Notes from a proofreader: check for these words

WARNING: This post contains language some readers may find offensive. But we’re all adults, right?

You learn a lot when you work in the editorial profession. I’ve proofread texts on subjects from self-hypnosis to the Industrial Revolution, and they’ve all taught me something new. Some of the things I have learnt are very specific in nature, but some are more general and it is those I am planning to share on my blog.

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A big clock. Image: Pixabay

This post is about words you should probably do a global search for before you declare your editing and proofreading process complete. I knew about some of these from my training, but they pop up in real life with alarming regularity. “What are you on about, Hannah?” I hear you say. Well, I’m talking about misspelling words such as public, count and shirt. Leave a letter out of one of those and the result is a tad embarrassing. And it happens. I’ve seen it in real proofs for real books.

This isn’t an exhaustive list,  but I’ll add to it as I discover more. I suggest adding a global search for these words to your list of editing and proofreading tasks:

  • Cock (when you meant clock)
  • Cunt (when you really, really meant count)
  • Fag (instead of flag)
  • Poof (when it should have been proof – particularly a danger if you write proofreader a lot)
  • Pubic (when you meant public)
  • Shit (instead of shirt)

Obviously, you will sometimes deliberately use those words, but coming across an unintended use of pubic is never ideal. They are hard to spot because they are so similar to the intended word and we often read what we expect to be there, not what is actually there. Our brains will just fill in the missing letter. Spellcheck is not going to flag these errors for your attention, so checking for them is something you need to do manually (unless you have specialist software to do it for you). And if you only check one (although I’m not sure why you would only do one) it should be pubic. That one likes to pop up quite often.

Are there any words with missing letters that have left you red-faced? Let me know in the comments!

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I’m still here

“I’m so busy” is something I have been saying a lot over the last few months. It started out as a joke with my mum, because she knows I have had some months of little or no work. So when I say “I’m so busy”, it’s not a complaint – I am delighted that I seem, finally, to be attracting a decent amount work. But it is my excuse for the lack of recent blog posts. I am still here, although I am usually to be found on Twitter. I’ve been taking part in #HampshireHour every Tuesday (apart from the one evening I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2), which is fabulous for local networking. I’ve met some lovely people. I also attend my local SfEP meetings and they have been a brilliant source of motivation and encouragement.

OscarMost of my recent work has been on books for publishers, but I’ve also worked with an independent author and on online content for a local business. I love the variety. The books have included memoirs, children’s fiction and a short story collection. I started out by specialising in non-fiction, but my fiction titles are adding up now (five at the time of writing). I didn’t expect to branch into fiction so quickly, but I’m enjoying it.

I was joined by a new editorial assistant in February. He isn’t very helpful: he tries to chew my pens, he likes to sit on my laptop, and he knocks everything off my desk. But he’s a sweetheart and his paws are usually clean before he sits on the proofs. (Don’t worry – he only sits on my printouts and not the publisher’s copies.)

I hope, now I am adjusting to being “busy”, to be able to blog regularly again and to catch up on some of the wonderful blogs I follow.

All the best, and please feel free to say hi!

‘Foreword’ and ‘forward’

Foreword and forward are often listed as homophones, but whether this is true for your own speech probably depends on regional variations. I pronounce them differently, but I believe that when spoken in some other (particularly American) accents they sound the same.

Foreword

  • an introductory statement to a book

Forward

  • directed, travelling or moving aheadforward-arrow
  • at, in, near or towards the front
  • onward in order to make progress
  • bold, disrespectful or overfamiliar
  • well developed or advanced
  • of or relating to the future or favouring change
  • an attacking player in various sports
  • towards or at a place ahead or in advance
  • to send on to a destination
  • to advance or promote

My tip: a foreword is composed using words.


Sources:

  • Collins English Dictionary, 2009
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online
  • Pixabay (image)

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

New Hart’s Rules is on my list of recommended books, and it is recommended by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (of which I am a member). The publisher describes New Hart’s as follows:

For over a hundred years, Hart’s Rules has been the authority on style, helping writers and editors prepare copy for publication. The latest edition of this guide has been updated for the twenty-first century using the resources of Oxford Dictionaries and with the advice of publishing experts. Twenty-one chapters give information on all aspects of writing and of preparing copy for publication, whether in print or electronically.

Source: New Hart’s Rules

BookshelfI often use New Hart’s as a source for blog posts and for information that I give to clients. It’s compact but thorough and detailed. It’s easy to find the information you need and helpful examples are given. It may not directly address all possible scenarios (something The Chicago Manual of Style seems to have attempted) but the style guidance is easily applied in most circumstances.

Of course, it is important to point out that New Hart’s is a style guide and ‘correct’ style is often subjective. For example, Oxford style prefers -ize spellings for verbs but other styles may not agree. However, New Hart’s generally acknowledges areas where some style guides may give different advice.

When I started out as a proofreader, I found the chapters on how to style work titles, quotations and direct speech, and numbers and dates particularly helpful (as evidenced by the multitude of sticky notes all over my well-thumbed first copy). I think self-publishers would find it helpful as a guide to standards that would be acceptable in traditional British publishing and how to attain those standards in their own work.

The most recent edition of New Hart’s was (at the time of writing) released in 2014. The 2005 edition is, as far as I am aware, still perfectly serviceable, but the 2014 edition is updated and contains an extra chapter (on the differences between US and British English). It’s available in most bookshops and through online retailers, including Wordery and Amazon. You can also access it online for free if your library card gives you access to Oxford University Press resources – you can read more about that here.

If you have a copy or use the online version, please let me know what you think of it!

Damp Squid: the English language laid bare, Jeremy Butterfield

I was given a copy of Damp Squid: the English language laid bare for Christmas. I’d like to say one of my best friends knows me so well that this was a gift he picked himself, but I asked for the book and he called me a nerd when he gave it to me.

This is the publisher’s description:

How many words are there in the English language and where were they born? Why does spelling ‘wobble’ and why do meanings change? How do words behave towards each other – and how do we behave towards words? And what does this all mean for dictionary-making in the 21st century? This entertaining book has the up-to-date and authoritative answers to all the key questions about our language.

Source: Damp Squid

Jeremy Butterfield edited the recent edition of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage and I have shared some of his articles on Twitter. I admire his work; I think he is an eminently sensible man.

Damp Squid is aimed at a British audience but I am sure an American reader would understand most of the references (or at least understand them enough in context).

I think it is fair to describe the book as a love letter to the Oxford Corpus. The corpus is made up of global English texts, of all types, that can be read electronically. From this, researchers can draw conclusions about how the English language is being used.

BookshelfButterfield uses the corpus to explore the evolution and usage of English. He focuses on how the language is used rather than on prescribed ideas of how it should be used. If you have read some of my previous posts, you are probably aware that I usually write about standard usage rather than ‘correct’ usage. The book gives a good overview of how standard is determined and the problems that arise from trying to present one ‘correct’ version of English.

You might think that a book taking a close look at spelling and grammar would be dry and a bit dull. On the whole, Damp Squid is entertaining and interesting. Butterfield is mostly successful in balancing depth of information with amusing examples (“spam rage – the incandescent anger caused by dozens of emails offering to enhance parts of your anatomy you were perfectly happy with”). The discussion is accompanied by explanatory tables of usage statistics and illuminating quotes from such figures as Samuel Johnson.

All the chapters are clearly written and accessible. You don’t have to be a language expert to enjoy the book but an interest in the English language is probably required.

Two of my favourite chapters are those on where words come from and words that often group together. You might recognise the eggcorn in the title: damp squid. It appears in the chapter discussing idiomatic phrases, and the chapter is fascinating (especially the section comparing idioms from different languages).

I read Damp Squid in a few enjoyable hours (it is 165 pages excluding notes and index). You can find more reviews on Amazon, and you can probably acquire a second-hand copy for a reasonable amount if you fancy adding it to your bookshelf. Or you could start your Christmas list early.

The Penguin Writer’s Manual, Martin Manser & Stephen Curtis

The Penguin Writer’s Manual features on my list of recommended books and my own bookshelf. The blurb describes it as follows:

The Penguin Writer’s Manual is the essential companion for anyone who wants to master the art of writing good English. Whether you’re composing an essay, sending a business letter or an email to a colleague, or firing off an angry letter to a newspaper, this guide will help you to brush up you communication skills and write correct and confident English.

via The Penguin Writer’s Manual.

BookshelfThe book isn’t as belligerent as that passage makes it sound. The value of this book is probably not in the depth of its explanations. If you need a quick refresher on what an adverbial phrase or a preposition is, this will help. The sections on word usage and vocabulary are also useful.

I think the value of this book is in its advice. The Penguin Writer’s Manual was published in 2002, but its content is still surprisingly relevant. (I am still coming to terms with 2002 being a long time ago.)

If you need to write a business letter but you aren’t sure what to include, the guidelines are well explained with examples of good practice. Other types of communication you may not do on a daily basis are also addressed, such as letters of sympathy or job references.

The authors also give more general advice, including discussions on style and effective communication. Much of the advice is easy to understand and apply, and yet in some ways profound:

One of the wisest uses of time is to think about precisely what it is you wish or need to say.

The book has 352 pages and would be easy to tuck into your bag if you wanted to work outside. You can find the book and more reviews on Amazon, but you can probably pick up a second-hand copy for a very reasonable amount.

Oxford Dictionaries

Library2Have you got a library card? Here’s something you might not know: most UK libraries subscribe to resources from Oxford University Press (OUP). If you live outside the UK, it is worth checking if your local library has a subscription too.

It is a huge range of resources, but perhaps the key ones for writers are the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Reference and Oxford Dictionaries online. There’s information about how to access them on the OUP’s website.

I recommend taking advantage of the premium resources on oxforddictionaries.com. The login page is here, and the library card login box is on the right-hand side. Once you have logged in you will see the Premium tab.

The premium resources are:

  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide
  • Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
  • New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors
  • Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage

If you want your work to conform to UK publishing standards, you should use New Hart’s as your guide. It is really very good.

The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors is a handy guide for any spellings or names you aren’t sure of, or if you want help with hyphenation and capitalisation.

Pocket Fowler’s does not contain all the nuances of the full-size version, but it is still very helpful.

And they are all available for free and from the comfort of your own home.

 

Widows and orphans

If you are self-publishing your work, it is worth knowing about widows and orphans. They can be ugly, and removing them will help your finished publication look even more professional.

Widows

The first type of widow is a short last line of a paragraph at the top of the page. The definition of ‘short’ will vary. Generally, you can pick your preference out of the following:

  • less than a third of the line width
  • less than half of the line width
  • less than the full line width

I prefer to regard ‘short’ as less than the full line width. Whichever definition you wish to adopt, make sure that you are consistent throughout.

As the author, you are well placed to decide how to deal with any widows that occur: add or remove some text on the previous page so that the line can move up or another line can move down (or just make the line longer if that’s what you want).

Make sure you check any for any knock-on effects. Sometimes even small changes have repercussions for the surrounding pages.

Here is an example of a widow.

Here is an example of a widow.

The second type of widow is a very short last line of a paragraph. This is usually fewer than five characters (including punctuation). You should be able to deal with these by adding or removing a word or two earlier in the paragraph.

Paragraphs that are only one line do not count as widows.

Orphans

Orphans are a single line of text under a new heading at the bottom of the page. If the first line of a paragraph falls at the bottom of the page, it is sometimes also regarded as an orphan.

Here is an example of an orphan.

Here is an example of an orphan.

As suggested above, you can add or remove words to fill or create space. It will depend on the capabilities of the formatting software you are using, but you might be able to amend the space above and below headings and illustrations.

If you can think of a sensible way to save or add space, it is probably worth doing when you are faced with a widow or orphan.


My definition of widows and orphans is based on that stated in Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning (Fourth Revision) by Gillian Clarke and Margaret Aherne.

Resources page

https://pixabay.com/en/book-open-pages-paper-education-933088/I have put together a page of resources. I mentioned a few books in my previous posts that I think are helpful or interesting, and I thought it might be handy to have a central list. It may be of interest to writers and students in particular. The books I have included are accessible and fairly straightforward.

I have also included a couple of websites I find or have found helpful.

I’ll update the page with any new discoveries.

Punctuation..? by User Design

User Design has very kindly sent me a free copy of Punctuation..? to review. (I haven’t had any previous involvement with User Design and I am not receiving any kind of payment for this review.)

Punctuation..? aims to explain the functions and uses of 21 punctuation marks. The intended audience seems to be broad, but the content is focused on the British English use of punctuation.

It is a slim book at 36 pages. It is staple bound (or saddle stitched) with the title of the book on the spine.

Used with permission from User Design.

Image used with permission from User Design.

Printed on good quality paper, it feels nice in the hand. However, I don’t think this can help to justify the £10 price tag.

The illustrations are idiosyncratic but charming. They are the main selling point of this publication. Readers who are easily bored should find the often amusing drawings enough reason to keep reading.

I was very pleased to see en dashes and em dashes touched on as well as hyphens. I was also interested to see guillemets, interpuncts and pilcrows included.

Unfortunately, the book is let down by errors, clunky prose and a lack of clarity. I find some of the explanations to be unhelpful or slightly misleading. This is a shame because Punctuation..? could be an excellent introductory guide after a little polishing.

Image used with permission from User Design.

Image used with permission from User Design.

The book is ideal if you want to spark someone’s interest in punctuation. It would also be ideal for a child who finds the topic of punctuation difficult or intimidating.

For adults, you might enjoy it as a quirky primer. But if you want to know how to use punctuation correctly, I can’t recommend anything more than Trask’s Guide to Punctuation.