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.