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Can editors read for pleasure?

Posted in: Copyediting, Language, Proofreading, Words by Sally Evans-Darby on 21 February 2014 | 5 Comments

As any proofreader or editor will know, there’s a clear difference between reading for work and reading for pleasure. With my proofreading cap on, I’m interrogating the text, seeing each word individually and scanning it in the context of its fellows to check for sense, accuracy, and the like. If I find myself swimming merrily from sentence to sentence and enjoying the content, that’s a warning sign to stop and begin the passage again, because it’s likely that in losing myself in the story I’m missing any number of pubics for publics, principles for principals, polices for policies.

While proofreading is about sustained analysis of every word both individually and how it relates to the words around it, reading for pleasure is a very different story. Our eyes flit hungrily over the words, generally only picking up the major semantic components of a sentence to garner meaning – sometimes even scanning down the page to see where that dialogue is snaking or what devastating revelation is going to precede that paragraph’s final full stop (I’m guilty of this when a book truly has me in its spell).

The trouble is, when proofreading is your job, and every day is spent looking at any text that lands on your desk with a squinted eye and a loaded red pen, you start to look at all text that way. You begin to become one of those people who can’t help gleefully pointing out that errant apostrophe on a shop sign, that quaint misspelling on a menu.* This is all well and good until you come to pick up your favourite novel at the end of a long day, and find yourself unable to concentrate on the content because your constant checks for subject-verb agreement and capitalisation consistency are just too distracting.

So my question to all you editors and proofreaders is this: do you still read for pleasure? Do you find that after proofreading all day you can’t find an off-switch when you just want to casually flick through a magazine or pore over a novel? Do you perhaps find that after looking at text all day you just can’t face looking at another printed word? Or do you consciously switch your reading style when ‘off the clock’, glossing over any words you read that might detract from your enjoyment of a piece?

I’ll throw my experience into the pot to start things off: there are certainly days when I feel I would be doing my poor, tired eyes a disservice to make them look at any more text, so I do something less ocularly strenuous (watching a film; sleeping). But then there are days when I’m keen to start the next chapter of a book I’m reading, and in doing so I find that I have to switch ‘proofreader laser vision’ off. I find myself sometimes scanning back through a passage to see if there ever was a closing comma to that parenthetical phrase, but have to tell myself to stop that, and just concentrate on enjoying what I’m reading, letting the words flow into my consciousness in a very different way to when I am proofreading.

It certainly seems a shame that as editors and proofreaders we might read less for pleasure than before we struck off on this career path; particularly as most of us would have been avid readers first, and editors/proofreaders second.

Leave your thoughts below; it’ll be fascinating to hear about other editors’/proofreaders’ reading experiences.


*On a side-note, people who feel the need to go about correcting grocer’s apostrophes as if they are conducting a public service are probably barking up the wrong tree; see this interesting study about apostrophe snobbery.

Eggcorns? Here, here!

Posted in: Blog, Language, Words by Sally Evans-Darby on 12 February 2013 | No Comments

This week I’m proud to link to a guest blog I recently wrote for the University of the West of England’s Linguistics blog, Lingo.

On first hearing the word ‘eggcorn’, you might think you’ve misheard it. Surely a word at once so humorous and so bizarre (corns and eggs just don’t go together) must be made up, or mispronounced…

Eggcorns, malapropisms, mondegreens, folk etymologies and the dreaded mumpsimus feature to varying degrees in my guest blog, which you can read here. Happy eggcorning!

(Picture courtesy of The Boston Globe.)

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.

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.

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.

Discover this week’s WOW

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

This week’s WOW is diminutive (adj.): small; little; tiny.

Prompting me to highlight this word this week is a spelling mistake I came across on a Trivial Pursuit question card (yes, I admit, it is one of my all-time favourite board games). There on the card, printed for posterity, was diminutive spelled with an extra ‘i’ – ‘diminuitive’.

Trivial Pursuit strikes me as the kind of board game you can trust (even if some of the answers seem implausible), and as my opponent concurred with the spelling when I queried it with him, I made for the dictionary.

Of course I couldn’t help feeling smug when the dictionary confirmed that ‘diminutive’ with only three i’s was correct and both Trivial Pursuit and my rather knowledgeable opponent had been mistaken. But it led me to wonder why there might be an instinct to spell the word with an extra ‘i’ before the ‘t’. On asking a couple of friends the next day, they also seemed to think it was spelled that way. One of them compared it to ‘miniature’, whose ‘a’ in the second syllable seems somewhat superfluous, yet there it is.

The thing is, English orthography (to use the ‘proper’ term) is so full of such discrepancies and so abundantly lacking in universal rules that you almost have to learn how to spell every word individually, rather than being able to apply a blanket spelling method. This can lead to the spelling of words like ‘diminutive’ becoming confused – and once you have that incorrect spelling in your vocabulary subconscious, it can be difficult to shift it (especially if Trivial Pursuit is corroborating it). I remember being astounded to find out that ‘minuscule’ wasn’t spelled ‘miniscule’, which had seemed to me for years the most logical way to spell it.

I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences of the wonderful minefield that is English spelling – leave your comments below.

Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 25 April 2012 | No Comments

This week’s WOW is grisly (adj.): causing horror or disgust.

I wanted to mention this word because it’s easy to confuse with grizzly, which in fact has nothing to do with things we don’t want to hear (it’s never ‘spare me the grizzly details’). Grizzly is in fact a word all of its own simply referring to something being greyish in colour, and is most often used when referring to the North American Grizzly Bear.

While grizzly has its roots in the Old French ‘gris’, meaning literally ‘grey’, grisly is from the Late Old English ‘grislic’, meaning horrible; which is related to the root ‘grisan’, meaning to shudder. Then of course there’s also gristly, referring to that chewy bit of cartilage you sometimes get in meat.

Grisly is a great word to use to describe something truly awful… ‘the grisly Grizzly Bear, its fur mottled and grizzly, chewed on a piece of gristle: what a grisly sight…’

Discover this week’s WOW

Posted in: Blog, Words, WOW by Sally Evans-Darby on 18 April 2012 | No Comments

This week’s WOW is swasivious (adj.): agreeably persuasive.

I found this in a book I came across in the library today on obsolete words. It’s a great word, describing a very precise degree of persuasiveness – not just persuasive, or disagreeably persuasive (an advert with an exasperatingly catchy jingle comes to mind), but ‘agreeably’ persuasive. Plus, it rhymes with ‘lascivious’, and I’m not sure many other words do.

So why is it obsolete? It seems a shame to let such a useful word drop into oblivion. I couldn’t even find it in my hefty hardback OED. Perhaps there just aren’t very many situations when you need to describe someone/something that persuades, but in a nice way.

As an editor, would you suggest an alternative to the author if you came across an ‘obsolete’ word such as this in a manuscript? Or would you favour ‘stetting’ such words in the interests of keeping the language alive with as many different descriptive words as possible?

Send me your thoughts below.