in-house staff writers and us). This guide covers not only the social media posts, but also Powerpoint presentations for clients, internal reports, and blog entries. What kind of revisions, you ask? Just this week, it was determined that the word “Associate” should always appear with an initial capital letter when it refers to someone employed by one of the companies (as in “Ask one of our friendly Associates about the rewards card program!”). A couple of months ago, the team decided that tweets should always use an ampersand (&) instead of the word “and,” but should never use “w/” instead of the word “with.” AP style says lists should use dashes, not bullets; the house guidelines supercede the AP version and say always use bullets.

You’ll need to do a little research before you do your research, you see, but I promise you it’ll be worth it in the long run. And if you’re a freelance editor, don’t be surprised if you wind up with a copy of each one on your reference shelf. The only ones I’ve never had call to use are AMA and MLA, but that’s just the luck of the draw. I even went so far as to get a copy of The New Oxford Style Manual for working with British writers, just in case. (I’ve become convinced that British writers can do pretty much whatever they please, as long as they’re consistent. I’m still happy I have that book, though. Makes a great paperweight.)

If Cambridge University Press ain’t safe, ain’t nobody safe.

I’ve talked about this before in other venues, but this time I’m including photographic proof.

When as prestigious a company as Cambridge University Press releases a book — and not just any book, but a dictionary with a study guide — with an egregious typographical error, we can be assured that no one is safe from the threat.

Perfection in a finished written work is a lofty goal, and one that is not always (perhaps never) attainable. Still, we should work toward it whether we’re Cambridge University or Joe Blow.

Q: What do you call a neighborhood for hobos?

Nothing instills confidence in your school like seeing a big typo on the sign by the front door.

O no!

Just think: someone (probably many someones) had to write those words, create the sign, proof the sign, drill it into the brick wall, look at it, nod contentedly, and walk away, whistling a happy tune.

The photo comes from the Dudley Street Neighborhood’s Facebook album, and if you check out the comments there, you’ll see that the school posted the photo proudly, then realized their mistake after several people pointed out the error. This article offers a good quote:

“I think we get a big, fat F for the spelling on this sign,” said Matt Wilder, director of media relations for Boston Public Schools. “We are already in the process of fixing it, and it will be taken down today.”

Kudos to the school for acknowledging the error and moving quickly to replace the sign. But this incident just goes to show you that, for good or ill, it’s hard to get away with typos in these days of instant feedback from social media.

 

Muprhy’s Law in action

You read that right. Not Murphy’s. Muprhy’s. Check the Daily Writing Tips blog (in our blogroll) for an excellent piece about it. (Short form: Any post criticizing the grammar, spelling, or mechanics of another post will in itself contain at least one error.)

Check here and here for examples of a corollary to Muprhy’s Law in action. (ETA: The second link takes you to a master list of worksheets. The page is set for auto-download; I have no control over that. The worksheet in question is #5. If you really want to see it, you’ll have to download it. Otherwise, just keep reading for my commentary.)

I call this a corollary to the actual law because what I’m pointing out are errors not in comments, but in teaching aids.These are actual worksheets available for free at the links provided. I downloaded them for use here at home for my daughter, who needs some help with English skills. Imagine my displeasure when, as we were going through the first one, she stopped and said “That doesn’t look right.” I wasn’t displeased with her at all; I was thrilled that she recognized the problem.

No. My displeasure was with the educator who wrote the material and then made it available for others, obviously without having someone proofread it first. (Never, ever proofread your own work. Trust me. You’re too close to it to catch everything. I will freely admit that every time I post here, I wind up coming back in afterward to fix something. It might be only a missing punctuation mark of some kind, but in the words of Roseanne Rosannadanna, “It’s always something.”) For heaven’s sake, people–if you’re putting material out there to teach English skills, make sure the material is error-free before you post it. Otherwise someone like me will find the errors and tell the world (the entire world, do you hear me?) about your ineptitude.

I do not make allowances for one error in this kind of material. There are no excuses. Period. The materials we use to teach our students mechanics, grammar, and spelling must be perfect. Period. (I apply this to all teaching aids, of course, but I’m not qualified to kvetch about physics, or algebra, or ancient Greek, or any number of other subjects. I am qualified to kvetch about grammar, mechanics, spelling, and literature.)

The second problem is clearly circular. (ETA: The vocabulary word is “perpetuate.” The third option for a definition is “to perpetuate.” Duh.) Someone didn’t change the entry for answer #3, question #10, to a definition of the word in question; the word was just left there. While some might be tempted to make that a “gimme,” I’m not one of them. The problem is, once the error’s corrected it becomes a gimme anyway–because now the correct answer is handwritten on the page.

Damn it.

::sighs::

Yes, I was a language arts teacher for junior high students. Yes, I’m still a substitute teacher who prefers language arts and literature classes to all others, and junior high or older students to younger ones. (I was certified 6-12, so I never had classroom experience with the little ones.) And we all know I’m still a copy editor and proofreader. This stuff is in my blood.

I can’t help it, I was born this way . . .