December 2019

It is probably safe to say the C-word now, isn’t it?

I’ll try my best not to though, since it is Advent until the 25th December.

Yuletide seems to be a time of reflection. The new year is upon us and it is natural to look back over the year. Have we made use of the time effectively? Did we achieve our goals? What was good about the year? What was bad? What have we learnt?

As part of this, I’ve been reading my blogs from this year.

I started the year hoping to publish a monthly blog – which I have done (*) – as part of an increase in marketing. I certainly have managed that and learnt a few lessons.

Firstly, marketing is a constant thing. You can’t do it once and then leave it; you need to do it regularly to maintain a presence. And then there’s following up leads, dealing with queries etc. One needs to set aside time to do it.

Secondly, there is marketing and effective marketing. Some early advertising was probably to the wrong audience; and now I wonder whether advertising is actually the thing.

Thirdly, I have learnt people buy from people – and so I focus on networking and making connections rather than advertising generally. Part of this involved conference in September – which was a good experience and did create leads and work, so has paid for itself already.

Another lesson is that it is easy for your time to be filled up, with work, volunteering and so on. It all creeps up and steals time from family and yourself.

Whilst it is great to have the flexibility it is easy to let it take over. I have had periods where I have overloaded myself. So, an important reminder is that it is okay to say “no”. Salaried workers have time off – so can freelancers.

The last lesson – don’t check emails constantly. If it is urgent, they’ll phone.

Enough reflection – what about the future?

I’ll continue to plug away raising the profile of my business, develop and consolidate connections, but most importantly try to learn from 2019 and remember what I’ve mentioned above!

Of course, it is all easier said than done!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

(*) ignoring the lack of August’s… everyone deserves a holiday, no?

January 2020

Today is Blue Monday, typically the third Monday of January. In the northern hemisphere, it is considered the most depressing day of the year due to a combination of the weather, long nights (*), the post-Christmas come-down and the long time period until pay day (**).

Certainly, I met with some friends last week and we were all a bit lacklustre, drained by the festivities and getting back into our routines. It seemed odd to be feeling that way when we had just had the well earned break we had been looking forward to before Christmas, to having not much to do and relaxing, and having the opportunity to reflect.

Potentially, our desires to use the new year as a chance to renew or redefine ourselves just adds to the problem. It can be written off as January blues but could be symptomatic of something bigger. There’s advice on how to beat it out there (I love no. 7), but perhaps let’s just keep it in mind to look after ourselves and keep an eye out for others.

This year (really, last year) I took a bit longer off than usual and so getting back into the routine was harder, but I also planned to not have as much on in January to try and catch up on some admin and other bits. I’ve managed to submit to the SfEP for an upgrade of membership, planned a presentation for February on proofreading, got my accounts in order (including the good old tax return), made decisions over the focus of my business, read up on IR35 and managed some “me time” and planned for it in my schedule (spontaneous is not my middle name…). One particular thing I’ve planned for is one working day offline – no emails, no social media, no nothing.

Happy New Year, folks.

—————-

(*) although, the nights are now getting shorter, since the winter solstice was 22nd December, it certainly seems darker than when they were getting longer.

(**) so many people are paid at the end of month except in December, when it is mid-month, resulting in a 6-week or so period until January’s pay day. Why not just always pay in the middle of the month?

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordPerfectProof

 

November 2019 – style sheets

Autumn is certainly taking root and, having gone back to GMT at the end of October(*), the nights are really drawing in. It always seems a surprise despite it happening every year.

November usually starts with a bit of a buzz with my charity firework display but alas, this year, the weather got the better of us and we had to cancel. A bit of a downer for all involved at Southend Round Table but I’m sure we’ll be back and bigger in 2020.

Anyway… Style sheets: what are those you say?

Well, anyone publishing written material, particularly if more than one person is writing it, should seriously consider putting together a style sheet. This outlines how your organisation wants to treat those grey areas of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

For example, do you organise or organize? Do you prefer Thomas’ books rather than Thomas’s books? How do you like your headings? Do you prefer ten or 10? 1000, 1,000 or 1 000? Do you need to use US or UK English? When do you hyphenate? How do you present your dates? Oxford comma, anyone?

All these things require a moment’s thought.

If a multitude of people are creating your content then you can end up with inconsistencies across your website. This is how a style sheet helps: it sets out how you want to present certain things and prevents your writers having to make the decision again and again. Give them a style sheet and they know how they should do it.

Not only does it set out how you wish to deal with variable spellings it also sets out your voice, eg passive, for your writing. Some like to write in the first person (I or we) others not. You may even have industry-specific spellings to point out. For example, in psychological circles phantasy is perfectly acceptable – because it is something different to fantasy.

As a proofreader, a style sheet is essential. It helps me to know what you wanted for your written material so I can check against it. However, not everyone is confident in producing one and so I can help. This could be a one-off project, looking at your audience(s) and giving recommendations on style, or as a fluid or living document – evolving as we work together on particular projects such as blogs or reports or other regular documents.

So, if you want help to ensure that your website doesn’t organize when your reports organise, why not get in touch?

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA.

(*) thus making the last Sunday of October the longest day of the year at 25 hours.

 

 

October 2019 – fireworks and other distractions

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One advantage of being freelance is that one can manage one’s time to fit around other commitments, such as family, and to volunteer for charitable and other good causes.

For many years I have been a member of Southend Round Table, a charitable organisation that seeks to raise funds for local good causes whilst having fun and forming friendships. Our main fundraiser is the Big Beach Bang, a fireworks display at East Beach, Shoeburyness. Not only has this raised tens of thousands of pounds every year, it also brings together families and the wider community and is a highly anticipated annual event. People and organisations come together to put it on, to which people travel from far and wide to watch.

Of course, all this cannot happen without months of planning and preparation throughout the year, culminating in one of the most tiring weekends I have ever known.

Up to 5,000 people have to be marshalled and looked after; £10,000 worth of fireworks set off safely; hundreds of fence panels, for crowd control and marking off danger zones, have to be put up and taken down on the day; fairground attractions and catering vans have to be marshalled in and out. If we’re out by midnight, we consider ourselves lucky. Then the day after is inspecting the park for litter and getting everything put away for another year. Then we sleep…

Yes, it is tiring; but the camaraderie amongst those who organise it and the smiles on people’s faces as they leave is just reward. And it raises cash for local good causes as well.

So, if you have nothing planned on the 2nd November, why not come along? If you do have something on, then cancel it and come along. Tickets can be bought here.

And, it isn’t too late to get involved. If you can spare a few hours on the day extra hands are always welcome. If you fancy it, contact me.

Kindly proofread by Annie Deakins at Proofnow.

September 2019 – conference!

With proofreading being a new venture, I took the decision last year to join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I am currently an Entry Level Member, working towards Intermediate Member using their excellent training programme and on-the-job experience.

This year, I decided to attend their annual conference. I’m not great at conferences (actually I would go so far as to say I loathe them) and networking is not really my thing, but I felt it would be good to make more contacts within the Society. This blog is a bit of a whistle-stop tour of what I saw.

Beforehand, I did a bit of preparation. What did I want from this? Well, to make contact with other proofreaders, forge links with others in the industry, get my face known (for better or worse). But also, to force me out of my comfort zone: spend time doing something I would usually shy away from. I researched for advice (and found SfEP already had me in mind) but this article was pretty good too. I took note from both and came up with some plans.

Day One

Early (early enough to consider changing plans…) on the 14th Sept, I began my journey north. I’m no stranger to the West Coast Main Line and Birmingham but it was nice to do it in daylight and at the weekend. It was sunny and warm too, nice for mid-September.

I arrived quite early and got my conference lanyard, which was nicely marked up to show I was a first-timer (intimidating and welcoming at the same time). I had a few hours so went to find some of the famous canals (more canal miles than Venice, don’t you know?) and some lunch.

I returned ready for the speed networking, which I seemed determined to call speed dating whenever I had the opportunity. Just like speed dating (I’m told) you are paired up with another delegate and you have a set amount of time to chat before you are moved on. I met a range of proofreaders/editors from old hands to newbies like me, covering specialisms such as environmental issues, Welsh, fiction, legal, IT and chemistry. It really helped to make some connections for later in the conference and beyond. It took an hour and a half, but the time flew by.

The AGM was held and it was great to hear that the SfEP’s petition to become a chartered institute had been approved – now the work begins to transform into the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders.

I then attended the drinks reception for fellow first-timers and found myself talking to a few strangers, before sitting down for dinner and a catch-up with Annie from Proofnow.

The day ended with a quiz, which our team (Kevin – I believe this is an in-joke amongst some members…) managed to win by one point. The two lyrics rounds were hard but there was a pleasing lack of questions about grammar.

I finished off the day reviewing some Tweets and making a note of who liked mine so I could try and find them the next day! A modern ice-breaker, wouldn’t you say?

Day Two

Always joyous to see bacon at breakfast. I managed to get full value for money from the buffet but also sat down with strangers and made conversation.

We had a morning address (9.30 on a Sunday…) from the author Chris Brookmyre. He regaled us with tales from his writing career, publishing over twenty books in crime fiction. There was no swearing, whatsoever. This helped wake everyone up in preparation for the day’s activities.

I’d signed up for some sessions that I thought would be useful for me.

The first of the day was “Creating Effective Style Sheets” by Ian Howe. This outlined what a style sheet is (and isn’t) and gave some handy hints on what to include. This is certainly something I will be exploring and expanding further in a future blog. But, ultimately, it is how you (a publisher, author or organisation) decide on certain variables and preferences over spelling, punctuation, presentation and so on.

The second was “Starting Out: A Guide for Newbies” by Claire Handy. Lots of advice on what not to do when starting out, some of which I could have done with 18 months ago! It was during this session that I met some people I only knew via emails, so it was nice to see them in the flesh.

During lunch, I had a chat with another delegate about some potential work – and so it seems attending the conference was paying dividends already.

After lunch, a chance to look at the Historical Thesaurus which contains almost every single word of English ever used, helping authors to use the right word for the era. I imagine I’ll be perusing it at my leisure to find archaic words to use in the future.

The day ended with the Gala Dinner and speech by Rob Drummond, about pedantry and language. A most non-standard after-dinner speech! A toast to the newly-created Institute rounded off the evening.

Day Three

What better way is there to spend a Monday morning than learning about mark-ups in PDFs?

This was presented by Newgen Publishing and ran through what can be done within Adobe Reader, bringing the principles of hard copy proofreading to PDFs. Once you know how, you can apply the same approaches to PDFs as you would hard copy. The demonstration helped bring it all alive. Possibly the most interesting aspect is that for hard copy we have the BSI symbols, setting a standard for marking proofs, but there is not, as yet, any standards for marking electronic copy. This means that different clients will expect different approaches. Perhaps a standard approach is something for the SfEP to look at in the future?

My second session of the day was “Building Better Relationships” by Ruth Thaler-Carter. She went through lots of hints and tips, in a relaxed delivery with no notes at all! We learnt from some of her experiences and she gave plenty to think about for the future. The key is to communicate with your client and the only assumption you should make is that people make assumptions.

After lunch (and I must admit I was expecting buffets with unidentifiable sandwiches for the lunches, but these were worthy of dinners!), I attended a session on Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary business. This was out of genuine interest rather than to help my business. It was fascinating to hear how they get the spoken word in the House of Lords transcribed and published online within three hours. The team works in five-minute shifts in the Chamber, and then spend an hour typing it up before it is edited and collated. This is a monumental task in itself before you think about how to describe the non-verbal events, what can be omitted to make the written record readable (eg errs, ums etc) and how to deal with a dispute over what a member said. They showed videos of events in the Assemblée nationale, US Congress, the Parliament of Australia, the New Zealand Parliament, the Oireachtas and the Cortes Generales and how each Hansard (or equivalent) dealt with the situation. In a perverse way, it was pleasing to see that elected representatives in other countries behave just the same as our own ‘honourable’ members.

The day ended with an address from David Crystal. He has just published the third edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and described some of the developments in the English language and its use since the second edition was published. With over 2 billion speakers, it is bound to change and evolve differently in different parts of the world, but the impact of social media and text messaging is also covered. Of particular interest was the impact of a full stop in WhatsApp messages. Rather than denoting the end of the sentence (since it isn’t usually used) it portrays emotion.

And to the cap the day off, a little win on the raffle!

Now I’m on the train home, reflecting, with another delegate opposite me (but we’re both too tired to engage in more ‘peopling’).

Did I achieve my goals?

Well, I met lots of new people in the industry, met people I knew only by email and have ideas and leads for the future. I also went up to complete strangers and started chatting to them. That in itself was a biggy for me.

So, overall, bit of a win, methinks.

Here’s to #SFEP2020.

 

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA.

 

July 2019 – a little history of English.

It is probably of no surprise that a proofreader has an interest in language. What interests me the most is the origin of words and how a language can reflect the history of its speakers. English, particularly, has absorbed or borrowed words from a whole host of languages, sometimes absorbing the grammar as well, sometimes anglicising. This has led to inconsistencies in the language and confusion amongst its users.

I’ll start with this cartoon – it always reminds me of the quote attributed to Gugulethu Mhlungu, “English is not a language, it’s three languages wearing a trench coat, pretending to be one.”

And it is true: English is Germanic in origin, brought to these shores by Saxons, Jutes and Angles in the 5th century, but, as mentioned above, over time it has absorbed words and characteristics from other languages, reflecting the history of its homeland. Words have been derived from Norse, French, Hindi and Arabic, to name but a few.

It is often said to be one of the hardest languages to learn for a non-native speaker, even though some of the complex rules present in other languages are not found in modern English.

For example, gender: English no longer bothers with assigning a gender to nouns, which affects their spelling. Hlaford, meaning lord, is a masculine noun from Old English (or Anglo-Saxon English). It can take the form hlaford, hlafordas, hlafordes, hlaforda, hlaforde, and hlafordum, depending on the nature of the sentence. In modern English we get by with lord, lords, lord’s and lords’.

Cwene, meaning queen, is a feminine noun and takes the forms cwene, cwenan, cwenena, cwenum. Fewer endings to deal with but different to those used for the masculine. In modern English it would be the same rule as lord: queen, queens, etc.

Another example is conjugations with verbs taking various forms.

For example, the verb ‘to have’, in modern English follows this pattern: I have, you have, it has, we have, I had, you had, it had, we had.

In Old English: ic hæbbeðu hæfst (*), hit hæfð, we habbað, ic hæfde, ðu hæfdest, hit hæfde, we hæfdon. Eight different spellings, when in modern English we manage with just three.

To my mind, one of the issues is its vast vocabulary. English is said to have more words than, say French or German, and this is considered a consequence of the merger of languages that occurred between the 11th and 14th centuries.

But English has been absorbing words since before then. Perhaps it is because England has often been more than just one society.

One could argue the original North/South divide was that of the Danelaw to the north and east and the Saxon lands to the south and west. To this day Danish (or Viking or Norse) influences remain in place names of that area (for example, Grimsby and Derby indicate a Viking heritage, with the -by suffix denoting a village).

This is also why one can be ‘ill’ (a Viking term) and ‘sick’ (Saxon) simultaneously, ‘wish’ (Saxon) and ‘want’ (Viking) for something and one can buy a ‘leg’ (Viking) of lamb as well as a lamb ‘shank’ (Saxon) and have the same cut of meat.

Then, post 1066, there was the elite or establishment that spoke Norman French while the Church used Latin, both causing many words to be adopted. It was the Normans that were in control and their language became that of government etc (**).

Shires (scir) made way for counties, linked to the French title count. This ranked equal to the title earl and hence the wife of an earl is a countess. Lord (as seen above) and king (cyning) existed but we gained duke and duchy (French duc), prince and principality (from Latin via French, linked to primus). Note, we have kingdoms but not dukedoms and princedoms.

We gained legal, even though we had the word lawful meaning the same thing (lawful being a mix of Viking (law) and Saxon (-ful). There is literally no difference between illegal and unlawful – but does allow a great pun (***).

The English (ie the everyday folk) reared the animal (cow or cu) but the Normans (the elite) ate the meat (beef or boef – note bovine derived from Latin). This is probably why chicken (cicen) is chicken – reared and eaten by the same people.

Over time, English found its way back into government, yet this was not the English that had been spoken prior to 1066 but a merger of both the courtly and the vernacular. And, whilst English was spoken, the records of government were maintained in Latin, which continued to be the scholarly and Church language of choice. So, English continued to be influenced by a foreign tongue and words continued to be absorbed, even those that had already been absorbed from French.

For example, frail came to English from French but was originally from Latin; later fragile came direct from Latin. Frail and fragile are fairly synonymous in English and are both derived, ultimately, from the same original Latin word, fragilis.

Another example is real, royal and regal. All mean the same, although real in this context has fallen out of use. Real relates to royalty, note the word realm. Real came via Norman French. Royal came from French at a later date and then regal from Latin. But all three derive from the same Latin word regalis.

And then, in the Renaissance and later the Industrial Revolution, it was Greek and Latin that were used to form new words for new tools, instruments, discoveries etc.

This is why we have television (****) (tele – Greek for distant; vision – Latin for the act of seeing), telephone (phone – Greek for voice/sound) and not something like “farseer” and “farspeaker” like the German fernseher and fernsprecher (although due to the influence of English they are just as likely to say ‘television’ and ‘telefon’).

It never really stopped: with the empire and a more global society, English continued to absorb words from elsewhere, such as pundit, punch (the drink) and thug from India. Today, it is just as influenced by American English.

As the words were absorbed, so too were some of their rules, making it a bit of mess, with rules that seem more honoured in the breach than the observation, or a different meaning to what we might expect due to the derivation of the word.

For example, inflammable means flammable rather than non-flammable, which a lot of people think. Inflammable comes from the Latin inflammare, it is not the use of the prefix in- such as in insane (ie not sane) or inactive (not active). This misunderstanding could have dire consequences! Indeed, in my lifetime, I have seen aerosol cans change from warning of the inflammability to the flammability of their contents.

Pluralising seems an interesting one.

Criteria is plural but pizzeria and cafeteria are singular. Criteria is the plural of criterion, absorbed from Greek, whilst pizzeria and cafeteria derive from Italian and American Spanish respectively. So why didn’t criterion get pluralised as criterions, as is usual in English?

The plural of gateau is gateaux. Absorbed from French in the 19th century, gâteau means cake, yet in English it tends to be a richer cake with cream etc, but in any event, why is the plural not gateaus?

Panini is the plural of panino from Italian, yet we use panini as singular; however, cappuccino came through as singular and we say cappuccinos rather than cappuccini.

Media is the plural of medium. We use media for TV, newspapers etc in general. Yet, when it is a fortune teller or clairvoyant, we say mediums.

Why does goose become geese and tooth become teeth, but moose does not become meese? All because of when the word entered English. Goose and tooth go back a long way. Moose was absorbed in the 1700s as the English settled in North America. Again, all down to the timing.

Despite all this, the bulk of what is said can be traced back to Old English. Key words such as I, you, me, mother, father, brother, daughter, son, sister, north, south, east, west, man, wife, day, night, king, queen, house, why, what, who, beer, ale and wine all derive from Old English.

Absorption isn’t a problem per se, English did not need a word for kangaroo until Europeans landed in Australia, and why make up one when the aboriginal word would do? And many words survive, despite an alternative being absorbed (such as ill and sick, lawful and legal as mentioned previously). They continue to be used, creating a language with a large vocabulary of synonymous words.

It is debatable if this is good or bad. Languages change: if they didn’t, most of Europe and Asia would still be speaking the Proto-Indo-European language from which all this derives.

With English having a rich history, reflecting that of its homeland and drawing on lots of other languages, it is no wonder that people have trouble with certain aspects of the language. As a proofreader, I can help individuals and organisations navigate these inconsistencies to help ensure their writing is accurate and consistent.

Notes and other worthy comments.

(*) Note the letters æ and ð. These represented the modern -ae- and -th- sounds but died out over time. The letter ð lives on in Icelandic.

(**) Indeed, an aspect of it remains. When Royal Assent is given to Parliamentary Bills the statement is made in Norman French.

(***) What is the difference between unlawful and illegal? One is against the law, the other is a sick bird.

(****) CP Scott, the then editor of The Guardian, is famed for the quote: “Television? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of it.”

This blog draws together a lot of knowledge from various sources read over time. Bryan Evans in Plain English A Wealth of Words gives a great summary of the history of English; some of the information in this blog is derived from this book and was the starting point of further research into specific words. The histories of words have been found in Cassell’s Dictionary of Word Histories. Steve Pollington’s First Steps in Old English is a comfortable introduction to the language and Old English Translator has been useful in checking spellings of various Old English words.

This topic was also the basis of a presentation to Southend Peers.

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA.