Tag Archives: editing

Homonyn Horrors

I’ve talked previously about homonyms – words that sound alike, but have different meanings, such as peer and pier – and the importance of knowing the difference between them. Yet, these errors crop up, time and again, as well-meaning people get confused or don’t realize the limits of their vocabularies.

For a writer/editor, it’s jarring to encounter the misuse of a homonym while reading along in an otherwise well-written story or document. It stops me short and breaks the flow of the narrative; it also frustrates me that someone didn’t catch the mistake before the piece was printed/posted. It shows carelessness or ignorance and reflects poorly on the source.

I come across such words regularly, as much as I wish I didn’t. This week, while MountBakerreading through a brand profile provided by a client, I discovered that James enjoys discovering new flavours that “peak” his taste buds. Oy! Peak is generally used as a noun, not a verb, e.g., climbing to the peak of Mount Baker. The writer actually meant pique, or arouse (curiosity, interest, etc.).

The next day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across an artistically designed, inspirational post from an acquaintance. The sentiment was lovely, but I couldn’t enjoy it fully, because it talked about finding someone to love who “compliments” you. (Hmmm, taken literally, isn’t that a given? Why would you want a lover who insulted you or ignored you?)  Complements, or completes, is the word the author was undoubtedly seeking, and all the work that went into creating the lovely lettering and layout was spoiled by the use of the wrong word.

To what shall I attribute these missteps? A poor educational system? Sloppiness? I know that language is fluid and ever-changing, but mistaken usage isn’t part of that evolution. Let’s get it right!

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Digital Dictionaries Rock!

I want to give a shout out this week to one of my favourite online tools: the e-reader’s embedded dictionary.

Now, I know there’s a war of words going on between the printed book lovers and the e-reader fans, each clamouring for reader loyalties.

No matter which camp you’re in, however, it’s hard to deny the convenience of the e-dictionary. It’s easy for a reader to be lazy when coming upon an unfamiliar word if it means getting up from a comfy couch to pluck a dictionary off the bookshelf. But, when that dictionary is embedded in the reading device, there’s no excuse for failing to highlight the mysterious word to get the definition. Knowledge is only a finger swipe away!

In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve become so accustomed to the touch of a fingertip yielding a definition that I’ve found myself swiping at a word on the printed page, startled to realize that nothing will result.

So, here’s the sound of one hand tapping! I’ll always love books, but for their accessible dictionaries alone, I’m glad that e-readers are here to stay.

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Word(s) of Wisdom, March 10, 2015

Demonstrating verbal prowess

For writers like me, words are our currency, as well as our toys. We use them to earn a living, but we also enjoy playing with them, experimenting with their applications and test driving those we’ve newly acquired. In other words, we like to flaunt – show off – our verbal abilities.

Some writers, such as novelist William Faulkner, flout – or treat with scorn – literary convention by using words in an unusual way. His stream of consciousness writing style took readers of his era by surprise.

Flaunt and flout are two words that are often mistaken for one another, but they are actually dissimilar in both spelling and meaning. Flaunt – to show off boldly. Flout – to treat with scorn or contempt. Alas, not all writers who flout convention are able  to do so with enough skill that they can later flaunt a Nobel Prize, as Mr. Faulkner could. If only. …

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Jargon and good writing don’t mix

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When an application form asks if I am fluent in any foreign languages, I am tempted to list “jargon.”

After spending years in an office setting, I can be obtuse with the best of the business crowd. I can ask for buy-in, put projects on the backburner, leave meetings with action items and worry about having enough bandwidth to get the job done.

Eh, what? If such terminology leaves you cross-eyed, you’re not alone. Jargon is the antithesis of clear, understandable language, and it often flips usage on its head, turning nouns into verbs (e.g., ballpark) or vice versa.

The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary has two useful definitions of jargon, which, in combination, explain it well: Words or expressions used by a particular group or profession; and language marked by affected or convoluted syntax, vocabulary and meaning.

“Jargon masks real meaning,” Jennifer Chapman, a management professor at the University of California Berkeley, told Forbes magazine in a 2012 interview. “People use it as a substitute for thinking clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”

Yet, it surrounds us in the workplace, perhaps because it’s easy and convenient. Individual professions and industries each create their own vocabularies. Jargon can even become a symbol of membership or status; if you talk like a physician, then you will be recognized as a physician.

Stemming the incoming assault of confusing workplace shorthand is no easy task. It’s time for writers and editors to take to the battlements, guarding against the onslaught and helping to strike a blow for straightforward language.

As you delve into any writing or editing project, prepare to think critically about the language. Is it clear or will it require a dictionary to decipher it? Is it language that a Grade 7 student would understand? Does it contain phrases that you only hear in the workplace? If the answer is “Yes” to the second question and “No” to the next, you are on solid ground. If not, it’s time to paraphrase.

Writers and editors are the guardians of clear, understandable communication, and it’s not a job for the faint of heart. Negotiating changes to the CEO’s monthly newsletter column may be a political nightmare, but it’s a sacred trust. What is the point of expounding on a topic if the audience has no idea of your meaning? You may not get thanks, but you’ll get grateful readers.

So, as you sit down to write your own stories or edit someone else’s, make sure to set your jargon meter and listen when it starts ringing. It’s a sure sign that revision is necessary.

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Test your own understanding of jargon:

Match the jargon phrase with its meaning.  If you score 10 out of 10, you’re due for a vacation. If your score is three or lower, you love language. Anywhere in-between: think before you speak! (No peeking at the answers!)

  1. Binary answer                                                   a.  To fire
  2. Granular                                                              b.  A useless project that will require lots of time
  3. Peel the onion                                                  c.  A person of influence and power
  4. Heavy lifting                                                       d.  More detailed
  5. Major player                                                      e.  A subordinate
  6. Magic bullet                                                       f.  A yes or no answer
  7. Time pig                                                               g.  A change or difference
  8. Report                                                                  h. The perfect solution to a problem
  9. Dehire                                                                  i.  The hard work
  10. Delta                                                                     j. To get to the heart of an issue

Answers: 1f; 2d; 3j; 4i; 5c; 6h; 7b; 8e; 9a; 10gSource: http://www.theofficelife.com/business-jargon-dictionary

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Tools of the Trade

Dinosaur reading dictionary

When I sit down at the computer to write, I like to know that the tools of my trade are handy.

Just as a carpenter heads off to a job with a toolbox containing a hammer, nails, a screwdriver, wrenches and other implements that will help accomplish the job, a writer needs various instruments to create the best possible product. The top three tools in a writer’s arsenal are: 

  • a dictionary;
  • a thesaurus;
  • a grammar guide; and
  • a spell-checker.

 Luckily, in our computerized world, word-processing programs generally come with built-in tools that can go along with me anywhere I take my laptop. What’s not to like about an online dictionary and thesaurus? As I write, I find a dictionary useful when I’m unclear about the nuances of a word or to ensure that the word I’ve chosen to use actually means what I assume it to mean. 

I keep a copy of the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary close at hand when I’m reading, too. It has Canadian words that aren’t found in the average English language dictionary, such as double double (coffee with double cream and double sugar) and two-four (a case of 24 cans or bottles of beer.)

It’s not as much fun to curl up on the couch with a computer, but there are solid online dictionaries, too, such as Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/) or the splendid Cambridge Free English Dictionary (http://dictionary.cambridge.org), which allows the reader to choose between British and American English.

 Now, a thesaurus – there’s a tome that a writer can get behind. It’s almost a law of physics that as I compose at the keyboard, synonyms will go into hiding, and my brain will be incapable of finding them. Once upon a time, Roget’s was the definitive thesaurus, but it had a fatal flaw: it didn’t list words alphabetically. Today, there are myriad others whose editors have realized that even though writers may forget synonyms, they certainly know the alphabet. Choose one of those for ease of use. There’s a Gage Canadian Thesaurus on my bookshelf. For online use, the aforementioned dictionaries also offer thesaurus options for one-stop shopping. Make sure to bookmark one of the sites for ease of use. 

Good writers use good grammar, but we’re not perfect. Sometimes, we need to decide whether to use who or whom, or we can’t remember whether to employ “Mary and I” or “Mary and me.” (Hint: It depends on whether it’s the subject of the sentence or the object of a preposition.) 

The grammar book of choice back in the Stone Age of my youth was Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition – they had an edition suitable for students in each grade. I confess: I keep one on my bookshelf, but I am just as likely to use an online service, such as Grammar Girl (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl). There is also Grammarly, (http://www.grammarly.com/) a handy site that will check the grammar in an entire document.

Whoever invented the online spell-checker was a genius! It’s a given that a writer will make errors in typing when writing online, and it’s just as certain that there are words whose spellings haunt writers each time they use one of them. For ages, I was convinced that persevere was perservere – don’t ask me why! 

Thank heavens for the spell-checker. It catches most my typos before it’s too late. However, I do suggest reading through the document again, to ensure you haven’t accidentally accepted any incorrect changes – the human eye is an excellent backup system. 

Don’t leave perfection to chance. Next time you sit down at your computer, whether to compose an email, a short story or an annual report, make sure your work has that professional polish. Bolster your book collection or your online favourites list with the writer’s “sacred trinity”: a dictionary, a thesaurus and a grammar guide. And before you hit the “send” button, run your maserpiece through the spell-checker. Believe me, you won’t be sorry.

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