It’s NOT all just English to me

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As someone whose business it is to know (and recognise, and apply) the differences between US, UK and Australian English, I loved the  ‘Shop Talk’ Q&A on the Chicago Manual of Style Online.

Most people know that UK (and Australian) English use –our and –ise endings rather than the –ize and –or of US English*, but seldom appreciate (in both senses of the word**) the vague and nebulous differences that are so subtle and instinctive they’re almost impossible to list or categorise. 

This particular excerpt is very close to my heart:

…the word cookie is more and more common in the UK, but it would never refer to the hard, sweet biscuits that the British dunk in their tea (and Americans would call cookies). Cookie is used in the UK just for the kinds of cookies that have come over from America—the big, soft kind that are sold individually in shopping centers and coffee shops.

For almost infinitely more on the topic from Lynne Murphy, read her blog, Separated By a Common Language.

Bill Bryson’s book The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way is also heavenly. I suddenly have an urge to reread it. Again.

Not to mention colorize/colourise.

**

Appreciate - Google

{Thanks, Google}

@: The fulcrum of our digital identities

The Unlikely Evolution of  @ (@ Fast Company) 

Once a bookkeeper’s shorthand, @ has become the fulcrum of our digital identities. How did that happen?

“In Danish, the symbol is known as an “elephant’s trunk a”; the French call it an escargot. It’s a streudel in German, a monkey’s tail in Dutch, and a rose in Istanbul. In Italian, it’s named after a huge amphora of wine…

In 1971, a keyboard with a vestigial @ symbol inherited from its typewriter ancestors found itself hooked up to an ARPANET terminal manned by Ray Tomlinson…

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone in Tomlinson’s situation choosing anything other than the ‘@’ symbol, but his decision to do so at the time was inspired,” explains Houston on his blog. “Firstly, it was extremely unlikely to occur in any computer or user names; secondly, it had no other significant meaning for the operating system on which it would run, and lastly, it read intuitively–user ‘at’ host.”

READ THIS POST because it’s wonderful. I especially love the identification of @ as the fulcrum of an email address. Because it IS one!

And then if you can resist pre-ordering Keith Houston’s upcoming book you’re a stronger person than I. (Come on. It’s called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation. How could I/you resist?) 

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.

Unsavoury weather?

When the weather contradicts what the season should dictate — for example, by delivering Summer-like warmth on an April day (unexpected in either hemisphere) — we say the weather is “unseasonably warm”.

When savoury food isn’t salt-and-peppery enough, we say it’s unseasoned (and probably unsavoury).

So why “unseasonably warm”?

Hint: it’s not because we can’t improve the weather with salt and pepper.

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The OED lists season (n.) as “any one of the periods, longer or shorter, into which the year is naturally divided by the earth’s changing position in regard to the sun” (and so on). That’s all based on an early version of the verb to sow (thus “sowing time” , from Latin and Vulgar Latin via Old French and Middle English, with variations in Modern French, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian). Humans have been talking about seasons since about 1340.

The concept of seasoning (v.) — “to render more palatable by the addition of some savoury ingredient” — turned up in around 1400, and is based on the same Old French concept: we leave fruit to ripen fully with the seasons, becoming as delicious as possible before we devour it or bake it into a pie.*

So unseasonal weather makes sense to me. But why unseasonable and unseasonably? Unable to be seasoned?

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The construction is literally just season + the able suffix.

Season+able (adj.) means “occuring at the right time or season”.*

Season+ably (adv.) means “in a fitting time; at the right moment; in due season”.

But if you ask me, the real answer comes back to a noun: seasonableness.

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 8.19.30 PM

So if something is unseasonable it’s unsuitable or unreasonable.

When I comfortably wear a sundress in April — or am forced to wear a woollen scarf in December** — I do so because of weather that is unreasonably warm or cold (within the context of the season). I am unable to provide a reason for such inexplicable weather …Except to say that we should consume less, recycle more, and look for alternative sources of low-impact, renewable, sustainable energy.

And all this still has very little to do with salt and pepper, other than the fact that a cold day in Summer is generally thought to be unsavoury.

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As opposed to seasonal (adj.), which means “depending on or happening with the seasons”. In Japan, cherry blossoms appear seasonally; if they flowered all through the year they would be unseasonal — unrelated to or unaffected by the prevailing season. Which means you could talk about an “unseasonally warm day” and still technically be correct, but you lose the element of unreasonableness and incongruity.

** That one is hemisphere-specific.

 

#$*&^! = Grawlix

>> A word for that: Grawlix

Until its OED entry is solemnized, we’ll have to settle for this definition on Wiktionary: “grawlixn. A string of typographical symbols used (especially in comic strips) to represent an obscenity or swear word.” I don’t think I’ll ever look at a character set quite the same way again.

%^&*@ing glorious!

Read the whole thing at Hoefler & Frere-Jones (via @GrammarMonkeys and @mental_floss)

A Kindleworm by any other name (and exciting news for OED lovers)

[EDIT: Sadly, http://www.oed.com no longer works, and even the link to it from Oxford Dictionaries Online is broken. Sincerest apologies on my behalf for getting us all excited, and for not realising sooner.]

The straw that finally broke my anti-Kindle camel’s back was the fact that Kindle comes loaded with the full Oxford English Dictionary [ALSO EDIT: I meant (and still mean) the Oxford Dictionary OF English. I unforgivably use OED as a generic term, though I know there are some who would drop a thesaurus on my head for such an offence.], thus overcoming the two main obstacles previously prohibiting my access to said lexicographical bible: price, and bulk. (My only other accessway was online, through the student login left over from my university days. Not coincidentally, that student login is my favourite souvenir as an alumnus).

Anyway, I bought a Kindle as soon as I realised this (while playing Scrabble in a Kindle-owning friend’s dictionary-less house). And thereafter, when asked whether Kindle “is good?”, my most likely answer has been “IT HAS THE *WHOLE* OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY *IN* IT. YES is good.”

Now this doesn’t mean I no longer love “real” books. I do. Very much.

I have an inconveniently large number of books in my new home. (At least, relocating them from my old home – and chromatically arranging them again – was inconvenient.)

I also have one of these…

…on my desk at work.

Yes, it’s a giant fuzzy bookworm, otherwise known as helluo librorum.

WAIT A MINUTE.

Helluo librorum.

The OED is online!

Free!

Searchable!

No subscription (or university alumnus login) required!


And @OxfordWords tweets the Word Of The Day!

Now this doesn’t mean I no longer love Kindle…

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The Oxford comma: dead at the hands of serial killers

I give a #%*^ about the Oxford comma.  I’m known for giving a #%*^ about the Oxford comma. But sadly, this sudden palaver over its threatened extinction (at the hands of its eponymous university, no less) is just a bureaucratic nail in an already-long-buried coffin. As a proofreader in Australia, I must (at least during working hours) adhere to the ‘current trends’ in Australian writing style, and that means NO SERIAL COMMAS EVER (except if absolutely needed for the sake of clarity, which isn’t any fun at all).

So as far as I’m (professionally) concerned, the Oxford comma has already been eradicated, or is at least seriously endangered, teetering on the brink of extinction. It lingers only as a ghost, destroyed by a gradual succession of serial killers*: style guides in ruthless pursuit of minimalist punctuation.

R, I, P.

Over at Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams has already said almost everything else I would say on the topic. Most importantly, she a) clarifies the extent to which Oxford University is eliminating its eponymous comma (that is, no more than most institutions already have); and b) embedded the obvious Vampire Weekend video clip.

Now, two things about this video clip: Firstly, its total number of hits must have jumped phenomenally in the past 24 hours. Secondly, IT WAS DIRECTED BY THE WONDERFUL RICHARD AYOADE (of The IT Crowd, of course). And if that isn’t a joyful note on which to end a sombre post, I don’t know what is.

*Yes, I went there.

Because QWERTYUIOP isn’t a real word

{ Learn Something Every Day, via imgfav }

This is pretty fabulous. But I still think QWERTYUIOP should be a real word.

Unrelatedly*, I have returned to the tumblr fold, that I might post links to all the pretty things I find scattered throughout the ether. My tumblog is vague and nebulous**, in name and in purpose. Drop by if you wish to look upon naught but nice and/or pretty things.


 

*Also not a real word.

** “Vague and nebulous” is one of my favourite phrases, though I know not its origins.  I frequently encountered it while reading law reports and parliamentary records at university, in reference to concepts so abstract that to define them would be like nailing jelly to a wall. Incidentally, “like nailing jelly to a wall” is another of my favourite law-school judicial phrases.