I’ve said this a lot in the last couple of weeks, and I’m saying it again.
I’ve learned more about my craft and English in general after my formal education (I graduated from college in 1979) than I ever did during it.
While I was in school studying to become a teacher (which I actually did do, for a year), I believed that we had Rules and only Rules, no guidelines. Rules were made to be Followed, and if one did not Follow the Rules, one would be in Serious Trouble.
I was SO WRONG.
Anyway, before this turns into a wholly different type of post than I intend it to be, here are three books I bought this month and really should have bought long ago.
The Business of Editing by Richard H. Adin is a rather heavy read for me, but not unreadable by any stretch. I’ve skimmed the entire book and am now taking my time, forcing myself not to read only the chapters with interesting titles (like “The Elusive Editorial Higgs Boson”). By the time I’m done I’ll have gotten some validation, some thwacks on the knuckles, and a good deal of excellent advice. As with Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor, I’m finding that I’m already on the same page in many areas as the esteemed author. How I managed to do that with no formal training as an editor — only OTJ for me! — I have no idea. But I think as they do, when it comes to interacting with clients. That’s a big HOORAY for me.
Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business: Being interesting and discoverable by Louise Harnby is a handy little text, too. Most of us editorial types see “marketing” and freeze. That is NOT what we do. We’re not marketing people. But we must be. No one’s going to market for us, not even our happiest clients. Word of mouth goes only so far. Harnby’s book is filled with ideas to take and make one’s own, from cold-calling (UGH) to social media posting (YAY). Again, I’m glad to see that I’m getting some of it right all on my own. I can do more, though, and I will.
The third book, on the bottom in the photo, is (sorry, Mr. Adin and Ms. Harnby) the most invaluable of the three in my professional (I can say that!) opinion. Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications is proving just as useful to me, with my 20+ years of experience, as it would to someone just starting out. It is not a style guide. It’s a thorough discussion of the rules of copyediting. Quoting the back cover: “[This book] is a lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft.” There’s nothing for me to add, really. So far I have worked through three of the exercises (yes, it’s a workbook! With an answer key!) and scored 100% on each.
I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. And then the other one. (And probably a few more.)
Each of these books is available from Amazon.com. Even with the “we’re sorry, we’re not able to ship these together” emails, I still had all three texts within a week of ordering, and they came a day apart in two shipments. I can’t complain.
This particular pair of homophones is one of the most troublesome, based on what I see come across my desk. Perhaps I can provide some helpful hints for telling them apart, so you’ll know which one you should be using in a given situation. We’ll see . . .
An altar is a raised surface, first of all. It could be a simple table, or a flat rock, or perhaps an elaborately constructed piece of furniture with storage space underneath, hidden behind doors or curtains. But I digress. An altar is a surface on which one puts ritual items, for the purpose of then enacting said ritual. I’ll wager most of you readers are familiar with the altar at the front of a church (Catholic, Protestant, doesn’t matter — churches have altars). I’ll also wager that a number of you are equally familiar with the pagan analog, usually set at the center of the ritual space. (Not that I’d know about that or anything . . . ::cough::) If you’re writing about a ritual, you’ll likely need to use the word altar.
Altar can be used figuratively, as well. They worship at the altar of freedom.
Alter is foremost a verb, meaning to change something. I say “foremost,” because there’s also the psychiatric usage meaning “a distinct and separate personality” when talking about people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD]). She has fifty-four alters. However, unless you’re writing a piece on DID, you’ll probably be using the verb form and talking about something being altered. Think of “alterations” made to clothes by a tailor or a seamstress. They alter the clothing.
Alter is also the verb used to mean “to spay or neuter an animal.” The procedure changes the animal, so that it can no longer reproduce.
Alter is also the word in “alter ego,” meaning a different side of a personality or even a close friend who holds the same views as one’s own. It’s important to note, I think, that this is the common usage; we can all have alter egos, but not be diagnosed with DID. It literally means “second I.” Drinking brings out his alter ego; he’s quite the Jekyll and Hyde.
It will probably help to remember that “alter” is part of “alternative” and “alternate.” If you need a word that denotes change, something different from the expected, you want alter.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to alter my altar setup for the upcoming feast day.
Today’s tour of Homophone Hell visits several words: core, corps, corpse, and corp (the latter properly styled Corp.).
Why the Beatles? Some readers will recall the company founded by the Fab Four in 1968: Apple Corps. “Corps” is pronounced like “core,” and we know what an apple core is, right? The name’s a wonderful pun on that, in addition to playing on “Corp.”, which is short for “corporation.” More on those two later.
“Core” isn’t the real issue here. I very seldom see this one misused in print. Apparently it’s pretty easy for folks to grasp all around: the core of the matter, a reactor core, etc.
Now, to the problem children.
“Corps” is the word you see when someone talks about the full name of the U.S. Marines: The United States Marine Corps. It’s not an abbreviation. That’s the whole word, right there: corps. It’s also used in the Peace Corps and Job Corps. “Corps” isn’t always capitalized: The press corps was kept waiting for three hours while the Congress threw spitballs across the aisles at one another.
Say “core” when you see “corps,” and know that it means either an organized part of the military, a military group with two or more divisions (in the technical military sense of the word), or a group of people involved in an activity (that’s the press corps). It’s not the Marine Corp., unless you’re talking about a company (Marine) that uses “corporation” in its name (Corp.) — and then you’d say “Marine Corporation.”
“Corps” and “Corp.” seem to be the biggest problems, based on my experience as a copyeditor. (I’ll blame the words, not their users. It’s kinder to all concerned.)
Then we have “corpse.” It’s pronounced as you’d expect: korps. It means a dead body. While you might think it is a homophone for “corps,” it isn’t. (Or, think of it the other way around: “Corps” isn’t a homophone for “corpse.” Whichever way works for you is how you need to think of it.) While dead bodies are certainly offensive to some folks, the word “corpse” isn’t a big offender in this particular arena — I seldom see it misused.
All right, then. “Core” and “corps” are homophones. The latter means an organized group (military or otherwise). “Corpse” is pronounced with the final -s aspirated (meaning it’s a hissing sound). And “corp” isn’t correct unless it’s styled “Corp.” and is used instead of “Corporation.”
Now I think it’s time to check on the press corps, and perhaps send a few nasty emails to the Exxon-Mobil Corp. while I’m at it. Better yet, I’ll pack up some apple cores and ship ’em off to my representatives. They didn’t earn fruit baskets this year.
Here is the daily comic panel for October 11, 2013. I took a screenshot in case it’s revised and replaced anytime soon.
Do I need to point out the error (which appears twice)?
This comic was written, drawn, colored, lettered, checked (maybe?), and distributed. King Features Syndicate says that The Family Circus is one of the most widely syndicated comic panels in the world, appearing in more than 1,500 newspapers every day. You’d think there’d be a little quality control somewhere in that chain. Then again, this is The Family Circus, so maybe no one read it.
More ways to improve your enjoyment of this comic:
This post could be subtitled “Know your Latin phrases.”
The correct phrase is ex cathedra, literally “from the chair.” The pope is said to speak ex cathedra, meaning he speaks with authority vested in him by virtue of his office. The phrase can be used for others as well; anyone who speaks from an authoritative position can be said to speak ex cathedra (even copyeditors).
Seeing this spelled with an -l is jarring, to say the least. As someone said to me when I mentioned it, “That’d make a great caption for a photo of a pile of rubble.”
Unintentional humor has it place, but I’m pretty sure the writer of this particular work wasn’t looking for a laugh. Oops.
“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.
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?
Last week (on September 9), the Houston Texans and the San Diego Chargers fought it out on Monday Night Football. The Texans were down for much of the game until they rallied to score a whole bunch of points* for a late comeback victory.
I’d like to think they were inspired by the sign that hung in Qualcomm Stadium, welcoming them to San Diego.
I mean, there’s just no way the Texans could let the bad spellers win. (Photo from here.)
If you’re going to make a mistake, make it a really big one that gets shown on TV and spread around the web, I always say.
* Yes, this is the technical term for it. Shut up.
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.