In defence of proofreading

I am a proofreader.

I would be even if it wasn’t on my business card. (It is.)

I wake up a proofreader. I go to sleep a proofreader. It’s possible my dreams are pedantic.

I adore abstract art, and messy hair, and long-form improvised jazz, and unplanned weekends. But the methodical neural sequences are always running — as subtle, pervasive and persistent as those that maintain subconscious respiration and the miraculous auto-focus of my blessedly functional human eyes. I don’t switch this part of me on and off as I approach and depart the office each day.

As a proofreader, that’s the way things work, and it’s the way I work (even when I’m not at work). Just as an artist sees the world through creative eyes even in the non-painting, non-sculpting, non-drawing moments. Just as the curiosity that drives a scientist, deep-sea explorer or astronomer isn’t silenced the moment they step away from the microscope, periscope or telescope.


{image via PowerScore}

People are afraid of the red pen.

They fear seeing their writing covered in proofreading glyphs, and they resent the person who made it so.

Some editors use green or purple ink because red is ‘too aggressive’.

But red is also the colour of love, and of passion.

I do not proofread in anger. I proofread with passion. When I scrawl all over the page, I am sharing the writer’s devotion to the words they have coaxed forth. It is with love that I — as gently as possible — nurture and nudge those words just a little bit more, hoping to make them as perfect as we both desire them to be.

So writers? Don’t hate the red pen. Your proofreader actually loves your writing.

Proofreaders, don’t be ashamed to be called a persnickety, pedantic perfectionist. Wear that badge with pride (especially if you couldn’t take it off if you wanted to).

And everyone: go to as many Sydney Writers’ Festival events as you can between now and Sunday (26 May 2013). Let your brain be caressed and your thoughts provoked.

To curiosity! May it never die.

As quoted in his New York Times obituary, Neil Armstrong once said “I am, and always will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer… And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession”. To Armstrong, “the attractions of being an astronaut were actually, not so much the Moon, but flying in a completely new medium”.


A young Neil Armstrong.

There’s a passage in Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World that explains the difference between children, grown-ups and philosophers. To paraphrase, we are born with the infinite capacity for wonder — to be amazed by everything we see; to see everything as a miracle. As infants we are thrilled by everything; the smallest thing surprises us. As we grow older, we become jaded. We learn to accept some things as normal (we just accept that planes fly, for example; that’s just what they do) or we deem it ‘uncool’ to think that something might be marvellous. Most grown-ups could easily become jaded having seen Mount Everest up close, or after travelling through five major cities in as many weeks. “Been there, seen that. I know all there is to know and nothing can impress me now.”

Philosophers (and others who have nurtured their inquisitive nature) spend their lives trying to buff away the frosted glass of adulthood; to view the world through a child’s eyes, always asking questions, awed by nature’s most banal accomplishments.


Earthrise from the surface of the moon, from that great Apollo 11 landing of 1969.

Neil Armstrong was a quintessential human — a fine example of someone whose childlike enthusiasm never dulled with the passing of time, even after he walked on the Moon and had seen, at least in terms of long-distance travel, all there is to see. As his family said of him,

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits”.

I believe space travel isn’t about claiming new territories for humankind, or finding footholds for off-world colonies in a dystopic future. It’s about recognising — and championing — the undeniably curious nature that makes us human. Yes, space exploration is about Curiosity.

It’s the desire to know more about the things we see from a distance, and to better understand what makes our own planet so special. The inquisitive spark deep inside the human spirit that drives our impulse to read, explore, experiment, create, travel, study, work, meet new people, go to the zoo, cross the North Pole, and watch David Attenborough documentaries.


Layers at the base of Mount Sharp, captured by the Mars Curiosity rover.

The day that space exploration became an optional frivolity — and gradually faded from the global (funding) agenda — was a sad day for human curiosity, creativity and innovation. After all, space exploration isn’t just about flying rockets and walking on the Moon. As documented by NASA:

  • The technology behind liquid-cooled spacesuits used for moonwalks is now used to treat those suffering multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries.
  • A lightweight breathing apparatus now used by firefighters was the result of a NASA project.
  • Robotic arms developed for operating on machinery in space formed the basis of robotic arms now used to operate on humans in delicate surgical situations. (In 1994, doctors used one of these robotic arms to remove a woman’s gallbladder. Gallbladders are much smaller than space stations.)
  • The Statue of Liberty and Golden Gate Bridge are both coated in a protective material that NASA invented to protect launch pads from hot, humid, salty air.
  • Multispectral imaging used to map the surface of Mars was later used to decipher previously hidden text in Roman manuscripts damaged by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
  • Space Pen, Space Food Sticks and Astronaut Ice Cream. Because humans are also inextricably delighted by frippery.

But without government funding — or some way to ensure scientific research in private space exploration endeavours — the refrain of “I’m going to be an astronaut when I grow up” seems to have vanished like a waning crescent Moon. (When was the last time YOU heard those words pass the lips of a bright-eyed child, filled with wonder at the mysteries of the universe?)

So. Vale the space program, hail curiosity (and Curiosity), and let us hope that Neil Armstrong isn’t the last of a dying breed.

.

PS. The next time you get overly excited at the world around us — by a beautiful bird flying overhead, or a particularly huge moonrise in a glowing amber twilight, or a ladybug landing on your sleeve, or the beauty of falling snow — and someone tells you to stop being such a child… just ignore them. It’s never uncool to be curious about — and delighted by — the universe.

Read (v.): This article is cooler than a frappawhatsit

The Joy of Indefinite Words: Is a Spillion More than a Metric Buttload?

As a fan of “it’s eleventy bagillion hot outside”*, I adore this image and the accompanying article in equal measures.

Here’s an excerpt, if you need convincing:

“The Oxford English Dictionary traces “zillion” back to a 1944 quote: “I love him a zillion dollars’ worth.”…

These words are just the tip of the whatsit-berg. The lexical banquet of the web has produced more than a smattering of creative, bonkers words, many playing on “thingamajig.” Some are specific, like “tupperware-thingy-majigger,” “blog-site-location-amajig,” “twittermajiggy,” and “frappawhatsit”…”

See? It’s eleventy awesome.

*No really, it is. Sydney has become trapped in the (fierce, sweaty) grip of a late-Summer heatwave. We’re dying. Send ice-cream**.

** Prompted by the recent acquisition of an ice-cream machine, I’ve been pondering whether it’s correct to hyphenate “ice-cream” even in its noun form (noting that hyphenation is a given when it’s used as a compound adjective). My eyePhone does so automatically, and I tend not to trust such ‘corrections’… but I’ve just checked the OED, and it too hyphenates “ice-cream (n.)”. I’m sold (though not cold).

Inglourious Grammar Nazis

So insensitive, but SO funny


“Me and her buy her milk at the same market.”

“Me and her? Surely you meant to say ‘She and I’.”

“Yes, of course.”

“The trick is to take the other person out the sentence to see if it makes sense. ‘Me buy milk’? I think not.I buy milk’. You see?”


Very insensitive. Very funny. AND ALSO VERY INFORMATIVE.

(I always use the I/me rule.)


And yes, I aware that this is the second [grammar] Nazi-related Proof (v.) post. But in my defence, me didn’t invent the term. Neither did Encyclopædia Dramatica… but it is defined there so very well:

Grammar Nazi is a term given to one who incessantly corrects the spelling/grammar/usage of others. Everyone hates Grammar Nazis because they are the ultimate lulz killers.

(Do yourself a favour and read the whole thing. Again, it’s admittedly offensive, but terribly HILARIOUS).

Even Nonomnivores Make Misteaks

We learn  from our mistakes. We learn from others’ mistakes. “The perosn (sic) who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything”. If we didn’t make mistakes, I’d be out of a (new) job. AND I’d have nothing to quibble about. And nothing to scold myself over. For to err is human, and we are Errthlings after all.


{ by Monsieur Cabinet on Swiss Miss, via FFFFOUND! }

…but could you make mine an eggplant steak?
Or tuna if you must.
I don’t eat mammals.

Lost in Translation: The USA/Canada > “Australian” edition


This year, the closest I’ve been to snow (my love) is two weeks lounging around with the air conditioning turned down cold, watching The Winterlympics*… and the wearing of snowflake-shaped earrings.

But this time last year, I had just returned from a North American winter: a month stomping/skiing around Salt Lake City (Utah, USA) and Banff (Alberta, Canada) wearing three layers of everything, watching icicles form on my hair, and laughing at the peculiar linguistic variations between Australian English, Canadian English, and American English.

 

( The image quality is terrible, but this sign was outside the house we lived in for two weeks just outside Salt Lake City. It reads “No Solicitors or Deliverie’s”. I shrieked at this abomination every day.).

The following is the blog entry that I drafted upon my return, but quickly found was no longer relevant. UNTIL NOW.


Eh?

Eh? (Canada)

Innit? (UK)

N’est-ce pas? (French)

Huh? (Youth)

Whut? (Web)


For sure!

For sure! (Canada)

No worries! (Aus)

Of course! (Everywhere else)

Yup! (Youth)


Goobers

Chocolate-coated peanuts. I can’t believe I never knew this. I mean, I’ve watched American TV my entire life, AND I love chocolate-coated peanuts. But here, a ‘goober’ is, well, snot.

{ image via The Chocolate Cult }

 

 

Grāpple®

Grape-flavoured apple. “Looks like an apple, tastes like a grape”. SO WRONG, and yet so right.

Apparently invented because kids ought to eat apples, but prefer the taste of grapes. Or grape-flavoured candy in this case.

Which is ridiculous.

When I was a child, we didn’t get to make orange-flavoured bananas, just because we liked oranges better. Know what we did if we liked oranges? WE ATE ORANGES!

Anyway, the grāppling process involves some difficult-to-pin-down method of drenching the apples in grape flavouring at some point in the ‘production’ process.

And apparently, the “ā” means that it’s pronounced GRAPE-L, not “grapple” (as in to manhandle/tussle). Know what? That didn’t stop me from saying “grapple”. Nor was I sufficiently perturbed by the outright absurdity of the whole idea to just put down the Grāpple and walk away. I should have been, but I couldn’t resist. Why? Because I like apples (okay, just the way they are), and I also like grape-flavoured candy. {image via Coolest Gadgets }


Loonies & Twonies/Toonies

 

Canadian one dollar and two dollar coin (not children’s cartoon characters). No point talking about “one dollar coin” and “two dollar coin” in Canada: no-one will know what you’re talking about.

The one-dollar “loonie” is so called because it bears the image of a loonie bird. The two dollar coin is worth two loonies, and so, by logical extrapolation, is called a “twonie” (pronounced toonie).

But of course!

{image via Filibuster Cartoons }


Nonpareils


Sprinkles. Hundreds-and-thousands. What makes a
chocolate freckle freckly.

The fact that they’re “nonpareils” in Canada is obviously a remnant of French colonial (candy) domination.

I still don’t understand what being unequalled has to do with it (and I think Wikipedia’s explanation that they were unrivalled as cake decorations is a pretty poor effort on the etymology front).

{ Image via Flickriver }


Poutine

 

French fries covered with gravy and cheese curds.

Words can’t express how truly repulsive this looks/is, so I’ll hand over to Google Images.


{via the Calgary Poutine Crawl 2013 }

*barf*

And I’ll also leave it to Wikipedia to explain that etymologically, Poutine has a closer relation to “pudding” (ie: a whole lot of everything) than it does to the French expletive (though given Canada’s semi-Francophilia, the latter would also make some sense). Traditional pub grub, ski-field fuel, late-night booze food, school’s-out snack, etc. Like kebabs in Australia, only… more disgusting.


Puck Bunnies

Like groupies, but for ice hockey players instead of rock band members. [On Monday morning, I nearly FELL OFF MY CHAIR with excitement during the gold medal ice hockey match. And by chair, I mean perfectly stable and impossible-to-fall-off sofa. THAT IS HOW EXCITED I WAS. In the absence of ice hockey within a tangible geographic radius, this makes me a vicarious puck bunny (minus all the negative innuendo).]
{ image via Linda Mac }


Rumble strips

What my sister and I grew up calling “fart lines”. The noisy, corrugated part of the road that stops sleepy drivers from veering into oncoming traffic/into a snow drift when the road markings are invisible and/or one has been driving forever and ever and ever.

{ image via Local 4 Traffic }


Tuque

Beanie (Aus)

Knitted cap (UK)

 

 

A tuque is, for Aussies, a beanie. A brimless, knitted head covering. And yes, it shares a common etymological ancestor with the chef’s toque, though one might get a bit warm wearing a tuque in the kitchen.

Controversially pronounced “toock” [ike the "two" in "twonie" (see above). The pronunciation is only controversial because one can get 5 different opinions in 5 minutes, if you ask around].

{ in the above image of Jay and Silent Bob, Jay is wearing a tuque. Silent Bob is not. }


Turbinado Sugar

The word ‘turbinado’ is, in my mind, a portmanteau of turbine and tornado.

Cyclonic sugar? To me, this is the way sugar ‘normally’ comes. That is, in Australia, “raw sugar” is the norm, and you’d have to do actual research to find out much about the manufacturing process. But in the US and Canada, white sugar is “normal”, and so it’s deemed necessary to explain turbinado sugar in explicit detail, right there on the packet.

Turbinado sugar, also known as turbinated sugar, is made from sugar cane extract. It is produced by crushing freshly cut sugar cane; the juice obtained is evaporated by heat, then crystallized. The crystals are spun in a centrifuge, or turbine (thus the name), to remove excess moisture and molasses, resulting in the characteristic large, light brown crystals

Yes, if you check the footnotes in the above-quoted Wikipedia article, that description can be found on the packaging for Trader Joe’s Turbinado Sugar. Which is rather incongruous with the vast amount of packaged ‘food’ one can buy in North America without knowing exactly what’s going on inside the packaging.

And in true toonie… er, twonie spirit, that’s all, folks! At least until the next snowventure (which is so far in the hypothetical future I think I’d be better off just wearing my ski boots into the frozen foods aisle at the supermarket).


* My nominations for the greatest <alt=”most insane”> Olympic sports? Skeleton, Ski Cross, and Ice Hockey.

Wallflower Words: Koan (n.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.

The Word: Koan (n.)

Huh? In Zen Buddhist theory and study, a koan is a paradox proposed for the purpose of confounding the mind into an unthinking stupor, whereupon the stupefied mind becomes so stupefied as to enter a whole new level of conscious, awakened thought.

As in?


{ via Yahoo Answers }


And? Well, at 3.28 on a Tuesday afternoon we could all do with more mental stimulation, lest we be trapped forever in The Long, Dark Tea-Time of The Soul.

We might also like to remember that there is a moral to every story.

We might ALSO like to remember that animated introspective thought might never produce a finite answer.

And I need a name for that process of suddenly realising the answer to 14-down in the cryptic crossword a full 5 hours after I began puzzling over the clue.

See also:

Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)
Wallflower Words: Saturnine (a./ n.)
Wallflower Words: Quantise (v.)
Wallflower Words: Vitriol (n.)

Wallflower Words: Saturnine (a./n.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.

The Word: Saturnine (a./n.)

Huh? Influenced by Saturn. Contaminated with lead [the effect of lead poisoning may also known as Saturnia] and therefore leaden. Hence the quality of having a heavy, slow, dull, sullen and depressed demeanour.

As in? January Astrology.  Saturn takes 29.5 YEARS to orbit the sun, as opposed to our 365 DAYS. Saturn is the ruling planet of Capricorn (implying that we January babies are goatishly stubborn).

“Astrologically, Saturn is associated with the principles of limitation, restrictions, boundaries, practicality and reality, crystallizing and structures… Saturn is also considered to represent the part of a person concerned with long-term planning… According to the first-century poet Manilius, Saturn is sad, morose, and cold and is the greater malefic… Saturn symbolized processes and things which were dry and extremely cold, and, therefore, inimical to life. It governed the melancholic humor… Saturn being the planet of mortality, and hence, why the Grim Reaper carries a scythe).”

Wikipedia

Also: In bodily (sort of) form, Saturnine is The Guardian of the Road of Lost Souls in the Marvel Universe (which exists within THIS universe of course, but which anyone who has had more than a cursory glance can tell you, occupies a practically endless interlinking Wikipedia Universe of its own). Very morose; very Grim Reaper; very apt.

And? Planetary adjectives are all the rage. Happy people are commonly described as jovial, and mad ones as lunatic. The changeable are mercurial; and anything alien is either martian or at the very least, unearthly. So I say that ‘saturnine’, dark and sluggish beast that it is, deserves a better linguistic workout.

See also: Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)

RELATED POSTS:
—  Lunar Loveliness
The Language of Deep Space

Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.

The Word: Liminal (adj.)


Huh? Of or pertaining to a ‘limen’ or threshold.

As in? The ‘rich as plumcake’ Wood Between The Worlds, that magical in-between place in The Magician’s Nephew (in CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, of course).

“The Wood Between The Worlds shares some traits with other liminal spaces, way stations and thresholds, like the bardo of Tibetan Buddhism, or the door-lined hallway that Alice tries so hard to get out of in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But unlike other “between” places in myth and fiction, the Wood is both empty and full. It is a unitary movement, containing everything, the pause before a story is told, in which nothing has happened, and so anything might… On a less abstract level, the Wood is also a library. For someone like Lewis, who lived so much through his reading, each book was potentially a portal to another world.”

– Laura Miller, The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia (which I have finally finished reading, and feel thoroughly nourished by).


{ via The Crystalline Entity }

And?Subliminal‘  — being “below the threshold of conscious perception”— is a relatively common word. As is (though to a somewhat lesser extent) ‘superliminal‘ — being above said threshold, or faster than the speed of light.  But somehow the root ‘liminal’ has fallen out of common parlance. How terribly unreasonable.

[NB. This reminds me of that most existential of questions in 10 Things I Hate About You: "Q: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be... whelmed?" "A: I think you can in Europe?"... Except that 'liminal' is an actual word, whereas 'whelmed' is, well, not really, unless you're talking in the nautical sense.]