Thursday, August 27, 2009

Spam jam

Back from the beach – at last! – and it’s straight back to work. I’m now editing a bright new paper by one of my favourite professors who fully understands the importance of getting her charmingly Dutch-flavoured English onto the same level as her lucid research findings. It’s a joy to work for such a clever client and… Gracious! Did I just say “straight” in relation to “back to work”? Silly me (I can’t even think straight)(that’s the least of my worries). What a porkie pie! I should have said, “straight back to my in-box” for what else could you expect from an afficionado of Spam Lit?

Unfortunately all the antispam protection I’ve got rigged up on my computer leaves me with meagre pickings in Outlook, so before getting down to work in earnest (he doesn’t mind, really) off I whizzed to my webmail accounts. Gmail and Yahoo, as you know, intercept the outrageous in a timely fashion and dump it in their junk bins. Luckily for spamaholics, they leave this true blue stuff hanging round for weeks or don’t ever bother deleting it so that when I’m in the mood for some idle spamusement, like on my return from holiday, I can indulge myself and wallow in spamlets from here to spamernity.

To get your salt-encrusted brain back into shape after lolling about on the beach for too long, I can warmly recommend a good game of “spamogram”. It’s a little something I invented that combines the wild abandon of spam with the formal constraint of the lipogram (no, dummy, that’s not the same as sending a kiss by telegram)(and if you remember what a telegram is, you’re as old as I am) (no, older). Instead of omitting one letter, such as the vowel ‘E’ in a lipogram, my game finds its rigour in omitting everything bar one phrase of the spam message. String those abandoned phrases together in constrained sentences and hey presto, you’ve created an original spamogram, or as I like to call my results, spam jam! Here’s a couple of typical spamples:

Henrietta Hamper

Spam jam I
She arrived dressed in civilian attire. She wanted to know. My God, Genevieve. Did you fly in from 1958? Since my hysterectomy was delayed, I have grown to appreciate that death is natural and there is nothing wrong, but it is always different when it hits. Unstable organs happen in other disorders but the exact sequence of what’s happening here. Upon examination, a familiar aroma of baby powder was detected. Now I see it is obvious. They even took my Paxil. Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.

Amazing, Margaret
Spam jam II
The march towards professionalism began with does the name Pavlov ring a bell? This is an especially urgent call at a time when many suspect we’re in the midst of a real estate bubble. So far, the season of the tight end stud has been large. But remember, no one ever won by standing still. You gotta move. As the year turns, add light and colour to your life. It’s the best. Here is a pick you can't afford to miss. Get in on this one before it explodes.

It’s not a joke

Forgive me for lolling in your face, but spam jam is guaranteed to get me giggling, much like those “poorly drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines” always break me out in hysterical ha-ha-ha’s. But I’m funny like that and then again, I suppose spam jam could be an acquired taste, much like Hormel’s classic SPAM®. (“Taste where it all started. The original flavor from 1937 that turned the world on its tongue.”)

Let me leave you now with those chaps from Monty Python whose sketch, history relates, is the origin of the modern usage of spam. But don’t blame these full Monties for starting the spamming lark. The real culprit, responsible for Opening Pandora’s In-box in 1978 is Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp. An ad man, what else? Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's play Linko

Ka’ching! You’ve hit the jackpot, dear Reader. Yes, you’re in for a really big win. Instead of doing the usual, this week your bashful blagger is going to shaddap her pen and leave you to wind and weave your way through a whirlwind of links related to writing, language and life in the fast lane of freelancing.

Whoa there, li’l blagger! Sounds like you’re setting readers off on a wild goose chase.

Au contraire, o ye of little Hope, Faith and Charity! And if it does end up a wild chase, rest assured, these goosey-loosies all lay olden but golden eggs. So...drum roll, please Maestro! Let the links speak for themselves. Without any further ado (or a don’t) let’s play Linko!

How to Stop Digital Fiddling and Start Writing
by Mary Jaksch

50 Useful Blogs for Writers
by Randy Ray

10 Tips for Kicking Ass as a Freelance Writer
by James Chartrand

How to Create a Highly Viral Blog
by Jonathan Mead

The Art vs. Craft Gap - a Writer’s Paradox
by Larry Brooks

The Agatha Christie Code: Stylometry, serotonin and the oscillation overthruster
by Mark Liberman

Less Rigor, Fewer Ulcers?
by Editrix

The Basics of Copy Editing
by Mike Billings

Gormenghastocabulary IX
by Sarah Et Cetera

Talk Wordy to Me
by Brian White

A Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Freelance Career
by Collis Ta’eed

How to Get More Referrals
by Cyan Ta’eed

What the Carnies Can Teach You About Freelancing
by James Chartrand

10 Ways to Make Laziness Work for You
by Leo Babauta

Hourly rates calculator
on FreelanceSwitch

Very Funny Ads
for a laugh since all work and no play makes Jack a dull pot. Ka’ching!

On which bright shiny note let me leave you with the dulcet Joe Dolce singing words of wisdom. Let it be (hey) and see you next week!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Here’s a riddle for all you brainiacs: Q. What is a banano?
A. Exactly the same as an ordinary banana, only one billion times smaller.
I know, banano, bah no-no! It’s one of my nerdier jokes, but after a long day’s editing of a long, long book (did I tell you this book is looong?) nano nonsense is all my nerdy birdy brain can come up with. So this week’s episode is going to be entertainment, short and sweet, and no harder on the brain than a… now tell me, what rhymes with sweet?

Talking of Twitter, have you heard about the two 19-year-olds at the University of Chicago who are retelling the Great Works of Literature in nano episodes 140 characters long. Their book Twitterature will be published in Autumn 2009. I read about it in an article by Jim White in the British paper The Daily Telegraph (my nice neighbour gives me his copy when he’s done with it and, as an incorrigible wordaholic, who am I to turn down this free read)(admittedly I skip the gory Tory bits).

The article is headed Bloke goes bonkers pursuing whale and in it Jim White has Twitterised some famous books. Here are a few of my favourites:

“Group of teenagers adopt incomprehensible jargon, drink milk and discuss Beethoven before terrorising the community. All society's fault.”
“Hero constantly spied upon by someone claiming to be older sibling. When he complains, finds himself with head in cage of rats.”
“Conscientious female farmer, ignoring claims of every decent bloke around, is seduced by disreputable soldier. Sheep don't much like it.”
“Wild-eyed, bushy-haired fellow on moors causes havoc with local females. If you haven't time to read it, listen to song of same name.”
“Sharp-toothed aristocratic night owl shows interest in local girls. Sales of garlic in nearby market go through roof. Stakes big seller too.”
Can you guess which books these Tweets refer to? Feel free to drop me a comment if you want to have a go at the answers. Which reminds me, someone called pedanticKarl left a nice comment on my post about about his favourite philologist, HotForWords (Sex symbol, June 4), otherwise known as Marina Orlova.

Back at the HFW site pedanticKarl noted my use of the friendly term ‘Dunglish’ which many language pro’s working in the Netherlands use to describe ‘English writing with a Dutch accent’. He suggested that Dunglish might be a candidate for HFW’s Nerd Word of the Day. I had a quick butcher’s at what has already been given the HFW nerdy treatment and really liked Weisure, a blend of work and leisure meaning free time spent doing work or work-related tasks, and Attachmeant meaning an e-mail you have to resend because you forgot to add the attachment the first time. This is something I have to do sickeningly often. If only the pain would fade faster than a nanosecond.

Which brings me neatly on to this Slate V mockumentary on the next big thing in nanoblogging. Have a look at...

Fluttery footnote
If you haven't got time to revise your text to fit in a Tweet, just 140 it and voila! These guys will do it for you. Ever wondered why texts are limited to 140 characters (160 actually; Twitter reserves 20 characters for the user's name). Find out right here.

Finally, here's one of the nerdiest jokes ever published by a British newspaper. The Guardian announced on April 1, 2009 that it had a "mammoth project under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper's archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more"; and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"

The article continues: "Sceptics have expressed concerns that 140 characters may be insufficient to capture the full breadth of meaningful human activity, but social media experts say the spread of Twitter encourages brevity, and that it ought to be possible to convey the gist of any message in a tweet."

Read the full story right here and don't forget to comment below if you know what the Tweeted book titles are. Cheers!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free style

It can be risky fishing for business in the uncharted waters of the internet. What may seem like a goldfish nibbling the bait dangling from your website may be a shark who'll savage your tasty offer and swim off without remorse.

In other words, whenever someone you don’t know approaches you through your website, asking for a free sample before committing to paying for your professional language services, be very cautious indeed.

Silly me, I let myself get bitten this week. The "shark" was a researcher in material sciences based somewhere in the Far East. As a rule I don’t do samples because I think the client recommendations on my business website let people know what they can expect from my copywriting or editing services. But the sun was shining, I’d just landed a huge book to edit over the summer and was in a generous mood so, why not?

I told Dr So Me-One (as I think of this "someone") that I’d be glad to do a sample one-page edit from the paper he intended submitting for publication in the Journal of Materials Processing Technology (JMPT).

The quality of Dr So Me-One’s English was generally fine. After checking that the paper complied with the JMPT submission guidelines, I whizzed through editing the sample. Then I sent off the corrected page with a comment pointing to the one and only confusing sentence I hadn’t managed to decipher. I offered an interpretation, and politely asked Dr So Me-One to let me know if I’d gotten his meaning right.

Well, dear Reader, it took another three sets of e-mails before that one sentence was clarified. And then, at the end of this lengthy exchange, Dr So Me-One dove back into the nether depths, never to surface near me again and leaving me ruefully aware that this shark had bitten off far more of my time than I’d ever intended to serve, certainly for free.

Live and learn, and on the upside, it was a useful little lesson. It reminded me (a) to be wary of strangers wanting something for nothing and (b) even better, it led me to the serendipitous discovery of one of the best style guides to academic writing I’ve ever come across. Writing a good paper for JMPT is clearly written for material scientists submitting to JMPT, but I think authors in any academic field would benefit from its free advice. Take a look at this sample:

"What readers like is clarity about the purpose of the work, clarity about how it fits into previous work, clarity about what was done and clear evaluation of the outcomes without any hint of ‘salesmanship’. Inexperienced writers often make statements of the type ‘the model and experiments showed perfect agreement’ where actually the statement ‘the model matched the experiments well within normal operating conditions, but was never less than 20% inaccurate outside of this range’ is both more honest and more useful."

Go read the rest of the article now. Or at least bookmark the link and check it out later. I’m trying to find out who wrote this epitome of lucidity so I can give the author proper credit. Watch this space!

Before I go, here’s another link for lovers of style, free or otherwise. Arts & Letters Daily is an old favourite of mine, updated six days a week and edited by Denis Dutton. Besides lecturing in philosophy at the University of Canterbury (NZ) and writing critically respected and popular books, Prof. Dutton is editor of Philosophy and Literature and, incidentally, was the driving force behind that scholarly journal’s notoriously funny Bad Writing Contest.

Let me leave you now with something at once free and stylish yet completely different: Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands riding the sublime Salinero in the freestyle dressage final of the World Equestrian Games. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Friday, July 10, 2009

And so fifth

Recognise this, all you freelancers? One week you’re faffing about at your desk, with not a lot to do. You’ve done the filing, done the dishes, even done the doggies (taken them for a walk, that is) and now you’re all done. Tempus fidgets slowly and you’re fretting, no frantic about the dire dearth of deadlines.

But hey! No use feeling sorry for youself! Off you go, tapping out a short but sweet note advising all your faithful clients (plus a few more whom you don’t know so well) that you may have “availability coming up soon”.

Next day (hooray!) your inbox is jammed with job offers and before you can say “hey fiddle-di-de, a freelancer’s life for me,” you’re opening up piles of files of wonderful work. Yippie! Now, it’s full speed ahead, you’re taking on texts left, right and centre, and hitting those deadlines el pronto, delivering as per schedule when horrors! One frazzled day the phone rings and an ever so kind bookkeeper from a big university accounts department is calling to check ever so carefully if you really and truly meant to send in that bill not once but twice, no thrice, or was it perhaps a mistake?

Not that this sort of thing ever happens to me, oh no! This is purely a hypothetical case, believe me, an illustration of what just mightily may happen to a freelancer somewhat similar in appearance to your bashful blagger when frantically rushed off her footsies by an utterly welcome deluge of work!

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Seriously now, this week I'm going to get all serious and deal with the depressing economic climate. I mean, take a look at what I got today in my daily dose of Dutch News: a report on the incredible shrinking economy. Yes, the Dutch economy contracted by 4.5% in the first quarter of this year, its sharpest drop in growth in more than 60 years, according to CBS, the national statistics office.

The CBS also said that Dutch inflation fell slightly to 1.4% in June, compared with 1.6% in May but it was still higher by far than in other EU contries. On the upside, the CBS said that consumer confidence was stable and industry slightly less pessimistic, although business service providers were less positive than they had been in May.

Well, I can’t say this business service provider (if I may call myself one) agrees with the last bit. Today I feel a lot more positive than I did in May and I can’t help but keep looking on the bright side. Call me Ms Positivity (Pollyanna if you like) (Polyfiller if you must) but given such a hectic time as I had last week, and the full work schedule I’ve already got booked for the coming weeks of summer, I’d say I had reason enough to feel warm and cheerful even in this chilly economic climate.

Please, let me hold onto my madelaine moment, believing I can smell the sweet scent of success… for as long as it lasts. Don’t disillusion me, not yet. I know the bubble will burst and I’ll end up dealing with another spate of the working doldrums in due course and so on and so forth.

Or so on and so fifth, as in the twoderful “inflationary language” invented by that Great Dane of music and comedy, Victor Borge. Let me leave you now with the Clown Prince of Denmark explaining his language for himself. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Brave new word

Have you ever been hit by a word that looks like it’s perfectly good English until you realise you don’t understand it? That happened to me the other day. I was surfing Cadrona snowfields high above Wanaka, my old hometown in New Zealand, when I came across this vivid report. An excerpt:

“The NZ Uni snow games was awesome fun. The results were wicked and the peeps and good times rocked harder and bigger than ever! The boardercross was in sweet shape and in the finals a wipe out lost my win and in the big air I stomped a sweet indy grab over the big table at Cadrona so I was stoked I even hit it, and then a shifty back one on the smaller table which I butt checked…but it felt mean. The pipe was super slushy but I was getting lofty on it and it was wicked to ride a pipe again!”

Peeps? Stomp a sweet indy grab? Butt checked? I can guess what the last one means (ouch) but the other terms go beyond me. Okay, it’s snow sport slang, and since I don’t belong to the in-group of crossboarders and their fans no one would expect me to understand it. It’s like the arcane jargonology philosphers use to exclude ‘the amateur riff-raff’, in the view of the former professor of cognitive psychology Steven Lehar.

Insider talk keeps outsiders out. But not me, or not for long if I can help it. I love brave new words to discover, and old words too, like the opposite of gazumping, which I tottered across while reading Country Life. My passion for seeking the source of the strange makes me fond of Wordnik, devoted to discovering ‘words and everything about them’. Wordnik gives real-time examples, like this gem from ozzieCousins on Twitter. “Twaddle is my word for today. It means: to tweet in the manner of a duck walking.”

Wordnik now contains more than 1.7 million words and 130 million examples, but alas, nothing on gazundering or, funnily enough, wordnik. To be fair, it does invite you to add new words and lawd-a-mercy on us language professionals, it lets you report a typo.

Reminds me of something else of interest to language pro’s: "Copy Editor's Revenge Takes Form Of Unhyphenated Word". Seduced by the revenge bit (if only), I clicked on the link before realising the headline belonged to a lofty story in The Onion. If you don’t already know it, this site is super slushy wicked!

That leads me to the stonkingly wicked comedian Catherine Tate and her Helen I-can-do-that Marsh translating CEO-speak in national stereotypes. Hilarious Hells will forgive you for thinking she’s talking English, albeit offensive English, throughout. Whatever. Is she bovver’d? Not!

Brave new exit
You know what? Aldous Huxley didn't make up Brave New World for the title of his book. He nicked the line from Shakespeare, that’s what, along with a Fordist factory full of sundry other quotes. Waaaaay back in 1978, I worked on The Tempest at the Sydney Opera House. The show was directed by Ted Craig, and it had Michael Craig (no relation?) as Prospero and Barry Otto in the cast.

These thespians are all still enjoying the juicy fruits of their careers. Even my fellow assistant stage manager, Nick Schlieper, went on to make an international name for himself as überkreativ lighting designer and winner of countless awards. He’s lighting up London’s West End at the moment with the fabulous Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Crikey! All this lovey talk makes me wonder how my life might have turned out, had I not had an attack of the Ethels (as in la Merman belting Anything you can do, I can do better) upon hearing that my ex-lover was heading for the louche lights of London. I might have stayed on in the theatre and become a Famous Director (sigh) but then the world would have been a language professional poorer and ye gads that’s enough blagging for one week. Let me really leave you now with a bonus vid on Priscilla’s brave new entrance to Auckland. It also gives you a game idea of what an assistant stage manager does. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Length matters

No bones about it, we all know length matters. Given the choice between the long straw and the short, I know which one I’d pick, any day. Long is safe, it’s seductive, it’s impressive. The longer, the stronger, they say, and in many cases I’d agree with that happily. In language terms, however, I take the opposite view: the longer, the wronger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nowt against long words as such. When used aptly, the long word is perfectly in its place. And considering the amazing extent of the English language, why not mine the glorious length and depth of its vocabulary? It’s not that I'm an anti-size queen for lawd’s sake (‘gimme the ant-sized not gi-ant-sized’) or suffer from hippopotomonstrosessquipedaliophobia. It’s just that I prefer reading pithy writing as opposed to screeds of "flashy stunt words", as Ben Zimmer, true word junkie and editor at the Oxford University Press, puts it.

What’s that I hear? You’re not convinced? Don’t tell me you think polysyllables pack a better punch. Nonsense! Polly-silly-billies, I call them, and the dumb parrots who succumb to them deserve a really good tap on the bill (funnily enough, in Dutch ‘bil’ is what they call your gluteus maximus). Really, given the choice, which sentence do you like better: A or B?

A. The feline entity posed sedentarily on the vestibular runner.
B. The cat sat on the hall mat.

See? You chose B. Probably because you can tell in a flash what the sentence is all about. Now look at both sentences again and tell me which one was written by the more intelligent author. Now you say A, maybe because you think: Big words = Big brains. It’s erudite, right? Well, let me ask you: How easy was it to understand A? Did you instantly get that ‘runner’ in this context doesn’t mean ‘someone moving faster than a walk’ but that long strip of dusty carpet you find ‘running’ down a hall (funnily enough, in Dutch it's called a 'walker').

Oh, so you’ve changed your mind, have you? Now you think B is the more intelligent. Well done, you’re right! Most people would think the author of B is smarter but don’t take my word for it, there’s proper scientific evidence to prove it.

Smart people don’t write to impress, but to express themselves clearly to ensure their message gets across. Smart communicators consider their readers. They know that any extra effort is a turn-off and only makes readers inclined to think the writer is dumber rather than smarter. In a nutshell, this is the message of a paper called ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly’ by Daniel M. Oppenheimer of Princeton University. Bet your bottom dollar it’s an easy read, so don’t miss it!

Let me leave you now with popular VJ Joanne Colan and her stumble-free recital of the longest lingo in the language. Top marks for tackling such wily stunts as honorificabilitudinitas and the ultra-long Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kiwi accent

In sixteen forty-two, Abel Tasman sailed the ocean blue…
This little rhyme taught me when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman became the first European to discover New Zealand. Somehow it’s stuck in my memory, which is strange because when I was at school I couldn’t have cared less about New Zealand’s historical connection with the Netherlands. Nor would I have dreamed that one day I’d be living a personal connection between New Zealand and Abel Tasman’s homeland.

But maybe that’s not so strange. After all, my family was Dutch. We moved to New Zealand in the 1950s and I grew up speaking English, just like a proper little Kiwi. That, by the way, is what New Zealanders call themselves. It is not the same thing as that furry brown kiwifruit you might know but our national bird, a flightless nightwalker. In actual fact Actinidia deliciosa used to be called the Chinese gooseberry. It was rebranded by those who wanted to market it as a 100% pure New Zealand product.

Fast forward to after I left home, and in the good old Kiwi tradition, it was time for my Overseas Experience. To my surprise, on applying for a passport I found I had a choice of nationality. According to length of residence I was a New Zealander but following birthright I could stay Dutch. Feeling disloyal to my upbringing I chose the nationality that would let me live and work in Europe.

Not long afterwards I left Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud – and landed at Schiphol, Amsterdam Airport. Now, nearly 30 years later I speak Dutch fluently but still haven’t lost my Kiwi accent. It’s not unusual for me to be asked where I come from.

Before Lord of the Rings (shot by Peter Jackson in places where I spent my holidays herding sheep) launched our landscape onto the wide-screen world, many Dutch people knew little about New Zealand. Even now some still confuse it with Tasmania but I can’t hold that against them. Look at how it gets depicted on TV – as a squiggle on the world map! You can’t be blamed for not knowing how Long that White Cloud is. Listen to this: it’s long. From the top of Cape Reinga to the bottom of the Bluff is the same distance as from Amsterdam to Barcelona. All those long empty miles, all that wide open space for only four million people and forty million sheep, give or take a few.

So okay, the Netherlands may be tiny and crowded compared to the rugged land of rugby, racing and beer, but apart from the odd bout of nostalgia, I’m rarely homesick for my old homeland. Before leaving Amsterdam and moving north to a small village near Abel Tasman’s birthplace, I did miss the space at times. But now I’ve got that where I live, in the wide open Ommelanden.

I came to the Netherlands needing to work out the irony of being Dutch yet inescapably non-Dutch. I settled here with some vague ambition to search out my roots. I’ve lived here long enough to accept that I’ll never be as Dutch as my passport says I am. It doesn’t matter. I feel at home in my second homeland.

Two homelands are enough for me, but here’s someone who sounds as if she’d be at home in at least 21. Let me leave you now with Amy Walker and her little linguistic tour of the world. Take it from me, when she gets to New Zealand, her Kiwi accent is spot on. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cross word

Just imagine. It’s mid-morning, you’re in your peaceful office, fresh cup of coffee close at hand (but at a safe distance from your keyboard), working avidly on your latest exciting assignment (don’t laugh, most stuff I edit manages to excite my neurons). You’re on a high, racing along at your best editing speed when rrrrrrriiiiing-rrrrriiiiiiiiiinnnnng. Oh no! It’s the bell from hell.

Who does it turn out to be? Not some nice client lusting after your professional language services, but a muckety-muck telemarketer. How dare they muck up your day, uninvited! The audacity! The distraction! The exclamation point (taken). "No!" you snap in lieu of a witty retort, refusing whatever's on offer. You slam the phone into its cradle hoping the caller will end up in purgatory. And stay there. In agony. Forever.

Hm. Is that how you deal with the tyrants of the telephone? I would, at a punch [stet], but you’d never guess I hate answering the blasted thing, now would you? No, don’t bother answering that and listen to this. What I want to say has nothing to do with my telephoney (sincere) phobia. Remember how I’ve been asking freelance editors what they consider to be standard editing speeds? Well, I’ve had another great response on LinkedIn, this time from David McClintock in New York.

David has surveyed his American colleagues in the Society for Technical Communication on this very topic and has come up with the following benchmarks based on three levels of text complexity and measured in words per hour (wph): heavy (~500wph), medium (~2000wph), and light (~3000wph). You can read the full account in Corrigo, the newsletter of the STC’s Technical Editing SIG (special interest group). The bottom line, David concludes, is that editors need to find their personal word-processing speed. "Thinking about personal speed means acknowledging a universal limitation: You can think fast, but you can’t think faster."

Think fast, editors, and help David update and expand his “rather unscientific study” of editing speed. Submit your heavy, medium, and light wph rates here. And don’t forget to let David know how he may credit you in a future article (or ensure you're anonymous).

Talking of submissions, here’s a fun link that Kari Koonin, one of my translator friends on SENSE forwarded to our Non-Sense group this morning. Fell right off my chair, I did, laughing out loud (gosh, isn’t there some clever way of abbreviating these cumbersome expressions?) when I followed Kari’s link and read the business blurbs trumpeted by Eurozone Translations.

Health Warning for NEEDSer clients: In case you’re worried by what you read on Eurozone and its subsidiaries, I do NOT think you are anything like any of the clients described. Honest.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to track down the source of this saucy viral satire. Kari says she got the link off the German Network forum run by the UK’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting and she’ll have to ask her colleague who posted it there where she found it. Watch this space!

Which reminds me that I should get back to watching my own space, I mean, back up to speed on the doc I’m editing at the moment. Let me leave you for the nonce with a not so cross word for when those telemucketers won’t take no for an answer. Enjoy and see you next week!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Sex symbol

Meet the amazing Marina Orlova (28), dubbed "the world's sexiest philologist" by New Yorker Magazine. The possesser of not one but two degrees in philology from State University of Nizhni Novgorod Region in the Russian Federation, Marina started off in the United States as an English teacher.

In 2007, however, she burst out of the confines of the classrom and stepped onto the world wide stage as the star of what has become one of YouTube's most popular channels. As "HotforWords" Marina explores her own interest in linguistics and etymology and entertains her "dear students" as well by answering questions on word origins.

Watch Marina now talking about a symbol whose name she may find hard to remember but whose mysteries provided no difficulty for her to unravel. Behind all that blonde bombshellery hides some seriously sexy intelligence.

Busy, busy, busy, you know how it goes. Pressure of work stopped me writing a proper episode of the Blagger this time around. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Hope you don't feel fobbed off with this tiddly bit of philological folderol. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Star track

Editing on paper, bah! Since I’m cack-handed (nope, it doesn’t mean what you think; check it out) my lousy handwriting has far more in common with a Jackson Pollack painting than the winning entry for a prize in penmanship. Perhaps I should have been a doctor. Then at least my pig pen would have come in handy for writing prescriptions. Luckily for my poor clients, the gruesome days of unruly writing are gone. Three cheers for on-screen editing. Now my corrections, revisions and comments are much easier to follow.

Thanks to Microsoft’s "Track Changes" I work in my clients’ Word docs with TRK turned on. I’m not the only trackie using this form of document collaboration technology. This is the world's most commonly used tool for tracking revisions in docs created by multiple authors. Automatically it marks every change or comment made with a name and the date and time so that all involved in the writing and reviewing process can see who did what, when, and in a fresh colour for each collaborator to boot.

But be warned, as with all information communication technology, GIGO rules OK. Don’t throw TRK in the garbage if you forget to delete a tactless comment before passing the doc on to the next person in the chain (bad), or back to your client (worse) or over to opposing counsel (worst). Legal horror stories abound [1].

My nastiest moment came the time I forgot to turn TRK on, only discovering this once I’d finished the work and had to send it off to meet the deadline. Of course I confessed this to the client, Fedde Jasperse, operations manager at Taalcentrum-VU, who soothingly reminded me that I could still track the changes I’d made with the “Combine Documents” feature. Thanks again, Fedde, and to borrow a famous phrase, deep joy!

Since I’m in a joyful mood I’d like to share a star trackie tip I learnt through Elisabeth Heseltine, a fellow member of the European Association of Science Editors [2]. Yes dear Reader, there are moments when it is wise to over-ride the name, time and date markers supplied by Track Changes. Let me hasten to add that I couldn’t find out why Professor Heseltine should want to change these markers. In my own case, I don’t need to alter the name except when I’m asked by an agency to work under their heading instead of my own business name, NEEDSer.

On the odd occasion, however, I prefer to keep the timing to myself, for instance if I'd rather not have it be known that I've worked through a weekend. Then I’ll do a Combine Documents just before delivering the work on schedule. That way all my changes and comments will get marked with the same time and date and I won’t risk my client getting (subliminally) tempted to think I make a habit of working unsociable hours. Do you think this self-protective practice is deceitful? Why? The client can still track what's been changed and that is what truly is important.

Talking of true, did you know that the most famous split infinitive in the galaxy nearly didn’t happen? Yes, really. The next to final draft of the very first episode of Star Trek had “ go bodily where no man has gone before.” One of the writers caught and corrected that “bodily” but was careless in marking the insertion. So the person saddled with typing the final script put the righted word in the wrong place. This couldn’t have happened with Track Changes turned on. If you believe that, you’ll believe Mr. Spock had a bodily funny bone and could tell you I’m only joking. Let me leave you now with these four track stars in galactic harmony. Enjoy, and see you next week!

[1] What’s the most horrible thing that ever happened to you when you were using Track Changes? Feel free to post your star trackie bloopers in COMMENTS and give us all a fright!
[2] “EASE-Forum Digest: December 2008 to March 2009” compiled by Elise Langdon-Neuner in European Science Editing, Vol 35(2), May 2009.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Halley's comment

A writer likes nothing more than being read. And so do my chubby cheeks, like being red, that is, with the poignant flush of a bashful blush. Yes really, I'm still amazed, bemused, and captivated, still dazzled (I’ll spare you the rest of the alphabet) a whole week after being bowled over by a stampede of praise from a herd of business friends and relations, the recipients of last week’s NEEDSer Newsflash on the Bashful Blagger.

How nice to hear that so many of you read this blog and, dare I say it, actually like it. That made my day, so thank you foBBies (fans of Bashful Blagger), one and all!

My only regret is that all of you nice foBBies commented to me in private, by e-mail, which makes it hard for me to divulge, um, share what you said in public (well yes, there are limits). So do me a big favour. Please. Next time you feel the urge to interact, go to COMMENTS (click the link under any post). Who knows? If we all shared our views openly, we might get some open discussions going on here and wouldn’t that be fun! Don’t worry, you don’t have to post under your real ID, you can always put down A Non, or from Ur FoBBy, or use your own nick, Mick, whatever. Now that would be fun!

Since we’re still on the fun subject of crowdsourcing (um, are we? More like sourcing the crowd, if you ask me) (so who asked me?) you should know that SENSE is not the only place I go fishing for compliments, ahem, answers from my peers and superiors, as in "bolder and wiser" language professionals. On LinkedIn, I’ve got a public discussion opening up nicely on "realistic editing rates". I’ve asked: how many words can you edit in one hour? So far, for light proofreading, the going rate seems to hover around 8-10 pages (standard 250 words on a page).

For those of us lucky enough not to be dyslexic (lexic?) yet cannot count (like me) or, to put it more glamorously, have a light dose of dyscalculia (me two) (too!), this works out to 2000+ words an hour for some light proofreading. Funnily enough, this and other rates mentioned on LinkedIn for more complicated editing are similar to the results I got when I asked SENSE members the same question.

On LinkedIn, Susannah Driver-Barstow, a freelance editor at Prose Partner (greater New York area) put me on to the valuable editorial rate chart published by the Editorial Freelancers Association. Later on Susannah commented, “I do find EFA to be useful especially re the business side of freelance editing.” I followed the link and learnt that this “professional resource for editorial specialists and those who hire them” is packed with plenty of goodies open to the public. Check it out!

Talking of checking out, it’s nearly time for me to wend my way but before I go, did this week’s headline get you wondering, by any piffling perchance? We’ve all heard of Halley’s comet (due to swing past Earth again 52 years from now) but what was Halley’s comment and who did he say it to? Let me tell you: Edmund Halley (1656-1742) was an associate of Isaac Newton (1643-1727). One day (or night) Halley must have commented to Newton, “Come along old chap, publish or perish, pip-pip!” (or words to that effect) because without Halley’s encouragement and financial support Newton’s definitive work on gravity and other grave matters would never have seen daylight (or should that be starlight?).

So there you have it, Halley’s comment. Um, better not quote me on that. Let me leave you with a final note from Bill Hayley & the Comets, and dazzling footwork by Lisa Gaye & Johnny Johnston. Bill named his band after the royal astronomer, but obviously didn’t know that Halley pronounced his name not to rhyme with valley, or Bill’s name, but more like good lordy Ms Hawley. Hm… Hawley’s comet, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Or does it? Are comments welcome? What do you think?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Emma Chisit

When I was six or eight or thereabouts my parents gave me a book. I forget what the book was called, something symmetrical like 1001 Answers to 1001 Questions, but I do remember that my addiction to questions was driving my parents nuts. They were probably hoping that giving me this compendium for curious kids would get me to shut up. Alas, it didn’t but I loved that very first reference book of mine for answering one thousand questions I hadn’t ever thought of, plus another one that I had thought of but hadn't found the answer to yet: What makes a blue sky red?

I love words as much as finding answers (esp. to unanswerable questions like, how fast can an editor edit?) and this makes me a sucker for the forum run by SENSE. I’ve talked about this trove for language fans before (Deep gobbledy joy) so you’ll know we tend to crowdsource serious questions on terminology and professional practice. But “Sensers” like a spot of fun as much as the next free lancer, so there’s space for the odd amusement as well, although I hasten to add that to keep the forum properly business-like we circulate the truly fluffy stuff via a Yahoo group called (wait for it) Non-SENSE.

A recent gem of forum amusement came from Kari Koonin, a specialist translator. Her post drew attention to the Pikestaff newsletter from the Clear English Commission which advises readers to “go easy on verbing nouns” and quotes from letters to the Daily Telegraph, including:
* Problems arise when people verbify a noun because they have forgotten that the relevant verb already exists. The result: being obligated to do things, [and] signaturing documents. (Tony Eaton)
* I have just been […] speaking to a man who told me what bus I would be on once I had "departured" from Taunton. (Meriel Thurstan)
Kari ended her post by commenting, “Signaturing? Departuring? The mind boggles. Sorry, must dash, haven't completioned my current assignment yet and the deadline's horizoning!”

On the more serious topic of terminology was a question headed To “the” or not to “the”? posed by Anne Hodgkinson of Rosetta Stone Translations, who specializes in the arts, especially music. Anne is about to proofread a book called Gamelan in 19th-century Netherlands and wrote, “I think there should be a ‘the’ there somewhere. Before I go so far as to say [that any] other possibilities are wrong, can anyone tell me if they really are?” Anne felt sure there would be a clear answer but, as she said in her summary of the answers, “There were almost as many opinions as replies” on the correct placement of “the” in a title of a book about the Dutch experience of Indonesian orchestral music. In the end, she went with Gamelan in the Netherlands in the 19th century.

Clearly there isn’t always an answer, right or wrong, to nitpicky questions of terminology, or any other question for that matter. At least on the SENSE forum we can tell when a question is a question. Not so for Monica Dickens during a book-signing session in Sydney in 1964. The famous author (great-grand-daughter of Charles Dickens) was scribbling her name in book after book when the next person in line said in a broad Australian accent, “Emma Chisit.” Monica duly dedicated the next book “To Emma” when the shopper stopped her. “Nah, I was only assking ya for the price of the book.”

This true incident inspired a witness, one Alistair Morrison, to coin the term Strine and publish Let Stalk Strine, a wonderful compendium of the whimsicalities of Australian speech, written under the pseudonym Afferbeck Lauder (alphabetical order). Let me leave you now with a lesson on local lingo for non-natives visiting Down Under. Catcha necks time!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cryptic colour

Update: May 2, 2009. This episode was written and posted online in all ignorance of the tragic drama at Apeldoorn taking place at the same time. Dutch driver Karst Tates ploughed his car through the crowds in an attempt to attack the Dutch royal party, killing four people and injuring three times as many. To date the death toll, which now includes Tates himself, is seven people. I can't ignore what happened, but won't be deleting my post as it reflects the innocent fun Dutch people were used to having on Queens Day. Many of us in the Netherlands fear this innocence is gone for good.

Original post: April 30, 2009. Don’t tell me a Dutchman doesn’t know how to have a good time. It’s just not true, no mimsy doubt about that. April 30th is Queens Day in the Netherlands, a day off work and a national excuse for having a good time on a scale possibly unnerving to those from less Dutch-courageous countries. Or unnerving to those whose taste doesn’t run to an overriding passion for orange, the heraldic colour of the Dutch royals (House of Oranje-Nassau, which has its origins in the Principality of Orange) (which has its remains in modern-day Orange, a place in the south of France about 20 km north of Avignon and on average the warmest town around, temperature-wise).

You’re not wild about this hot colour? Then you’re done for when the heat of orange fever hits the Netherlands. You’ll be familiar with the sight at international football events: the not so huddled masses of the Dutch faction, oozing orange in a wildly creative assortment of silly hats and costumes. And on Koninginnedag too, all that wonderful silliness comes out of the orangery again, to be worn with pride and more often than not accompanied by the battle cry “Oranje boven!” (orange above) and a noisy hup-hup-Hollander polonaise from one pub to the next.

It ain’t new, I tell you. Jolly Hollanders have been hollering and rollicking throughout human history. They’re certainly not averse to a spot of hedonism, as droolingly described by this NY Times report from 1890 about a Holland Society banquet – addressed by Theodore Roosevelt, no less (you can guess where his family came from).

Actually, I’m glad that Dutch girls (and boys) only want to have fun because Queens Day really is. Fun. And divinely hedonistic too, though don’t blame me for your hangover tomorrow. It’s certainly not a day to be spent inside, posting a blog. Hence I’m outta here. I’m putting on my plastic orange top hat and I'm off to my village’s free market to see what treasures I can snap up from someone else’s trove, um, leftover junk.

But before I go, let me give you something to mull about at least. Did you know that orange is one of only two words in the English language that are impossible to rhyme perfectly (the other one is silver). It has half-rhymes, such as hinge, lozenge, syringe, flange and Stonehenge, but no true rhymes. Who cares, besides cryptic crossword fans? If you can’t find a perfect match, contrive one, the way composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel did in "Oranges Poranges", sung by Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) on the show H.R. Pufnstuf. Enjoy this triple (Dutch) treat and see you next week!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Free booty

Back in the day when dinosaurs walked and I was but a lowly bottom-feeder – one of several assistant stage managers at the Sydney Opera House – one of my backstage cobbers dubbed me ‘Main Chance Werner.’

Ye gads! I’d been sussed! I’d believed no one could see my burning ambition and all the while it had been blazing in flagrante. To my dismay the nick caught on like bushfire and soon everyone was calling me ‘Main Chance’ at the Opera House, permanent crew and itinerant casts included. In my callow yoof, I was mortified and did all I could to live down the evil of being a so-called opportunist.

But today, looking back from the lofty height of experience I’d be more blasé. ‘What’s so fearsome about that?’ I’d say, referencing a famous ex-nun about to burst into song to boost her confidence. Doesn’t main-chancer mean I can spot an opportunity and am prepared to gung-ho for it? What an ideal entrepreneurial trait, especially when you’re marketing your own freelance business.

Which, of course, I am. Confirmed cave-dweller that I am, I prefer to do all my schmoozing online (okay, so I exaggerate) (only a bit) and forgive me, I’m still learning the ropes. So far NEEDSer is on LinkedIn, Facebook, Hyves, and Twitter, to name a few biggies, and just last night I main-chanced myself onto another two great-looking facilities for business social networking.

The first is Ecademy, London-based and with a global membership of 300,000. The Ecademy was set up in 1998 by Penny Powers and her husband Tom (one of Sir Alan’s original Apprentices). The factsheet says the Ecademy is a ‘networking tool for business people, especially home workers and business owners who can otherwise be isolated from the kind of contacts that are vital for propelling business forward.’ Sounds like the Blagger’s cuppa, doesn’t it? I signed up only hours ago, haven’t even finished my profile and already I’ve been courted by nearly 30 potential clients calling from as far afield as Alpharetta (in Georgia, USA) to Zurich. Watch this space…

The other site is part of the Envato network from Australia that was started by the brothers Ta’eed (Collis, Vahid & Cyan) in a living room back in 2006 and now gets upwards of 11 million pageviews a day for the whole network. FreelanceSwitch is a niche site offering all the information and support freelancers need. There are daily postings, chockablog full of useful topics like pricing, finding jobs, dealing with clients and daily productivity. And there are forums for crowdsourcing support and advice plus a resource section filled with knickknacks such as a rates calculator. Again, I’ve only been signed on for a few hours so I can’t vouch for how good the site is. But I’ve had a good first impression of its wealth of freelance booty.

That reminds me of a riddle: what’s the hidden link between freelance and booty? You don’t know? Well I’ll tell you. The origin of freelance is ‘free + lance’ (oh do keep up, please). ‘Lance’ comes from, um, ‘lance’, that weapon wielded by knights on horseback, like Sir Lancelot (no relation). ‘Free’ is not what our services ever should be (as some misguided clients seem to think) but comes from ‘freebooter’, which comes from the Dutch vrijbuit ‘booty’ and means a person who pillages and plunders, esp. a pirate. So there you have it. Once we were freebooting warriors, living by the might of our lance and sword. Today we’re freelancers, living by the wit of our mightier pen. All together now: aaaaahhhh!

Let me leave you now with a loving testimonial to a contender for the NoBull Prize, one helluva Holstein named Braedale Freelance. Here’s 211 glorious slo-mo seconds of Freelance’s second batch of daughters posing posteriorly to show us their udderly bewitching assets. Shake ya booty and see you next week!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hermit age

You know the tired old sign that office jokers keep on their desks: "You don't need to be mad to work here but it helps"? Well, for me, “here” has to be “home”. Indeed, it would be sheer madness for this tireless joker NOT to work from home. I sure ain't good at the alternative. All that tweet and greet and blithering about the coffee machine in the corridor gives me the heebie jeebies. No offence intended, but I had enough of that social faffery in my corporate days to last me several lifetimes.

Let me socialise instead with the birdies gossiping outside my own window. I can handle their chirpy twitter and besides, the birdies never mind what I bleep back at them or even how I bleep it. So, does my desire to escape the madding crowd sound that mad? Nope, not to me, nor to many of my neighbours in Thesinge, the placid village we live in.

Really, we ought to rename the place “Hermit’s Hamlet”. For some strange reason, Thesinge harbours a wilderness of work-at-homes among its 700-strong inhabitants. Down my own sleepy lane, for instance, you will find (in no particular order) an accountant, a builder, a children’s book illustrator, an electrician, a health food distributor, a management consultant, a psychologist and a translator/photographer.

That’s nine hermits in a row (including me, your trusty language editor), although I hasten to declare that none of us actually occupies a grotty cave in solo splendour. We are blessed with socially outgoing partners who go out to work (and can be counted on to do all the housework whenever there is a deadline).

Gerard Kingma, friend and fellow language hermit, who lives at the end of the lane, does get out and about but that’s because he’s also a prize-winning photographer and has to. Obviously he can’t fob off his clients with the shots he's caught on his office webcam but rest assured, his snaps of the Thesinger Maar (the river flowing past his office) are as gorgeous as the works of art displayed on his wonderful travel & nature website.

The rest of us hermits, however, true to our reclusive nature, seldom are observed blotting the landscape or scaring off visitors, the task of the truly professional hermits employed on the fashionable estates of our Victorian forebears. Only a few of us would ever - except under duress or in unbearably sunny weather - poke a nose outside the comfy confines of our hermitages.

Talking of which, did you ever wonder how the moniker for a dank, dark grotto got to be given to that mega-museum in St. Petersburg? Well, stay put and I’ll tell you. When Catherine first began her great art collection she called the original gallery she had built to house it “my small hermitage” since only very few people would be allowed inside to view its riches. She once lamented in a letter that “only the mice and I can admire all this.” Thought you’d like to know that.

Ach, give Catherine the Great her mice, and her art, this hermit has her birdies and a great new age to enjoy. Yes, it was my birthday this Easter, and no, I won’t tell you how old I am. Suffice to say that I’d barely become a teen angel when this hit came out. Happy listening and see you next week!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Deep gobbledy joy!

Not so long ago one of my colleagues e-mailed the SENSE forum with a query about a copywriting term. “I need to crowdsource for this one,” she wrote. “What's the name for the key bit of text, often a direct quote, that you extract from an article and feature in a box?” As it turns out the answer is “pull quote” which sounds intriguing but isn’t what I want to talk about now. What really got my language cortex going was “crowdsource”, new to me but a term I supposed had been around for years. Google proved me right. There it was, defined by Grant Barrett in a New York Times column on the buzzwords of 2007: “Crowdsource ‒ to use the skills or tools of a wide variety of freelancers, professional or amateur, paid or unpaid, to work on a single problem.”

Wow, I thought. Crowdsource. What a good description of how the SENSE forum works. It’s so good I can almost forgive the word its gobbledygooky flavour. But what I can’t and won’t ever forgive is gobbledygook, for being what it is.

The G-word was coined in 1944 by one Maury Maverick in a memo banning "gobbledygook language" at the Smaller War Plants Corporation. Mr. Maverick made it up in imitation of a turkey's gobble in reaction to his frustration with the convoluted language of bureaucrats. So it's an American word but it has its equals in other languages including French (charabia), German (Kauderwelsch), Dutch (koeterwaals) and Italian (gergo incomprensibile). It's the converse of clear and concise, so confusing that no one can be expected to understand it.

Though I hate to admit it, it can be fun to play with, like on this Gobbledygook Generator presented by the Plain English Campaign, a UK organisation who have been fighting the good fight against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information since 1979 and who have some really good (free) guides to writing in plain English and handy (free) software like "Drivel Defence" to help you check for plain English in your texts (both docs and web texts).

Several other tools are available to evaluate readability, including the wonderfully named SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook), a formula that estimates the years of education needed to fully understand a piece of writing. It’s important to understand the issue of readability as it can have serious consequences. As Amy S. Hedman points out in Using the SMOG formula to revise a health-related document (American Journal of Health Education), “nearly 50% of American adults are functionally or marginally illiterate and lack skills to read and understand recommendations for preventive health, self-care and screenings, and treatment, thereby leading to poorer health outcomes. One solution to health illiteracy is for health professionals to … develop skills, strategies, and tools to ensure their messages are understood by the intended audience.”

Another solution, for all writers (not just health professionals) wanting to reach an audience, is to subject your writing (docs, web texts) to the pernickety pen of a professional pedant, a language editor who cares about the importance of clear communication and can help you to achieve it. Not that I’m plugging my own language editing service, of course, not (ahem). It’s just that I’d thought you’d like to know that on ReadAble, the readability test tool, NEEDSer scores an easy 8.7 on the SMOG scale, which means it should be easily understood by 12th-graders, that is, 17-18 year olds, my youngest clients. Needless to say (ahem), that goes to show I practise wot I preach.

Let me leave you now with a master practitioner. Rejoico! Stanley Unwin apparates in advertibold for Amstrad Wordyprocessor from approximilotions 1987. Featrisodes manily fantalistic wordings from the worldidode's grotelidiest linguabold. Deep joy!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tarot, Dare or Promise?

One of my best friends is under the mad delusion that as a freelancer I won’t be touched by the economic crisis. Yes, just yesterday Roz (the Follower skulking behind the Fanny Ardant avatar) said to me on the phone, “What crisis? You’ve got nothing to worry about.” She added a mellow, dramatic laugh that sounded like she’d be twirling her moustache if she had one (well, she does have a teensy smidgeon of one)(oops, sorry Roz) and went on to claim, “NEEDSer must be making you a fortune.”

Reader, my dear, my ears flipped and flopped in horror (see last week’s episode) as I rounded on Roz to retort: “How can you be so unrealistic? NEEDSer is doing fine, thank you very much for asking, but making me a fortune? B*ll*cks!”

I’ll spare you the details of the rude tiff that followed and pass on to the cause of Roz’s conviction that my English editing business (freelance, so by definition uncertain) is indeed booming and will continue to boom well into the future. Evidently Roz had faith in my talent and confidence in my acumen! It was rather flattering, but she flattened my fragile ego in her usual snarky fashion. “It’s nothing to do with you. The Tarot says so."

So. It seems my gullible galpal is an astrojunkie who gets "insightful guidance" in the form of Tarot readings e-mailed by Astrocenter dot com. Roz is so taken by the good value of the (free) readings popping daily into her inbox that she created a (free) astroprofile for me, supposedly as a present for my birthday, coming up soon (April 10, if you must know). But she couldn’t wait, and sent me my first reading yesterday after putting down the phone:

“The World and the Moon are in charge of your life today! Your work will be your fortune. You're not short of ideas (the Moon) and your actions open up new horizons (the World). Your plans are destined to succeed in a way that will cover you with glory.”

Well, glory be! It’s written in the cards, so it must be true. But only for yesterday. This morning I opened the second dose of astroguidance that landed in my inbox:

“In your professional life, the presence of Death and the Lovers indicates difficulties. A project might suddenly be cancelled, or fall through. Try to see it in context. Concentrate on those projects that are going ahead, rather than crying over spilt milk.”

Harrumph, I said, and got on with my work. Funnily enough, not long after a student e-mailed in response to the budget price I’d quoted for editing his 80-page dissertation. His reply began well, it looked like he’d accepted my price until I saw he had (wilfully?) confused the full price with the bit that goes to the taxman (19% value-added tax). The student ended by asking why-o-why could I not start working for him this weekend.

Alas, pressure of work compelled me to lose this considerate job offer. I smiled (winsomely) and went on editing the 106,799-word book that is keeping me busy for the foreseeable future. Hang on, I thought, half a sentence later. Dare I say this is the spilt milk the Tarot promised me for today? I rattled off an e-mail to tell Roz what had happened. I should have known better. The response I received from my clever friend was truthful and to the point:
“I taro-ld you so.”

Roz won’t mind if I leave you now with the truly unbelievable Fanny Ardent, doyenne des filles libérées, doing what comes naturally in 8 Femmes, our favourite François Ozon film.
A la prochaine!

Renvois de la Roz
Thanks to, Inc. where I found the Tarot card illustrations. Now Roz tells me I’ll find financial enlightenment if I turn to their GOLD Tarot reading (only $6.95 USD). Truth to tell, I don’t dare. Why don't you go first, but promise not to blame the Blagger if your pot of gold turns out to be made of brass?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Very Bunny

As Easter draws near it is time for my annual confession. Yes, dear Reader, I’m not Ragini Werner, your freelance editor and author’s friend who’s been faffing about online blowing NEEDSer’s horn to all and sundry (more sundry than all at this early stage). No indeed. I am in fact the Easter Bunny. You’d never have guessed it, but I do declare it’s true. I am the Bunny. Not just any Bunny, the Dutch Easter Bunny or Hare to be precise: Paashaas.
Perhaps I should explain, for those of us not bilingual. For starters, paashaas may look like one word but it’s actually two (the Dutch do this joining up thing a lot) (like the Germans do) (well, stands to reason, Dutch is a Germanic language). To un-Dutch eyes it may look like it but you don’t say paashaas like ‘pash-ass’ (as in: kiss my donkey with fervour). It sounds just like the open vowel of the plural of Dad (repeat after me: Papas) and the open (etc.) plural of laughs (say again: ha-ha’s). Now, join up the dads with the laughs and hey presto, you got it! Paashaas.

Moving on quickly now, paas also rhymes with the plural of Mum (see below) and even the planet Mars, but in that case only without you saying the ‘r’. Did you know Dutch spelling is very WYSIWY Hear and that’s really handy but o yea verily, don’t get me started on spelling, that’s a whole other kettle of vis. To return to our lesson: when you add ‘r’ to paas you get paars which sounds like ‘parse’ (I know it’s hard, but do try to keep up) and paars means ‘purple’ and as an adjective it gets inflected when placed before a noun (unless the noun is neuter). In short, I am the Paarse Paashaas, otherwise known as the Purple Easter Bunny. And that's definitive!

What’s that harrumph? Don’t tell me you’re not convinced. But Reader, my dear, it’s elementary (or alimentary considering how many chocky bunnies head down that canal come Easter time). I am positively, existentially purple. Long ago I settled into my purple haze. I love purple. Take a look at how I use it in this blog, better yet click over to the
NEEDSer business site and check out the purple there. Any e-mail reader of mine can attest to my propensity for typing in purple (fittingly so, I always feel, considering my proclivity for purple prose). I could go on (and on) but let me rest my case: Purpurata, ergo sum. ‘Clad in purple, therefore I am.’

Thank goodness we’ve settled the purply bit. Yet how does that parse with the bunny bit? See here, snapped for your eyes only, your not so bashful Blagger caught snoozing on the job. Either that, or it’s my holier than a rabbit warren look. If this shock-doc depiction of me having a bad hare day doesn’t convince you, then I really don’t know what could.

And what’s all this got to do with anything important? Well, my babbling on about Dutch is not mere digression. It’s my mad March hare-y way of pointing you to the best guide for sorting out the quirks and oddities of ‘Dunglish’. Living in the Netherlands, as I do, I do lots of work for people who write English with a Dutch accent = Dunglish. My job is to edit out the Dunglish and to do that well I often dip into one of my favourite stylebooks: Righting English That’s Gone Dutch by Joy Burrough-Boenisch, linguist, editor/translator and fellow member of the Dutch-based professional association SENSE, the Society of English-Native-Speaking Editors. Burrough-Boenisch may be writing on a serious subject, but she has a lovely light touch. Her puns still get me laughing, no matter how often I read them. Clear writing and clever wordplay, what more could a word-lover want?

I leave you now with Mama Cass Elliot, who (I am told) once told a reporter that prior to its release this hit song was nearly called Getting Bunny, Every Day. A case, perhaps of hare today, gone tomorrow? See you next week!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MONK-y Business

One of the capital pleasures of life as a language editor is the license it gives me to goof off on Google, or to put it in terms the taxman will accept: the time I spend online looking up terminology is justified. For sad nerdlings like the Blagger, badly infected with TICS (“terminally insatiable curiosity syndrome”), unravelling the hidden meanings of acronyms and other initial ISMS is more than a diversion. It is an essential life-enhancing element of my work. All of which is mere preamble to revealing what fun I had pottering in pursuit of the meaning of “CAP”.

Did you know that freedictionary dot com lists an incredible 252 definitions for CAP? (No silly, I didn’t count ’em.) The one I was looking up stands for “computer-assisted probing”. An example of this is to be found in a report about a new probe for performing brain biopsies. The developer, Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena of Imperial College London was inspired by Sirex noctilio, a wood-boring wasp that uses its ovipositor to drill into trees. The surgical probe reproduces the mechanics of the wasp’s drill (special shafts that move counter to each other) to displace and not damage tissue allowing surgeons to safely insert a hollow tube deep into the soft brain. The wood-boring wasp, by the way, is native to the Northern Hemisphere and was introduced into my native New Zealand as well as Australia, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa. Down south the Sirex is a real pest that attacks exotic pine plantations, causing up to 80% tree mortality.

And while we're on the subject of mortality, CAP is also “common Ada package”, a programming language developed by the US government commonly used in embedded systems (e.g. for air traffic control). Ada has nowt to do with the something-nasty-in-the-woodshed Aunt Ada Doom immortalized by Stella Gibbons in Cold Comfort Farm, her parody of the rural novel and the funniest book I’ve ever read. The name comes from a picturesque character in computer history, Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), a mathematician considered to be the world's first computer programmer. Lovely Ada was doomed to die at 37, the same age as her father, the poet Lord Byron.

A clever CAP you might doff your hat for (or hoodie at least) is the clever little “capuchin”. These brave New World monkeys were named after an offshoot of the Franciscan monks, the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin who wear brown robes with capacious hoods over their heads. Capuchin monkeys are extremely intelligent (the monks, too, indubitably) and are used in laboratories or kept as pets (think: organ grinders). Some monkeys are even trained to help quadriplegics around the house much like mobility assistance dogs. They help out by doing such tasks as washing their owner’s face, and microwaving food and opening bottles. However, it seems these little helpers don’t always do well in this care-giving context as for safety reasons they often have their teeth extracted (wot?! in case they bite the hand that feeds… their owner!?).

But enough of monkey business and onto majuscule matters, to wit: CAP aka “uppercase”, known as such because ye olden loden setters kept capital letters in the upper drawer of a desk or in the upper type case. The Blagger is glad to announce that someone called Galahad is the gallant winner of the premier RAW award, being the first to report spotting the misspelt “Captial” in the YouTube lesson on text revision (see the episode dated March 12). Congrats ole Gal and I hope you keep on enjoying your prize!

If you want to know what a RAW winner wins, enter this week’s competition. This time the prize will go to the first reader to spot the word or words in this episode set in “camel case”. I leave you now with a capital performance (capital punishment?) by one nonplussed non-brunette in the American game show Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? See you next week!

StudlyCaps, aka StickyCaps is what you call it when individual letters in words are capitalized at random or in a pattern. According to the Jargon File, “The origin and significance of this practice is obscure. It appears to have been popularized among adolescent users during the early eras of online culture, as a form of rebellion against the rules for proper capitalization of names and sentences.”
SO, tHere yOu have iT and WHat do You thiNk Of thaT?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lucid in the Sky

Lucille the cat was always clear: no one, not even me, her trusted tin-opener, was ever going to touch her tummy. If you strayed too close, out would come those diamond-sharp claws and take that! And that and that and that! Dear little Lucille never learnt the difference between overkill and making a point but who could blame her for being being transparent? Point is, she was always admirably clear in her catty communication. And before you start thinking that she was some bitch trollcat from hell, let me assure you that she was really a rather placid old puss who lived to a golden age and purred her wee chops off whenever she got what she wanted: a tin full of “Whiskas”.

Shy Lucille never lived up to her crabby namesake, Lucy van Pelt, from the Peanuts strip by Charles Schultz[1]. Once upon another time I played Lucy in the musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Yes, dear Reader, nipping my dream of budding into a ballerina (see last week’s episode) I turned into a thespian and roamed the repertory theatres of New Zealand. My not-so brilliant career was shortlived yet loads of fun and led to a nice collection of newspaper clippings. One such is a publicity shot for Lucy captioned “She’s no singer”. The piccy shows me posed, arm aloft, gob open like Brünnhilde--broad of The Ring--but the words say that I’m not warbling Wagner, just catching a ball. Which is clearly the cue for the lucid Miss Ball, whose ditsy facial expressions were such a loony part of her TV show “I heart Lucy”.

But I digress (well, not really). What’s inspired this week’s episode has less to do with this giddy trio of Lucilles than one sentence in the introduction of The Economist Style Guide. “Do your best to be lucid”, it says and goes on to quote Stendhal, “I see but one rule: to be clear”. I couldn’t agree more.

Yes I know, The Economist Style Guide needs no boost from me, even in our economic climate, but if you happen to be looking for a guide to writing that actually practices what it teaches[2], I’d say unto thee, choose this one. Jane Steinberg explains why on “Rare is the style guide that a person--even a word person--would want to read cover to cover. But The Economist Style Guide, designed, as the book says, to promote good writing, is so witty and rigorous as to be irresistible.” I couldn’t resist it and leave you now with an irresistible example of psychodelic lucidity. Fly high, land safely and see you next week!

[1] In keeping with Lucy van Pelt's habit of demanding 5¢ for her psychiatric help, this week’s la-la-la Lucy Poll demands that you tick the sum you’d pay in £sd (sterling) for this episode.
[2] Have a look at this brief lesson on text revision. First one to spot the RAW (“Read And Weep”) mistake wins the Blagger’s first RAW Award. I invite you to use Comments to inquire about your prize and/or to share your own examples of editorial hubris. We live to learn, yes even the Blagger.