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!