Archive for July, 2009

The Dictionary of American Regional English

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I just received a notice from the Dictionary Society of North America e-mail list that some pictures from our 2009 meeting have been posted to the Web site of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). I hadn’t been to the DARE site in a while, and so was pleasantly surprised to see it had been updated.

DARE is a project to map and record variations in terminology and pronunciation across the United States. It was begun in the early 1960s under the editorship of Frederic Cassidy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It’s a monumental and ongoing undertaking: years of fieldwork led to even more years of editorial work. Cassidy didn’t live to see the dictionary completed; four volumes have been published so far, with the final one scheduled for 2010. On the DARE Web site, you can read about the history of the project, look at 100 sample entries (Do you say kitty-corner or catty-corner or catercorner? Do you know what a pickletink is?), and even contribute to the research for the final volume.

Copied below is a comment from the Web site’s history page that gives some sense of the usefulness of this project.

As Fred Cassidy had always expected, the DARE materials have been extremely useful to people such as librarians, teachers, historians, journalists, and playwrights. But they have also proved to be valuable in other fields as well: forensic linguists and detectives use DARE to help apprehend criminals; physicians use DARE to understand the folk and regional terms used by their patients for ailments and diseases; natural scientists use DARE to identify plants and animals based on regional and folk names; psychologists use DARE in conjunction with standardized vocabulary tests to diagnose aphasia; lawyers consult DARE with reference to questions of trademark and commercial use; and actors and dialect coaches use DARE’s audio collection to perfect their regional accents.

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Two important strategies for editorial freelancers

Monday, July 27th, 2009


bullet-glyph21Subject: Two important strategies for editorial freelancers

Wave after wave of layoffs in publishing. For copyeditors, the rapid changes in the way content is produced and delivered mean a growing number of us are trying to freelance while hunting for a new job, or just deciding to go freelance for good.

For many weeks now I’ve been getting e-mails from laid-off copyeditors asking for advice about how to break into freelancing. At the same time, I’ve been noticing the way some veteran freelancers are responding to a climate in which they’re competing against far more other freelancers than they used to. I see two key practices that seem to be making a difference for the successful ones—strategies that matter just as much for the novice as for the old hand.

The first is treating your occupation as the business it is. Crucially, the most successful freelancers make networking and self-marketing part of their weekly routine. Nobody does it better than Katharine O’Moore-Klopf — you might be aware of her from her involvement in the Editorial Freelancers Association, from the audio conferences she did for us (Getting Started as a Freelance Editor and Client Management and Self-Marketing for Freelancers), or maybe even from the tips she has been posting through her Twitter feed (@KOKEdit). If you aren’t on Twitter, I’d recommend getting an account, and then following her and doing a search on the tips for freelancers she’s been posting.

The second practice is developing an editorial specialty. If you can edit academic, technical, scientific, or medical content, and in particular if you can help non-native speakers of English bring their articles up to snuff, you are going to be in a better position for finding work because these content areas are ones in which accuracy still matters. In much of journalism and even in general trade book publishing, the time and money that used to be allocated to copyediting is being slashed or even eliminated, but peer-reviewed content must still meet rigorous standards.

Do you have tips to share with new freelancers? Please post them in the comments here, and then I’ll pull them together into a free downloadable document we’ll post on this site.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: When a gerundy-looking word isn’t a gerund

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009


bullet-glyph21Subject: When a gerundy-looking word isn’t a gerund

I might not have read the lead article in the business section of the July 4, 2009, New York Times, “Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley,” had the first sentence not been “Brooke Hammerling (publicist) and Erin McKean (entrepreneur) are in a Sand Hill Road conference room, hashing out plans to unveil Ms. McKean’s new Web site, Wordnik.”

Erin is the CEO of Wordnik; she’s also a longtime friend of mine and a contributor to Copyediting. So I had to read the article, which I did find interesting. Most interesting to me (from my admittedly skewed perspective) was that the article contained the same punctuation error twice. It occurs in the following extracts; see whether you can spot it:

For new companies’ trying to get the word out, there’s a healthy measure of liberation in all of this. For publicists, the era of e-mail, blogs and Twitter has the potential to turn the entire idea of P.R. professionals as gatekeepers on its head.

Some business people say that because journalists would rather hear stories directly from the entrepreneurs who are genuinely excited about their companies — rather than from publicists’ faking excitement — the role of publicists becomes less crucial.

The problem is treating trying in the first extract and faking in the second one as if they were gerunds. They’re not. The present participle, the one that ends in -ing, is functioning as part of the present progressive in both cases. And in both cases, the relative pronoun and the helping verb are elided: “For new companies [that are] trying to get the word out”; “from publicists [who are] faking excitement.”

Misidentifying the participle as a gerund led to the mistake of adding an apostrophe to companies and publicists to make them possessive. What is a gerund? It’s an -ing participle acting as a noun, and there are two of them in the first sentence in this paragraph. (Some grammarians would call misidentifying and adding gerundives, not true gerunds. A gerund has to be modified by some kind of determiner or by a genitive or a possessive, and it can’t take an object. A gerundive follows a preposition and can take an object. The people who made up these rules would not have allowed an abomination like beginning the sentence with misidentifying to stand.)

An accurate use of the apostrophe can be found in the same article:

But the rise of blogs and social networks — and companies’ ability to post information on their own sites — transformed all this.

The relationship between companies and ability is one of possession, so the apostrophe is needed. If we were to replace ability with being able to—”companies’ being able to post”—we would have an accurate use of a possessive and a gerund.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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An e-book isn’t a *book* book

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Last week, enraged customers who had bought copies of George Orwell’s books 1984 and Animal Farm for their Kindle devices. From one moment to the next, the files disappeared from the e-readers — removed by Amazon in response to a complaint by the rights holder.

David Pogue, a blogger for The New York Times, said that the publisher had “changed its mind” about allowing the book to be sold in an electronic edition, but his characterization turned out to be inaccurate. The e-book had been uploaded by a third party that did not have the authorization to do it, in violation of copyright law.

As Michael Cader, proprietor of Publishers Marketplace, noted in his daily Publishers Lunch e-mail today, the incident was not handled well: customers were merely told there was a problem with one of the books they’d purchased. And more significantly, “for customers … it was a reminder that they are licensing the right to view a file rather than owning it. And it showed how the cool Whispernet[,] which downloads books ‘in 60 seconds or less,’ can also make those books disappear just as quickly. In this, Amazon appears to have overstepped the provisions of its own terms of service. … Of course for all of us, it’s also a reminder of one reason why ebooks are ‘worth less’ to customers: they come with fewer privileges.”

The chief privilege is owning a book you’ve purchased, rather than essentially leasing it. It doesn’t really matter that Amazon intends to amend its practice so that, according to its spokesman Drew Herdener, “in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.” What matters is that one’s ownership of an e-book is still dependent upon a vendor’s consistency in following a policy.

When someone buys a pirated copy of a physical book (or DVD, for that matter), it’s pretty obvious that the thing has been pirated. The quality is poorer, and the vendor is probably not a reputable retailer. If the police were to raid the buyer’s home and confiscate the pirated copies, the buyer couldn’t really complain. So an argument might be made that Amazon’s buyers shouldn’t be put out; according to some reports, the electronic copies of the Orwell books looked as though they had been scanned. But the vendor was Amazon. Amazon is supposed to vet its suppliers, right?

So buyers who purchased the books in good faith now find themselves with their purchase price refunded — well and good, except for those who, like one young man I read about, had been assigned 1984 as summer reading and had used the Kindle’s note-taking feature to mark up his copy. The notes disappeared, too. And except for all those who now might be reevaluating their love affair with e-books.

As I tweeted right after the story broke, whoever comes up with an independent application for encrypting an e-book once it has been downloaded so that it can’t be snatched back could make a mint. As long as the finality of a purchase is dependent upon the vendor’s decision not to enforce its ability to rescind it, the purchase is not secure.

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Our new Web site

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


bullet-glyph21Subject: The new Copyediting Web site

If you’ve found this blog, you’ve also found the redesigned Copyediting Web site. We tested the site this past weekend; those who are on our mailing list received a notice about the site last week, and some have already sent messages about bugs we missed in the testing.

I fully anticipate that Tip readers will be among those who use the dedicated e-mail address to report errors to me. If you encounter functionality problems in the store area, the address for reporting those is (We do know that Internet Explorer 6 and 7 have a bug that sometimes means the “back” button won’t take you back to a search results page in the archive; this is not something we can fix on our end, unfortunately. If you use IE 8, Firefox, Safari, or another browser and encounter a similar problem, please let us know.)

For those of you who have been receiving the Tip by e-mail, nothing will change. You’ll still get a weekly e-mail, carefully proofread by Danny Marcus. If you go to the new Copyediting blog, you will see the Tip posted there, too, and I will typically be blogging one or two more times between Tip postings. Danny won’t be proofreading the blog, so any errors will be mine (and I’m sure readers will tell me). A couple of comments have already been posted! If you don’t receive the e-mailed Tip and would like to, go to the home page of this site and click on the sign-up graphic.

Our Virtual Library of resources has been updated, too. I welcome your suggestions for additions to the list, especially if you belong to an editors’ organization that is not listed.

One request: If you are a Copyediting subscriber and have access to the Article Archive, please don’t send messages about the formatting of records in the archive. We have to go into each individual article’s record to standardize all of them, and it’s going to take a while to complete. However, if you’re looking for something and don’t find it, you can e-mail us about it as always (

I’m also putting out a first call for guest bloggers. If you’d like to write about a topic you think would be of interest to your colleagues, e-mail me at with your proposal. I do get to take a vacation on occasion, but search engines don’t like blogs that are silent for a week or two! Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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A nasty bit of corporate speak

Monday, July 13th, 2009

In the Copyediting webinars I presented this past spring, I discussed the problem of dealing with business speak. There’s a subgenre of this jargon, corporate speak, that represents the worst of this type of language because its wordiness obfuscates the writer’s true meaning. Someone taught these writers that direct language is always bad, when in fact a failure to be direct often results in a failure to communicate. If the writer is lucky, the result is simply that the message is confusing; too often, though, the result is that the writer offends the audience.

I came across a textbook example of this in a July 1, 2009, article in Editor & Publisher, about impending layoffs in the Gannett Co.’s newspaper division. The article quotes from a memo from the head of the division, Bob Dickey, to the division’s employees in which he says, “Approximately 1400 employees will be impacted by the job reductions across the division.”

The offensive part is not the use of impact as a verb — in business speak in particular, that ship has sailed. No, the truly objectionable aspect of Dickey’s statement is his saying “1400 employees will be impacted by the job reductions” when he meant “1400 employees will lose their jobs.” There’s an impact on everyone who is left behind, too, and so it’s both insultingly circuitous to talk about “impacting” people when you mean they will be laid off and dismissive of the remaining employees not to include them as being affected.

While we can’t stop people from using impact as a verb, this use is still a red flag for editors. There is nearly always a better way to put whatever the writer is trying to say — and you just might save the writer from unintended consequences.

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Copyediting Tip of the Week: Verbs of attribution–the list

Monday, July 6th, 2009


bullet-glyph21Subject: Verbs of attribution–the list

In the Tip of June 15, 2009, I shared some advice from Douglas Perret Starr about the use of verbs of attribution when you’re quoting sources. Several readers wrote asking for Professor Starr’s complete list, and he has graciously given us permission to share it.

You can download the PDF by clicking here.Copyediting Tip of the Week square bullet

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