WOTY (Word of the Year) 2014 — Part 1

While I’m not a huge believer in the whole concept of a “Word of the Year” (WOTY), it’s become a tradition for me to use a post (or two, or even three…) to collect as many of them as I can to see what the various WOTY committees have come up with. The whole WOTY idea is nonsense, but these lists are often useful for tracking interesting new words and usages that might soon become (or already have become) a common part of the language around us. They’re also, in my opinion, a good demonstration of how easy it is to be completely tone-deaf to how the language actually functions, so these lists give us a window on both the best and the worst of new coinages.

Click for more opinionated ramblings, with no further mention of the cromnibus

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Forgo, foregoing, foregone…but please not “forwent”

There isn’t a category of words, phrases, and grammar known simply as “ugly English.” But there probably should be. Qualifying immediately for that category would be “forwent.” It’s the past tense of “forgone.”

You’re probably familiar with foregone, as in a foregone conclusion (something that is so likely to happen that it’s accepted as inevitable). That’s primarily how foregone is used in modern speech, as little more than part of a frequently overused phrase.

If you’re sharp eyed, you’ve noticed that I’ve already spelled this word two different ways, “foregone” with an “e” in the middle and “forgone” without it. That wasn’t an accident, and it’s part of what makes these words so maddeningly annoying for writers and editors.

You’ve read the foregoing, how can you forgo the rest? Click for more.

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Why use a copyeditor indeed.

I’m not a big re-blogger (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve done it here before…certainly very few times). But this post crossed my desk courtesy of the Editorial Freelancers Association (of which I am a member), and it’s worth sharing.

Holly Robinson, an author of books, articles, and essays, recently published the following short but very appreciative and accurate post about how important good copyediting really is:

In Praise of Copy Editors

That’s right. Copyeditors aren’t only about making sure everything is spelled correctly; that your use of numerals versus spelled numbers is consistent; that your verb tenses make sense; and that your punctuation doesn’t lead to unintentional confusion (or comic results). Lord knows, we do an awful lot of that sort of work.

More important to many projects, we act as a second head on your shoulders: not simply that “second pair of eyes” writers always talk about, but in fact a complete second brain, one that’s there to filter, sort, compare, index, and fact check when your own memory for the details might not be entirely up to the task. (Or maybe you just can’t be bothered to look things up. That’s okay — doing it for you is part of what we do.)

Holly is spot-on with the kind of things we work to catch and correct in the name of making the author look better. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve snagged little errors of the kind she highlights: wrong days of the week, fluctuating time of day, age of a character, hair or eye color, the weather, character name (or spelling) changes, position of objects critical to the action in a scene, and so on. I’m especially a stickler for technology and anachronistic speech, and often root out misuses of both that have gone unnoticed by earlier readers.

There’s an infamous error in Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the “Robinson” overlap with Holly is pure coincidence). Near the start of Chapter IV, Crusoe strips off his clothes and swims out to the wreck of his ship — where shortly thereafter he fills his pockets (!) with biscuit from the ship’s stores. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but it’s a pretty safe bet that a good copyeditor wouldn’t have let such a snicker-inducing gaffe slip by.

Thanks, Holly. Copyeditors are used to being unsung heroes, but this one isn’t about to turn his nose up at the unsolicited shout-out you’ve given us.

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Burn This Book Review: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England (2007, Brock Clarke)

I’ve been attending the library book club in my city for close to a decade. I often feel that I don’t read enough books, and preparing for the club forces me to add about a dozen each year. This particular group has a lot of regulars, and while we often disagree about books, for many reasons, I’ve never gotten angry with any of them about our differing opinions. Until last week, when the club discussed this book.

He’s not Bruce Banner. You might still like him when he’s angry.

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ISIS or ISIL? What’s in a name? A lot if you’re paying attention.

I was pleased last week to hear President Obama refer to the “Islamic State” entity in the Middle East as “ISIL.” Most official Obama Administration spokespersons and the US military use ISIL, but the American press refers to the group almost exclusively as “ISIS.” It might not seem important at first glance what one chooses to call the group, but in this case it is, and using ISIS has been a disservice to the news-consuming population.

If you don’t know your Levant from your leavening, click here

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