No, I have not misspelled Gallifrey.

Gallimaufry is an old-fashioned word and I think it deserves to be used more than it is.

It means ‘a confused jumble’, and it is a synonym of the equally glorious hodgepodge.Pot

Gallimaufry originally meant ragout (the stew). It first appeared in the mid 16th century, having developed from the archaic French word galimafrée meaning ‘unappetizing dish’.

It is thought to combine the Old French galer ‘to have a good time’ with the dialect mafrer ‘to eat a lot’.

Top posts of 2015

It’s 2016.

Here are last year’s top 10 posts on this blog (according to my stats page) in case you missed them. You’re welcome.

  1. I am now on Royal Holloway’s register of approved proofreaders I reach the heady heights of approved-proofreader status.
  2. Split infinitives Use them.
  3. ‘I.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ are not interchangeable They do not mean the same thing.
  4. ‘Its’ and ‘it’s’ Its is a possessive pronoun – no apostrophe needed.
  5. Punctuation..? by User Design An author asked me to review their book on punctuation.
  6. Paragraphs I ask writers to use paragraphs. Please.
  7. Homophones The summary post for my series on words that sound the same.
  8. Defenestration An interesting word.
  9. Ending a sentence with a preposition Do it.
  10. Proofreading advice: take a break Advice to help writers spot errors.

If there were any posts you particularly liked, I’d love to hear from you.

I hope the new year is treating you well, and I hope you will join me for many more posts to come!

Proofreading advice: create your own style sheet

If you are a student, you should have a style guide supplied by your department or institution. That doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful to supplement it with your own (more limited) list.

All writers, particularly authors, should think about putting together their own style sheet. (Publishers and large organisations are likely to already have a house style guide but you might want to keep a list of any things it doesn’t cover.)

Keep a record of the style decisions you make and then tidy it up into a neat list.

The style decisions you make should include the following:

  • Word endings: ‘ize’ or ‘ise’?
  • Numbers: numerals or words?
  • Commas: serial or not serial?
  • Dashes: spaced en rules or closed-up em rules?
  • Quote marks: single or double?

There will be lots more, and many are not as simple as choosing one option for all circumstances – just make sure your decisions make sense. should also keep track of words you have hyphenated and any alternative spellings you have chosen.

If you are formatting your own work, extend your style sheet by creating a design specification. This should include decisions such as how headings of equal importance should look and what size the margins should be.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but a style sheet should help you spot where you have been inconsistent. Spotting inconsistencies is a key part of the proofreading process. If you aren’t sure where to start, there is a sample style sheet available on my Resources page.

Articles in this series:

‘Slay’ and ‘sleigh’

SantaIt is getting closer to the time when Father Christmas delivers presents! As he dashes around the world every Christmas Eve, his method of transport is a sleigh.

Santa’s Slay is a film I don’t think I ever need to see.


  • to kill something in a violent way
  • to delight, impress or amuse someone very much
  • a tool used in weaving


  • a sledge drawn by animals, usually horses (or reindeer!)
  • (sleighing) ride on a sleigh

Here’s ‘Jingle Bells’, with the well-known sleigh-related lyrics:

Feeling Christmassy yet?



Xmas gets a bad rap. It is often seen as a symptom of the commercialisation of Christmas and is accused of ‘removing Christ from Christmas’.

Given the history of the word, that interpretation seems unfair. I don’t think it is as elegant as Christmas but it is an abbreviation that stays true to its meaning.Xmas

The use of Xmas is not a recent phenomenon. Fowler’s states it was first recorded in the 18th century; it appeared in a slightly different form even earlier.

The X represents the first letter (chi) of the Greek word for Christ – Χριστóς (Khristos, meaning ‘the anointed one’).

The use of X and XP to represent Christ has a long religious history. (You might recognise XP from the Chi-Rho monogram or symbol.) It’s worth reading about, particularly in regard to the influence of the Roman emperor Constantine I.

In spoken English, Xmas is usually (or should be) pronounced as ‘Christmas’ rather than as ‘ex-mass’.

Proofreading advice: read out loud

You’ve taken a break and printed off your work. Now you need to decide how you are going to divide the text into manageable chunks.

ReadingIt will depend on the length and style of the project, but you might find proofreading a chapter and then taking a small break is a good way to maintain focus.

Before you start reading to spot errors, read the text through at least once with clarity and sense in mind.

Don’t be afraid to read out loud. Errors are often obvious when you say them. As you read, it may be useful to imagine someone else listening to you. Would the listener be able to understand what you are trying to convey? Would they be able to follow your argument or narrative?

It’s best to revise any areas you think aren’t clear or don’t work before you begin proofreading for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Articles in this series:

‘Mincemeat’ or ‘minced meat’?

Mince piesWe are progressing rapidly through December, and that means it is now acceptable to eat lots of mince pies.

Mince pies contain mincemeat, and you probably wouldn’t want to put brandy cream on a pie containing minced meat.

Minced meat: Meat that has been cut up into very small pieces (usually by a machine).

Mincemeat: A mixture of dried fruit, sugar and spices. It may also contain alcohol (often brandy) and suet.

Mincemeat did once contain actual meat, and there is an interesting article on the history of the filling of mince pies here. Some dictionaries do give mincemeat as another word for minced meat, so be sure to check the context it is being used in.

Defenestration is the action of throwing someone (or something) out of a window. It can also be used to describe the process or action of removing someone from a position of authority or power.

You can defenestrate someone or be defenestrated.

Defenestration is early 17th century in origin, stemming from de- meaning ‘down from’ and the Latin fenestra meaning ‘window’.

The word is thought to have been coined around the time of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618. The incident at Prague Castle saw two Catholic governors and their scribe thrown from windows by Protestant citizens. The defenestration helped to start the Thirty Years War.

Proofreading advice: print it off

When you are ready to start proofreading your writing, print it off. You will be surprised by how much easier it is to spot errors on paper than on a screen. sure the text is black and that colours are only used when appropriate. (Refer to your style guide if you aren’t sure what is appropriate.) When you mark corrections using a colour pen, the corrections will stand out best against black text and on white paper.

Physical distance makes it easier to spot errors in format, style and layout. Hold the pages out in front of you, pin or stick them to a board, or ask someone to hold them up for you. Don’t forget to check the pages against each other for any inconsistencies.

Articles in this series:

‘Team’ and ‘teem’


  • a group of players forming one of the sides in a sporting contest or competitive game
  • a real or notional group which supports or favours a thing or person
  • two or more people working together
  • or more animals working together
  • harness together (animals, typically horses) to pull a vehicle
  • ‘team up’ – to join with someone in order to work together to achieve a common goal
  • ‘team with’ – to match or coordinate something with something else (typically clothes)


  • ‘teem with’ – to have a great number of, to be full of, or swarming with
  • (of water, typically rain) to pour down or fall heavily

Thank you to Jeff Curry for suggesting this post.