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Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 7 September 2012 | No Comments

This week’s WOW is lackadaisical (adj.): lacking enthusiasm and thoroughness.

It’s the sort of word you think can’t be real when you first hear it, so fantastical does it sound. In fact as far as words evolving over time into new words makes them ‘made-up’ words, this one certainly was made up; but in a fascinating way.

It can be traced back to the simple monosyllable ‘lack’, which in Medieval times was likely to have connotations along the lines of regret, dismay, of something missing (the echoes of which are still in the word today). This became ‘alack!’, a cry of dismay when something was going wrong, as in the Shakespearean-sounding ‘Alack and alas!’. This in turn morphed into the expression ‘alack-a-day!’, used in regret or sorrow when things were turning Medievally woeful.

‘Alack-a-day’ became ‘lackadaisy’ and quickly after ‘lackadaisical’ sometime in the 18th century. The meaning had changed somewhat; originally someone being ‘lackadaisy’ or ‘lackadaisical’ had been someone unfortunate enough to have to cry ‘alack-a-day’ often; I presume someone to whom events often seemed to take a turn for the worse. Over time, however, the meaning became somebody merely pretending to be experiencing dismay and loss, rather than someone who actually was.

This eventually gave us the meaning we have today, of someone lacking in zeal and spirit, lazing and avoiding work – and the implication is that this is an affected state rather than a real one.

Interestingly, the song ‘But Not For Me’ written by George and Ira Gershwin (and a lovely song it is, too) uses ‘lackaday’ in one verse:

I was a fool to fall, and get that way,

Hi ho! Alas! and also, lackaday!

Though the Gershwins were ostensibly employing outmoded expressions of dismay knowingly in their hi ho, alas and lackday, it’s interesting to note that this use of the word implies the older, 18th century meaning (the song was written in 1930).

One final point of editorial interest for ‘lackadaisical’ – it’s commonly misspelled and mispronounced as ‘laxadaisical’, probably being confused with the word ‘lax’ (related to ‘relax’). One to watch out for because when the word is used correctly, it’s well worth using.

Editorial freelancers: next steps

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 28 August 2012 | No Comments

Kicking your freelance editing career into gear

This week, I’m proud to be featured on the Publishing Training Centre blog with an article on getting your freelance editorial business moving full steam ahead once you’ve successfully completed your training.

I completed the Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning course with the Publishing Training Centre, and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone seeking a career in proofreading or copyediting. I say copyediting too because it’s a great foundation for any sort of editorial work, featuring as it does such very thorough and uncompromising grounding in the proofreading side of the publishing industry. It’s also a widely recognised and respected qualification so is likely to boost your chances of securing freelance editorial work, or progressing your career in-house.

If you’d like to read my thoughts on what to do next after completing your PTC training, you can read the article here.

What does a copyeditor do?

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting by Sally Evans-Darby on 15 August 2012 | No Comments

Find out what goes on behind the scenes when you hire a copyeditor

You’ve prepared some text and you’re nearly ready to send it out into the public domain. Perhaps you wrote it yourself, you commissioned it, or your team of writers has put it together. You’re proud of it and can’t wait to see how it fares out in the big bad world.

But you know it’s not quite ready to meet its public yet. Some inaccuracies may lurk in those carefully spun words, some slightly smudgy logic, some expressions that don’t quite sound right. This is where (ta-da!) the copyeditor comes in. He or she will take a magnifying glass to your every word and phrase, and make them better without compromising on your voice and style.

Sometimes the job of the copyeditor can seem a little shrouded in mystery. They improve your text – but how do they do this? Is it magic?

No, it’s not magic. It’s a simple, timeless formula that, on a whim, I shall call CE = A + C + C:

Copyediting = Accuracy plus Consistency plus Clarity.

These are the big three that I look out for when copyediting, and they are what make all the difference to the success of your text.


Any text entering the public domain must be as accurate as possible. A lack of accuracy reflects badly on whoever has published it. Generally, many of the things a copyeditor does fall into the accuracy camp, and can be divided as follows:

•    Spelling. Yes, spelling does still matter. It’s the difference between referring to your public duties and your pubic duties (this error happens more than you’d think). But it’s also about ensuring place names are spelled correctly, either US or UK spelling is used consistently, and those oft-typed but hard-to-spot typos (learn/lean, complied/compiled, and/an) are eradicated.
•    Punctuation. This isn’t about the copyeditor imposing their own sense of how commas should be used on your writing: it means getting a sense of how you use punctuation, then bringing the overall punctuation of the piece up to the best possible standard. This could be adding in a missing closing bracket, or replacing a comma with a semi-colon, or changing quote marks to speech marks.
•    Grammar. Sentences might need to be tightened up in terms of how they read grammatically. There might be a confusion of tenses, a singular verb after a plural noun, or a bullet-pointed list whose bullets don’t follow grammatically from its ‘stem’.
•    Facts. A good copyeditor is always questioning, and never assumes anything. If an assertion seems spurious, such as ‘SOS stands for save our sisters’ (actually, SOS didn’t originally stand for anything and was just three easy-to-remember letters in Morse code), the copyeditor will check it out – and if they can’t resolve it on their own, they’ll raise it as a query with you.


A lack of consistency can trip the reader up, and makes whoever has published the text look slapdash and careless. A copyeditor will be looking out for the following things:

•    House style. If there is a house style, it must be applied consistently throughout; and if there isn’t one, the piece must nevertheless read fluently and consistently. A character’s name spelt ‘Macsweeney’ in one paragraph and ‘McSweeney’ in the next is just going to confuse your readers. Are these two separate characters, or could the author simply not decide which one they preferred?
•    Additional material. A copyeditor will check any additional material such as contents pages, footnotes, bibliographies, running headers, tables, references and so on, to make sure they are presented consistently. Any numbered sequences must run on correctly. Tables must be set out each in the same way with a logically corresponding caption. A reference list must cite authors, if not in a prescribed style, then at least consistently. A copyeditor will check all these things and apply consistency throughout.


This last one is about making your text as clear, readable and concise as possible. A piece of text can have perfect spelling and consistent layout, but still not flow logically or read fluently. A copyeditor fixes that in the following ways:

•    Improving readability. This can range from dividing up over-long sentences, to saying things in one word rather than three, to eliminating redundancies (on a weekly basis = weekly, utilise = use), to breaking up chunky paragraphs. It also involves looking at tone – is an informal word used in an otherwise formal piece? – and making the prose sound as natural and well written as possible.
•    Getting the ‘write sense’ (I promise that will be my only personal plug!). By this I mean making sure the text at hand is saying what it means to say; that it makes sense and reads logically. This might involve checking with the author whether they meant that a character is poring or pawing over a set of photographs (more likely to be the former, but depending on the context…), or whether something is continually or continuously moving. It also looks at continuity – if someone leaves a scene, why are they speaking again in the next paragraph? If something was originally described as a pale-blue, why is it now a pale-green?

A good copyeditor applying the ACC formula will bear all these things in mind while reading your text, whether that text is web content, a novel or a scientific manuscript. And your text will be all the better for it. Whether it’s near the publication stage or still needs to be reworked by the author, it will come out bright, shiny and polished to perfection.

Is Freelance Editing For You?

Posted in: Blog, Copyediting, Copywriting, Proofreading by Sally Evans-Darby on 8 August 2012 | 8 Comments

Four reasons why freelance editing could be the right career for you

People arrive at careers in freelance editing from all walks of life. Of course there are many who work in publishing for decades, turning their years of experience into an invaluable marketing tool when they decide to take the freelance plunge. Others might start out as teachers, salespeople, academics. Or even butchers or bakers or candlestick makers. But they all have one thing in common: they are all in love with words. That love affair’s been going on for quite a while now. It’s getting pretty serious.

If you’re thinking of getting into freelance editing, you’re already straddling the first hurdle (you’ll need a bit more of a push to clear it completely). That first hurdle is seeing your own potential as a person who is skilled with words, and realising that you could make a freelance career out of that skill.

So how do you tell if freelance editing is right for you?

1. You are prepared to work your socks off

There’s no two ways about it: freelance editing is hard work. It requires hours of deep concentration, spot-on judgement and great linguistic skill. And if you’re working freelance, the actual editing work you do is only one part of the bigger picture.

Much of your time will be spent building, sustaining and enhancing your editorial business. Because, let’s not forget, that’s what you’ll be if you decide to go it alone as an editorial freelancer: a business owner. You might be the only employee, but you’ll have a whole slew of new work to attend to that just doesn’t come into the picture when you work for an employer: marketing, advertising, accounts, tax returns, administration, ongoing training. Don’t underestimate the amount of work this will add up to, especially if you haven’t worked in these areas before.

And you’ll want to be giving the best editorial service possible, so you’ll be pounding the keys, hunched over and squinting at that Arabic numeral that just doesn’t look right, at all hours of the day and night – at least you will be in the early days before things take off.

If you’re not ready to throw yourself in at the deep end and work like you’ve never worked before, you’re probably not ready to become a freelance editor.

2. You don’t like being around people

Okay, this isn’t wholly true – of course, to be a successful freelance editor you have to be an excellent oral as well as written communicator, you have to attend networking events and learn from your colleagues, you have to be prepared to meet a prospective client at their offices or for lunch to strike up a new working relationship. If you’re hoping to hide away in your study and not have to come into contact with those blasted fellow humans, you’ll be disappointed.

But it’s fair to say that you will be spending quite a lot of time on your own. However much networking and hobnobbing you do, your core business will still involve sitting alone in a room, undisturbed and utterly absorbed in your editing work.

This may be something you’ll have to come to terms with if you’re usually a social butterfly, or if you’ve ever described yourself as a ‘team player’ in a job interview without a hint of irony. There’ll be no more watercooler chats about last night’s soaps or elevator exchanges about how rubbish the weather is lately (you might be able to tell this isn’t something I miss).

In all seriousness, though, social interaction is essential for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing. No man is an island – you’ll have to cast lifelines to civilisation if you want to stay sane. This is certainly something to take into consideration if you’re thinking of going freelance.

3. You have a tough hide

To cut it in the world of editorial freelancing, or any kind of freelancing, you have to have a thicker-than-average skin. It’s not going to be plain sailing. There will be times when you lose faith in yourself and your abilities, however momentarily. No-one is going to hand you your freelance career on a plate and thank you politely for your efforts.

There has to be an element of struggling against the odds, of difficulty, of uphill heaving. Sometimes, things won’t go perfectly to plan. Sometimes, things won’t go your way. You’ll have weeks when nothing seems to be going your way.

If in these situations you think you might be apt to fold your hand and duck out, telling yourself you’re not cut out for this, your freelance career is going to be shortlived. In times of adversity you’ll have to come out fighting, with one singular aim: to keep going, and never to give up. This might sound a little melodramatic, but when you’re relying on yourself and your own abilities to get by, you have to have inexhaustible amounts of resource and strength. You have to be able to take the hits, learn from them, and move on.

4. Words make your heart sing

I touched on this earlier, but it really is the most important thing to appreciate if you want to live in the world of editors, writers and proofreaders. You can be a whizz with words and enjoy pontificating over the finer points of grammar with the best of them, but to be a freelance editor you need something more than that. You might love words with your head, but you need to love them with your heart, too.

As a freelance editor (or writer or proofreader) you will live and breathe words every single day. You will be constantly surrounded by phonemes and morphemes – you will figuratively, as well as literally, live off them. They will be your constant companion, whether you like it or not.

And some days, you won’t like it. You’ll be sick of the sight of all those crowding, noisy letters jumbling your field of vision, vying for your attention. Words will become your work, and everyone needs a break from work sometimes. If you don’t love words truly-madly-deeply, you’ll want to turn your back on them when the going gets tough. But if you love them enough, you’ll stick with them through thick and thin – because deep down you know you can’t live without them.

Do any or all of these points resonate with you? If so, freelance editing could be up your street. It’s hard work, it’s something you have to give yourself to wholeheartedly – but if it fits, it’s a wonderful profession to be in. I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 21 July 2012 | No Comments

This week’s Word of the Week is ballyhoo (n.): extravagant publicity or fuss; also (v.): to praise or publicise extravagantly.

I came across this word in the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (NODWE). There’s something rather alluring about the word – not for its aestheticism or lyricism, but for its wit. It sounds like a nonsense word, to describe a particular brand of nonsense or monkey business: what a load of ballyhoo, you mentally hear someone saying; will you stop that ballyhooing around?

But in fact ‘ballyhoo’ is not to do with nonsense; rather it describes the particular sort of hyperbolic hype we’re all too familiar with in today’s culture of over-promotion and flag-waving. Look at this! says ‘ballyhoo’ insistently. You might use it to describe, for instance, the furore surrounding the London Olympics, or the way some people go a bit strange when you mention a new Twilight film.

It appears that the origin of this word is, figuratively, up in the air. A Google search throws up a few tentative suggestions, while the OED simply states it is of ‘uncertain origin’ – though offers c.19th century as a possible birth date.

Have you used this word lately? Where did you last hear it? Is it a word that’s still in use? Please leave your comments below.

What makes a freelancer tick?

Posted in: Blog by Sally Evans-Darby on 16 July 2012 | 1 Comment

This week, I’m proud to be featured on a colleague’s website as part of a series of interviews: Saturday Business Chat with Liz at LibroEditing.

Liz has had the rather lovely idea of featuring a series of businesses on her website by way of interviews with the businesses’ founders, finding out how the business was started up, what goes on behind the scenes, and what it’s like to be a tireless freelancer. You can find all sorts of different entrepreneurial types on the Libro Freelancer Chat area, and pick up lots of tips if you’re thinking of starting a business of your own.

So, if you’re interested in finding out more about where Write Sense Media began and what makes it tick, head over to my interview with Liz.

Spotlight on Punctuation

Posted in: Blog, Punctuation, Spotlight on Punctuation by Sally Evans-Darby on 1 July 2012 | No Comments

Spotlight on Punctuation: Excitable Exclamation Marks

This week’s spotlight on punctuation takes a closer look at the exclamation mark (or point). It’s rather an exciting punctuation mark, as punctuation marks go. It immediately demands attention. It insists you sit up and take notice! (See what I did there?)

I think it’s safe to say that no-one really knows when or how the exclamation mark came into existence. There’s some rather spurious speculation that it was born from the Latin for ‘joy’ – ‘io’ – by writing the ‘I’ on top of the ‘o’. Possible, but unlikely. It comes with a wildly varied nomenclature; as well as being interchangeably a ‘mark’ or ‘point’, it’s also been known as a bang, a dembanger, a screamer, a gasper, a shriek and a startler. Not bad for what is essentially a vertical line with a dot beneath it.

The use of an exclamation mark can mean several things. It can indicate shouting in dialogue (‘It’s over here!’), an imperative (‘Fetch my coat!’), or, most usually, an expression loaded with emotion (an exclamation). This emotion might be excitement, anger, surprise, dismay. Consider the following examples and how in each instance the mark is used slightly differently:

Get away from me!
That was brilliant!
I can’t believe you said that!
Someone ate the last Rolo!

All these legitimately use the exclamation mark to convey the emotion of the sentence, and help to drive home to readers the significance of what is being said.

Interestingly, there is one more use of the exclamation point that has come into vogue the last decade or so, and that is using it as an indication of sarcasm. An exclamation mark in brackets at the end of a sentence denotes that whatever is being said is meant with a degree of irony, like a symbolised ‘…not!’, as in:

Gee, that’s a beautiful sweater you’re wearing (!)

This is used frequently in subtitles to help convey meaning, and, unsurprisingly, can most often be found in British English.

In Britain, there is even a place name whose spelling officially includes an exclamation point (Westward Ho!).

There is, however, one way to use an exclamation mark that will do nothing more than drive your readers up the wall. That, of course, is this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That’s an extreme example, but in my opinion it is never acceptable or necessary to use more than two exclamation points together. Even two is pushing it, and should only ever be used in the very rare circumstances when one isn’t enough. That’s the crux when it comes to exclamation points: one is nearly always enough. One on its own can convey so much power that using more simply dilutes that power.

To go further, even using one exclamation point should be approached with caution. Always bear in mind who your potential reader is: is an exclamation mark really necessary or will a full-stop suffice? Consider the following sentence, expressed with and without an exclamation mark:

I can safely say, after much consideration, that today’s roast dinner was the best I have ever tasted.

I can safely say, after much consideration, that today’s roast dinner was the best I have ever tasted!

Which would you believe was less of a hyperbole, the first or second? I would argue that while the first rings with a grave and credible sobriety, the second loses its credibility by sounding exaggerated. And that is all down to that mischievous mark.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it: ‘An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes’. So, this week’s punctuation lesson: don’t let an exclamation mark make a fool out of you.

Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 23 June 2012 | No Comments

This week’s WOW is pandiculate (v.): to stretch or yawn.

Thanks for this WOW are due to Martin Morgan of Extraordinary Editions who suggested this (suggestions for WOW are welcome by email!). I had never heard it before, and to my surprise found no entry for it in my OED.

It’s one of those words that seems to have fallen out of favour in the public vocabulary, but apparently was once often used in advertising, according to Michael Quinion’s very illuminating post. In its truest sense it doesn’t just mean to yawn; it’s that full upper-body reach you find yourself doing when you’re beyond tired: a neck-rolling, arms-out, back-arching, eye-watering stretch. The one that cats have perfected.

So, next time you find yourself at the end of a long, hard working day, have a good old pandiculation – your muscles and your vocabulary will be all the better for it.

Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 10 June 2012 | No Comments

This week’s WOW is floccinaucinihilipilification (n.): the action or habit of estimating something as worthless.

Yes, this really is a word taken straight from my Oxford English Dictionary (12th ed.). I’m not making it up.

It seems some words only gain renown for their breathtaking length, and this is one of them. I don’t think you would very often come across it in a context other than ‘here’s a list of really long, unpronounceable words that nobody has heard of’. It’s a wonderful word though; just try pronouncing it and you’ll see what I mean. It’s all those ‘hili’s and ‘pili’s that make it sound, well, rather silly.

According to the OED, it’s a mish-mash of smaller 18th-century words all meaning ‘at little value’: flocci, nauci, nihili, and pili, with -fication stuck on the end. It is probably one of those words that came into being more through a group of people’s inventive sense of humour than through any true etymological route. I imagine a gaggle of language professors (is there a collective noun for professors?) concocting it among themselves then using it in the lecture hall just for fun.

The other great thing about this word is that it is pronounceable, however much its appearance may seem to the contrary. The audio function on proves that; it’s a little like…

flok – si – noh – si – ni – hilli – pilli – fication

Challenge for the week, then: use this word in conversation. Okay, it might be hard to throw it in casually…

Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 23 May 2012 | No Comments

This week’s WOW is discombobulate (v.): to disconcert or confuse.
One of those words that’s been in the background of my mental vocabulary for some time but without much airing, I found myself using it this week to describe my state of mind: ‘sorry, I’m all discombobulated’ – the perfect way to sum up that slightly harried, slightly distracted feeling.
It’s somewhat onomatopoeic; all those syllables and the satisfying ‘bob’ in the middle making for a word that reminds me of a rickety broken-down steam train limping down the tracks.
According to the OED, it’s chiefly a North American word and generally used in a humorous context; it would look out of place in an academic context, for instance. It emerged in the 1800s in the USA as a word probably based on similar words like ‘discompose’ and ‘discomfit’. Whoever came up with it obviously had a whimsical knack for neologisms.
It’s a word that’s simply fun to say which probably accounts for why it’s persisted into modern usage. It’s not as frequently used as it should be though; when was the last time you heard someone say it or saw it written down? Send your comments below.
NB: There is an interesting entry on this at Michael Quinion’s excellent World Wide Words site. I recommend going there if you, like me, are fascinated by the many strange and wonderful words that make up the English language.