An American Editor

September 30, 2013

The Illogical Republican

I know this blog is an editorially focused one, but sometimes there is a need to stray a bit, especially into the world of politics. If there ever was a subject or profession (aside from religion) that was designed to be the slaughterhouse of language, it is politics — especially current American politics.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a difference between irrational and illogical behavior and speech. Unfortunately for America, GOP (Republican) politics smacks a lot of both when it comes to healthcare, especially Obamacare. It is clear to me that none of the pundits are having their pronouncements vetted by a professional editor; they seem to be the ultimate self-editors who are so blinded by their love for their own words that they are unable to see the problems with their word choices.

The GOP and its conservative allies are now running ads asking Americans if they really want their healthcare decisions made by “faceless Washington bureaucrats.” It’s a good question that is made a terrible question by the inclusion of “Washington”. I have asked several GOP politicians what the difference is between a faceless bureaucrat who sits in Washington and works for the U.S. government and a faceless bureaucrat who sits in an office in a large insurance company or in a state capitol? I have gotten no response other than “one cannot trust Washington bureaucrats,” which strikes me as clear avoidance.

Most Americans who have health insurance have health insurance provided by an insurance company or a state government. Very few individuals who actually pay for health care are self-insured. The insurance company tells us what it will pay for and won’t pay for and how much it will pay; no one is simply given an insurance card and told to “buy” whatever healthcare and drugs you think you need and don’t worry, someone else will pay for it.

No, the real difference between Obamacare and the current system of health insurance is that Obamacare will provide insurance to more people at a lower cost, which does not fit well with the GOP’s preferred plan of health insurance only for the well-to-do.

Yet the irrationality and illogicality of the “faceless bureaucrat” argument doesn’t halt the GOP tirade. If it can’t convince you by the bureaucrat argument, it is ready to hit below the belt and scream “socialism”. What could be more frightening to an American than socialism?

When I talk with senior citizens about healthcare, they are unanimous that they do not want the government interfering with their Medicare. Being a Medicare recipient myself, I fully understand that thinking. But when I point out to those who oppose Obamacare that the Medicare (and Medicaid) they praise and do not want touched by government is in fact run by a “faceless” government bureaucracy in Washington, they often seem stunned.

And when I point out that Medicare (and Medicaid) are socialist programs similar to Canada and Britain’s national healthcare plans, with the only difference being that in Canada and Britain the healthcare is for all, whereas Medicare is only for older Americans and disabled Americans, I see surprised expressions. But I also am told, “I don’t care. I don’t want Obamacare because it is creeping socialism.”

Some of the most strident anti-Obamacare Americans are military veterans. A local congressman is a retired veteran and an ardent opponent of Obamacare because it is socialized medicine. I have asked his office to explain how he justifies opposing Obamacare, which makes health insurance affordable and available to more Americans, while supporting expanded Veteran’s Administration healthcare, which is socialized medicine for veterans and which he enjoys at taxpayer expense. I await the answer and suspect I will celebrate my 100th birthday long before I get a rational, logical response (or perhaps any response) from him or his similar-thinking colleagues.

The problem with the message is the lack of understanding of the terms used. To Obamacare opponents, socialism is bad except when they benefit (“Don’t you dare touch my Medicare!”), and faceless bureaucrats are okay except if they can be found in Washington, DC (I wonder where congresspersons can be found?).

The GOP is winning the word battle because those who support Obamacare and national health insurance seem to be incapable of defining and framing the argument. They certainly are incapable of showing the fallacies in the arguments the GOP presents. I am almost (but not quite) convinced that the problem lies in word usage, not in meanness; that is, proponents find it difficult to distort word meanings and thus cannot fight back, whereas the opponents, like the GOP, have no problem assigning alternate meanings to common words in the expectation that people will hear the alternate meaning, not the standard meaning.

The GOP claims (falsely, but that doesn’t seem to matter) that Obamacare includes “death panels.” What the GOP doesn’t point out is that its “plan” is just death itself — no panel whose decision can be challenged and no health insurance to stave off disease, illness, and death.

The irrationality and Illogicality of GOP thinking and advertising strikes me as proof of why editors are needed — no one else seems willing to challenge the misuse of language. The sad part is that America has become a land of me rather than we.


September 25, 2013

Why No Business Plan?

I was recently asked why I haven’t written about creating a business plan. After all, books I recommend, such as Louise Harnby’s Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters (see Worth Noting: Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers), all suggest starting with a business plan, as do any of the basic business books you find in your library or bookstore.

The answer is because few freelancers will take the time or make the effort to create a business plan.

And this simply highlights why so many freelancers struggle or fail: It is because they are not business people and resist becoming a member of the business class.

I don’t disagree that a business plan is often crucial to success. The primary reason this is true is because creating a business plan does three things: (a) it forces one to think like a business; (b) it forces one to think about business; and (c) it forces one to act like a business.

Many years ago I taught a marketing class for editors and a publishing class for authors. In both classes, I spent time talking about creating a plan and why it was necessary. After the passage of much time, I would ask people who took the class, “Did you ever create a plan?” With rare exception, the answer was “no.”

The reasons (excuses) were the same no matter who was asked, and could be boiled down to “no time,” “too much effort required,” or “I tried but found it too much for me — I’m an artist not a business person.” Consequently, I rarely talk about business planning any more; I think it is a topic that gets lots of yes, you are rights followed by a near equal number of but not for me reactions.

Unfortunately, business planning is really a crucial first step in climbing the ladder to success. Although I call it “business” planning, what I really mean is “task” planning. Marketing requires a plan; writing requires a plan; babysitting requires a plan; even grocery shopping requires a plan. Different tasks require plans of different complexities and depths, but plans nonetheless.

Many editors are afraid of or uncomfortable with the business aspects of freelancing because they have not been previously exposed, in the decision-making position, to those aspects. But it is the business aspects that ultimately will determine how successful one is as a freelancer, and the easiest way to tackle the business aspects of freelancing is to draft a business plan.

Tackling a business plan means you have to think about your business needs — what needs to be done; when it needs to be done; why it needs to be done; how it needs to be done. There is your start: what, when, why, how.

Depending on its purpose, a business plan can be a very complex document or it can be a series of tackled items, each assigned a single sheet of paper that identifies the issue and answers the what, when, why, how questions. If you want to obtain a small business loan, the plan needs to be significantly more detailed — the lending agency will require ever more detail — but as a guide for your self-sustaining business, it need not be very complex.

And that is exactly what a business plan is — a document to guide you. It is where you debate with yourself about how you will conduct your business, what you will do to expand it, how much you will charge, and everything else that is the business side of freelancing. A business plan, no matter how simple, is only a guide to dealing with complex issues and every business plan is subject to regular review and change, like scheduled maintenance.

When I started my business, I didn’t create a business plan, and my income reflected that lack. I remedied that lack and saw my business grow quickly to where I wanted it to be. The plan wasn’t cast in stone; it simply formed a core guide and as circumstances changed, so did my plan as I tried to think about the future.

Here I am touting the virtues of a business plan even though I realize few, if any, readers will create one if they haven’t already made the effort to do so. One obstacle is time. But no one says you need to sit down and do a business plan in one session; in fact, you shouldn’t. It is hard to think and reflect analytically about career-affecting things in a single session; better to cogitate over time. Business planning requires thinking, and because it does, I suggest you devote 15 minutes a day to creating a plan. Time yourself and even if you are in the middle of a thought, stop at the expiration of 15 minutes. If the thought was good, you’ll remember it tomorrow; it it isn’t, you didn’t waste any more time on it.

Start with one simple task: company name. It is not enough to say I will call my business Matilda’s Editing & Fresh Fruits; you have to explain why you chose that name, what clients it will draw, what clients it will repel, whether it will confuse your target audience, and so on. Only after fully exploring the ins and outs of Matilda’s Editing & Fresh Fruits as a name, can you say you have this part of the business plan done. (And don’t forget to apply the what, when, why, how questions to the business name and to all other topics.) When finished, move to the next topic.

Tackling topics one-by-one is a good way to build a business plan. Within a month, you will have a good foundation for your business and your business future. Once you have developed your first business plan, use it as a guide and in three to six months, restart the process as a review process. Go over the decisions you came to that are part of your business plan and determine if they work. If you are happy with how your business is progressing, maybe only a few tweaks are needed; if you are not, perhaps you need to do more than just tweak your plan.

Regardless, a business plan is a key to success in any business, but especially so in a business that affects you.

September 23, 2013

The Twin Pillars of Editing

The twin pillars of editing are the thinking and the mechanical. Every editing assignment includes these twin pillars; they are fundamental as well as foundational.

The thinking pillar is what attracts people to the profession. Should it be who or whom? Does the sentence, paragraph, chapter make any sense? Does the author’s point come through clearly or have the author’s word choices obfuscated the message? The thinking pillar is what professional editors live for; it is often why we became editors. The semantic debates thrill us; the ability to rework prose to make it flow better is like an opiate.

Alas, the thinking pillar alone is insufficient to provide us with an income. Every manuscript requires the mechanical pillar and, to earn our wage, editors need to tackle that mechanical pillar.

The mechanical pillar includes many different functions, such as cleaning up extra spaces, changing incorrect dashes to correct dashes, incorrect punctuation to correct punctuation, and, perhaps most importantly, incorrect words to correct words and inconsistencies to consistencies. Many of these things can be, should be, and are done using macros.

Since 1984, I have earned my living as an editor; since the early 1990s, freelance editing has been my only source of income. I am pleased to say that I have made (and continue to make) an excellent income as an editor. The reason I have done well financially is that I have looked at the mechanical pillar of editing as a puzzle to be solved. Essentially, to be profitable and to make editing enjoyable, I want to minimize the time I need to spend on the mechanical aspects of editing and maximize the time I spend on thinking about what I am editing, while minimizing the time I need to spend on any single project.

The professional editor is part philosopher and part engineer. In our case, the engineer makes possible the philosopher. The mechanical pillar, which is the engineer’s role to tackle, often is the part of editing that most slows us down. It is the most difficult part of our work in the sense that it is difficult to find efficient, productive ways to speed the mechanical aspects. That is the function that macro tools try to fulfill, but we still end up doing individual searches and replaces to fix the rote things that the macros we use fail to fix.

The more financially successful an editor is, the more likely it is that the editor has mastered techniques that quickly eliminate some, if not most or all, of the tasks that fall under the mechanical pillar of editing. As I have stated many times before, mastering the mechanical aspects is why I created EditTools and why I use PerfectIt and Editorium macro programs. It is not that these programs eliminate the mechanical aspects of editing; rather, they reduce those tasks.

The remaining task is generally the applying of styles or codes to elements of the manuscripts. Unfortunately, this cannot be done automatically; I must read the manuscript to know whether something should be coded as a quote, a bulleted item, or something else. This is where, were we to apply a Venn diagram, the thinking and the mechanical pillars overlap.

The smaller I can make the overlap and mechanical areas of the Venn diagram, the larger the remaining area for the thinking pillar. The larger the thinking pillar, the more enjoyable the project. But this area is also the area in which I can best control my time.

Professional editors soon learn that there are some editorial questions that could be debated for hours and when the debate halts, still have not achieved a nondebatable resolution. In other words, many more hours could be spent on the point in question. Consequently, as we have honed our skills via the grindstone of experience, we have also developed a sense of how to best spend our time on the thinking pillar of editing.

We learn to stop debating endlessly whether to use serial commas or not, or whether which can be used if not preceded by a comma, or whether about is a true equivalent of approximately, or, my favorite, whether since and because are wholly interchangeable in all circumstances. (Another of my favorites is whether it is permissible to use due to in lieu of all its possible contextual meanings expanded.) Once we stop debating these issues, we begin to edge their resolution closer to the mechanical pillar.

If we decide that since can only be used in the sense of time, it becomes mechanical to change since to because or as in nontime usage. This becomes one more thing that liberates the thinking pillar to spend more time on those issues that require thinking skills. It also means that a little less time needs to be spent on the manuscript, unless we devote that time savings to the thinking pillar.

The point is that what editors need to seek to do, ultimately, is to increase what belongs as part of the mechanical pillar, lessen what falls within the overlap, and increase the time available for the thinking pillar. The more items that fall under the mechanical pillar and that can be macroized, the more income and profit an editor can make (assuming the editor is charging by a method other than the hourly method), because we can control the time we devote to the thinking pillar better than we can the time we devote to the mechanical pillar. The thinking pillar is like a bubble that can expand and contract as needed or as conditions warrant. The mechanical pillar lacks similar flexibility because there is a set amount of time required to accomplish all of the mechanical and overlap tasks. We reduce the time by using tools like macros, but then we increase the time when we add additional tasks or tasks that cannot be macroized.

If we think of editing as built on these twin pillars, we can make strides toward increasing our productivity, efficiency, and profitability.

September 18, 2013

Medievalist or Futurist?

Discussions with colleagues are always interesting. We come from such different places to reach a similar point — that of being a professional editor. But I do note that we tend to divide into two primary camps, which I call Medievalist and Futurist.

When I began my editing career in 1984, both editors and clients were focused on a fair wage for superb work. Clients wanted and expected quality, and clients expected to pay a fair wage to achieve that quality. That balance was important because clients viewed editing as both necessary and positive for their reputation.

Not too gradually, things changed. Small (relatively speaking), family owned publishers who took pride in their product went through generational changes in family managers. The newer generation hadn’t built the publisher; they were taking over an already established publisher. Their educational background differed greatly from that of the prior generation, and the focus changed.

Ultimately, what happened, as we all know, is that once proud, standalone publishers were bought by larger international conglomerates. The focus shifted from fair wages and high quality to editing being a necessary evil that simply cost money. The result was depression of wages and demands for more work; quality took a backseat to pricing.

This change moved swiftly through the industry with the parallel rise of the Internet and the globalization of services.

When I began my editing career nearly all manuscripts were edited on paper. (I can proudly say I was a pioneer in the shift to electronic editing. After the first few months of dealing with paper editing, I pressed clients to let me edit electronically, and by the end of my first year, I was refusing nonelectronic editing work.) What this meant was that services were done “locally,” which meant, generally, within the country, although there were several major publishers who insisted you be close enough to stop by their office to pickup and deliver the paper manuscripts (for which effort they did not pay transport time or costs).

Globalization brought a change from local to worldwide. The change was slow, but the tide was unstoppable. Even faced with this, many of my colleagues clung to the idea that editing was not a business but a craft and as a craft, the primary concern remained quality. If the client paid you pennies, you still gave dollars worth of editing. I viewed the matter as being if paid pennies, you gave pennies worth of editing. Arguments raged back and forth about this, but I was in the minority, and losing side, of the argument in terms of changing the views of my colleagues.

Time passed and the tide continued to flow outward and eastward. Eventually we reached the situation we are in today, where the number one matter of importance to a client is cost, the number two is speed, and in a distant third place is quality. It is not that clients do not want quality, it is that they prize cost and speed above quality, and as we all know, you can have two of the three but not all three.

Also, today, it is not unusual for the editor to be hired by a third-party, the packager who has won the contract to provide editorial and production services, but who has to use a hybrid system: offshore for the production component, onshore for the editorial component. In many cases, these packagers’ primary source of income is from production so they are willing to bid a low editorial price in the package bid, which means a low fee to the freelance editor.

Facing that, one would think the view that “even if the client pays you pennies, you still give dollars worth of editing” would have dissipated, but it hasn’t. Not only hasn’t it dissipated, but I think an increasing number of editors are touting it. I call this attitude the Medievalist approach to the business of editing because it is an approach that views editing as a craft and not as a business. In contrast, the Futurist is constantly reevaluating his business, trying to squeeze more efficiencies and more profit out of the editorial work. The Futurist looks toward tomorrows down the road and takes the view that “if the client pays you pennies, you give pennies worth of editing” — the Futurist looks for that balance between craft and business that the Medievalist does not, because the Medievalist says editing is a business, but really means it is a craft and she is an artisan, not a business person.

This conflict is particularly acute among American editors and is one reason why there is no strong national organization for professional editors: editors cannot agree on whether we are business people first or artisans first. (I know some American editors will point to the EFA [Editorial Freelancers Association] as a “strong” national group, but it isn’t; at best it is a national social group. It serves a function, just not the function that editors most need in today’s global marketplace.)

I think the Medievalists have a point when they focus on quality and its importance. After all, we professional editors should not let pass through our hands sloppily edited manuscripts. On the one hand, there are minimal levels of quality that every edited manuscript should meet. On the other hand, Medievalists go too far when they say we should worry less about the mismatch between price and quality, even if it means that we provide Rolls Royce services for Yugo prices. (Interestingly, it is rare to have a discussion of the third leg, speed, with Medievalists.)

Ultimately, I think the next generations of editors will increasingly adopt the Futurist approach as our economy continues to see growth in the freelance marketplace and contraction in in-house staff, combined with depression of prices. The trend toward outsourcing continues, and professional editors will be able to compete only by adopting a more business-like view of editing.

We need to remember and enforce with our clients that of the three key editing virtues — low price, fast speed, high quality — they can have any two, but not all three. We need to remember ourselves that, on any given project, we can only provide two of the three.

September 16, 2013

At Long Last — EditTools 5.0

It has been a long time since the last update to EditTools was released. Macros can be troublesome things, and it has taken longer than I had hoped to make some of the macros perform as I wanted.

EditTools 5.0 is a free upgrade for current registered users of EditTools. It is available at wordsnSync.

EditTools IS Usable By All Editors

Before I describe some of the enhancements in version 5, I want to discuss a couple of common misconceptions about EditTools. First, EditTools is usable by ALL editors — whether the editing subject area is STM, humanities, law, business, fiction, science fiction, or any other area. Alas, too many editors take a look at EditTools and the examples of what various macros do, see that the default labels and the examples are for medical books, and go no farther. The labels and examples are because I do medical editing and I created these macros for use in my work.

However, most of the tabs in the dataset managers are easily renamed. There is a button on the tabs titled Change Tab Name. Just click it and you can change, for example, Never Spell Words to Always Change These Words or to Matilda’s Vocabulary Checker or to whatever has more meaning for you. And the datasets that these tabs use can be named anything you want and contain the information you choose.

Although not all of the macros are usable by every editor in every editing job, most editors who use EditTools have a few macros that are favorites and used regularly; but as is true of any macro collection, there will be macros that are not used at all by a particular editor. Several of the macros that I used with great frequency 5 years ago, I rarely use today (e.g., MultiFile Find and Replace); others I use many times an hour, every day, and on every editing job (e.g., Toggle and Search, Count, & Replace). Some of the macros are intended to be used only once on a document (e.g., Never Spell Word and Journals).

My point is that if you have not tried EditTools because you think it is for STM editing only or because you  see some macros that you think you would never use, you should rethink your view of EditTools and give it a try.

I push EditTools, the Editorium’s Editor’s Toolkit Plus, and Intelligent Editing’s PerfectIt because I know, from my own experience and from the experiences users have related to me, that these three programs can help you increase your productivity, efficiency, speed, and profitability. In the case of EditTools, the need to increase those aspects of my editing is what led to the original creation, and the continuing enhancement of, EditTools.

New in EditTools 5.0

New in version 5 of EditTools are these macros: Cleanup; the complementary macros Convert Highlights to Styles & Convert Styles to Highlights; Change Style Language; and Quote Conversion. In addition, numerous fixes and enhancements have been made to other macros. What follows is a brief introduction to the new macros.


Although I run the Editorium macros that clean up my files, there is always something that Editorium’s FileCleaner (included in Editor’s Toolkit Plus) doesn’t do because no one would have imagined an author doing this. That’s where Cleanup comes into play.

Cleanup lets me design my own cleanup macro. It has a manager that makes it easy for me to enter things I would like changed universally without tracking on. (Cleanup does not offer the Track Changes On option.) For example, if a client wants all em-dashes changed to spaced en-dashes, I use Cleanup to do it.

Cleanup has both a general (things I want done on all files) Manager that saves to a general file, and a Specialty Manager that lets me create a separate, special cleanup file for a particular project or client. Cleanup should be run on a file before any other EditTools macro is run.

For more information, see the explanatory page at wordsnSync.

Convert Highlights & Styles

The Convert Highlights to Styles and Convert Styles to Highlights are paired macros; that is, you run Convert Highlights to Styles before you begin editing and — very importantly — before any other EditTools macro except Cleanup. Convert Styles to Highlights is the very last macro you run and — very importantly — it must be run after Remove All Highlighting.

This macro pair is useful in many situations, but here are the two primary uses I make of the macros.

The first situation is when I receive files from clients where some material has been highlighted and the client wants the highlighting to remain. Before these macros, this was problematic because EditTools relies on highlighting to communicate with the editor. Consequently, the client would receive either a file loaded with extraneous (to the client) highlighting or without any highlighting at all, unless I manually rehighlighted what the client wanted left highlighted, which would be a waste of my time and cost me money.

The second situation, which is the more usual one, is when I receive a file with no highlighting that the client wants kept but that has callouts for figures and tables (or anything else) that have to be brought to the compositor’s attention. In these cases, I like to use highlighting but haven’t been able to unless I searched for and manually highlighted each callout/item after I ran Remove All Highlighting. That wasn’t so bad when there were only a couple of tables or figures, but I have had files with dozens of each called out.

In the first instance, running Convert Highlights to Styles converts all of the client’s highlighting to a style and removes the highlight. Then, when I am done editing and have removed all of the highlighting I have added, I can run Convert Styles to Highlights and the client’s highlighting is back in place. And for callouts, I can apply the style to them so they are highlighted as well.

In the second instance, I search for the first callout and I apply highlight to it. I then run the macro to convert it to a style. This adds a style to the list of styles. Now when I come to a callout, I simply apply the style. Then, when I am done editing and have removed all of the highlighting I have added, I run Convert Styles to Highlights and all of the callouts are in highlight.

For more information, see the explanatory page at wordsnSync.

Change Style Language

I find it frustrating when I receive a file and the document language is not set to English. So, I apply English to the “whole” document only to discover that in many of the multitude of styles the document has, the language has been set to something other than English and/or Spell Check has been turned off in the style, and my attempt to set the whole document to English and turn on Spell Check has failed.

Change Language Style lets me choose a language and choose to turn Spell Check on or off and have that information made a part of each style in the document. Running the macro means it goes through all of the styles in the document and changes all of the language and spell check settings to what I have chosen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on all styles. Microsoft has some built-in styles that cannot be changed this way (particularly “attribute styles”), but the change is made to the great majority of styles. It may not be perfect, but it makes life easier and solves a problem editors often encounter in a minimum amount of time.

Quote Conversion

The final new macro is Quote Conversion, which has two submacros: American Quotes to British and British Quotes to American. This macro is simple but effective. If you receive a document that uses British quotes that need to be Americanized, run British Quotes to American. To go from American to British quotes, run American Quotes to British.

EditTools 5.0 adds valuable macros to an already existing array of valuable macros. Check it out and if you are a registered user, be sure to download and install your free upgrade.

September 13, 2013

Worth Noting: Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers

A few weeks ago, in Worth Noting: Proofreaders-to-be: Loving Books Isn’t Enough, I commented that Louise Harnby’s book, Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters, looked interesting and that I planned to check it out. I did and I want to report that this is an excellent basic guide to the business of freelancing.

(I suppose I should disclose that to my surprise, I am mentioned by name in the book in connection with my EditTools macro collection. However, I assure you that the mention is fleeting and not why I’m reviewing the book now.)

Harnby’s book begins with the basics and gives good advice. American readers should be aware that it is written from a British perspective, but the advice crosses all geographical boundaries and is as relevant and accurate in the United States and Spain as it is in England. As I have stated numerous times, business is business — the basics do not change.

It is the basics that Harnby addresses. Things like why a business plan is a good idea, why one should have a business name and a domain name, networking, finding clients, getting experience, and the myriad other things that new-to-the-business-of-freelancing people need to know.

The book is not detailed, which is a weakness, but then it is not intended to be more than an overview. It does act as a checklist and guide. I think even experienced freelancers who are struggling with the business aspects of freelancing would benefit from this book. Information about the book and how to order it are available at Harnby’s website: Louise Harnby Proofreader.

It is an inexpensive investment (£5.99/US$8.99), but one that could set you on the right path. I encourage you to checkout Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters by Louise Harnby.

September 11, 2013

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

In the land of word resources, one stands above them all: The Oxford English Dictionary. Why? Because once in the OED, always in the OED.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the dictionaries and usage manuals most editors rely upon. Each edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary runs about the same page length and uses about the same size typeface, and is about the same thickness as previous editions. The only way this could occur is if some words got dropped as new words were added.

In olden days, I kept all my “outdated” dictionaries, largely because I liked books and couldn’t bear to part with a book. But after getting estimates to move books across country (several times), I realized that the heavyweights that I no longer ever opened needed to go. And so they did — a move that I regretted once I settled down and knew that any further moves would be local.

“Outdated” dictionaries and word usage books do have a place in the editor’s arsenal. If you are editing a novel that takes place in the 1950s, slang from the 2000s won’t be very helpful. You want to be able to check meaning and usage that is relevant to the period in which the action takes place.

Authors are products of their times. Authors write with the words with which they are familiar, the words they grew up with, that they learned in their schooldays — words that may have been removed from the dictionary to make room for more current words. And just as authors are products of their time, so are editors. We tend to use words the way we were taught to use them, and occasionally learn from an astute editor that the way we used the word is no longer acceptable. (Someone very near and dear to me drives me crazy by constantly saying “cool”. But I do recognize the lexicon era from my much younger days :).)

What brought this to mind was an article in the September issue of The Atlantic, “When Good Words Go Bad” by Jen Doll (with a different title online: “How to Edit a Dictionary”). I remember some of the now-gone words, like “ostmark” and “tattletale gray.” Another word/phrase the article mentions is “complement-fixation test,” which I still come across in material I edit.

I have also noted changes in hyphenation of compound words/phrases.

An editor has to be word knowledgeable, but what does an editor do when a word needs to be checked but it isn’t in the dictionary? Today, the easiest path is to search the Internet. I’ve done that, but never have felt comfortable relying on such a search. I’m from the days when the value of a source was measured by the source’s (national or international) reputation. I don’t know an English language editor who wouldn’t agree that the OED is a reliable source or, for American editors, that Bryan Garner’s opinion as to word usage is more valuable than general Internet search results.

Consequently, I find that I am not only saving and using older versions of what I consider to be reputable sources, but that I am buying them when I come across them in bookstores. My path backward in time is a split road — some paths go back decades, some only an edition or two.

One of the most interesting resources I have is H.L. Mencken’s The American Language (4th ed., revised). I have the original fourth edition along with its several supplements, a multivolume discourse on and exposé of the American language. You can find these books and the supplements at places like (e.g., at this link) and other antiquarian book shops. They are not popular and thus are often inexpensive. I recommend buying them if you want to learn about the American language from a person who was a recognized language authority.

Although I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked, the point I’m trying to make is that my outlook about resource books has changed. In my youth, I would never have considered having and using prior editions of dictionaries or usage books. After all, I live today and my language should be of today, or so I thought.

Now that I am an older, wiser, and more experienced editor, I recognize that in the absence of those older resources, not only is language forgotten, but writings can become less meaningful. What bohemian meant in 1930 was not the same as it meant in 1950 or in 1970, and certainly not what it means today, but what it meant in 1930 might make the difference between understanding and not understanding the allusion Sinclair Lewis was making when he used the term in 1931.

I know I have written before about the resources a professional editor has (should have) on hand (see, e.g., Working Effectively as an Editor — New Print Resources and The Business of Editing: On My Bookshelf), but what I failed to discuss — perhaps even consciously recognize — is the value of prior editions of major resources in my day-to-day work.

Another interesting aspect is to see how respected resources have changed — “grown” or “matured” — over time, which is visible by comparing editions. When I have time, I’ll pick up the three editions of Bryan Garner’s American usage books and compare an entry. Sometimes the changes are subtle, sometimes they are more obvious, but what they always are is informative.

When I am uncertain about how an author has used a word — my recollection of its meaning being different than the author’s use would indicate — I’ll open a couple of editions of a dictionary and see what changes, if any, have occurred over the years.

What I have discovered is that being able to research through prior editions of a language resource has made me a better editor. It certainly impresses authors when I can give a meaningful comment that traces language usage and explains why the current word may not be the best choice. The corollary, I have also discovered, is that impressed authors ask my clients to be sure to hire me to do the editing on their book.

Do you keep a library of older resources that you have replaced? Do you use them or are they just taking up shelf space? Or are you an editor who relies on the Internet?

September 9, 2013

The Pluraling of Plurals

Before there is a mad rush to point out that pluraling is not a word, rest assured I know it — I created the word just for this article. I do realize that pluralizing might have been a better choice, but pluraling just struck me as appropriate.

I recently edited some medical material in which the term activities of daily living was used. The authors, after giving the expanded version of the term, used the initialism ADL, which is correct. ADL appears in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate 11e, American Heritage 5e, and Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 32e; it does not appear in Stedman’s Medical Dictionary 28e — at least not as ADL; in Stedman’s it is ADLs. In the AMA Manual of Style 10e, it appears as ADL with a parenthetical “(but: 1 ADL, 6 ADLs).” The Scientific Style and Format (CSE Manual) 7e doesn’t specifically say anything about ADL, but it does say, “If the abbreviated term is itself a plural, do not add the ‘s’.”

Alas, the usage bible, Garner’s Modern American Usage, says nothing about ADL, but does say this about the baseball initialism RBI (runs batted in): “three RBIs” is correct and “three RBI” is incorrect based on long-time use.

In the book I was editing, the authors sometimes used ADL and sometimes ADLs, presumably to distinguish between the singular activity and the plural activities. I changed every instance of ADLs to ADL. After all, one doesn’t have activities of daily livings, activities is already plural, and, most importantly, the authors correctly defined (expanded) ADL as activities, not activity. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, the in-house editor insisted that where the authors used ADLs it was to be left as ADLs, although the in-house editor did ask for my justification for making the change.

The Dorland’s, Collegiate, and American Heritage dictionaries offer only ADL, not ADLs, and define ADL as activities, not activity; Stedman’s also uses activities in the definition, but does so for ADLs — Stedman’s doesn’t offer ADL as an option. The AMA Manual is the only source that offers both ADL and ADLs. The in-house editor cited AMA Manual as the authority for having both usages.

And this is the problem: When is pluraling of a plural OK?

When you read an initialism, you read the letters of the initialism individually. Some believe that reading each letter individually (i.e., A-D-L) is the proper way to deal with an initialism. For example, when we see MRI, we read it as M-R-I, not as magnetic resonance imaging, even though that is the expanded form of MRI. Others think that with initialisms, the proper thing to do is to read it as magnetic resonance imaging, not M-R-I. In other words, the conflict is between reading an abbreviation as letters versus reading it in its expanded form or as a word.

That difference is what determines whether ADLs is acceptable. We already know that ADL is a plural by its very definition. Even the AMA Manual defines it as a plural. But the AMA Manual, in this one exception, advocates pluraling a plural. Interestingly the AMA Manual is somewhat contradictory. In the same list of terms where it plurals the already plural ADL, it defines the initialism ACS as acute coronary syndromes. Should it not be ACSs by the same logic as ADLs? What if there is only one syndrome? What would its initialism be?

The AMA Manual adds no special note to the initialism YLD (years living with disability) or YPLL (years of potential life lost) as it did with ADL. Presumably, in the case of YLD, it is because the subject of the phrase is not years but disability, which is singular, and so YLDs‘ expanded form would be years living with disabilities. Similarly, with YPLL the subject is not years but life, so, conceivably, it could be made plural as YPLLs, or years of potential lives lost.

The pluraling of YLD and YPLL makes sense because the subjects are not already plural. But in activities of daily living, the subject — activities — is already plural. The AMA Manual asks that we plural a plural.

The radical, but logical, solution is to redefine ADL as the singular activity of daily living. Just as the AMA Manual has arbitrarily determined that ADLs is correct, it could arbitrarily redefine ADL.

With all of this arguing over ADL versus ADLs and whether we are pluraling a plural, we have not gotten to any kind of rule to govern when (or if) a plural should be pluraled. I suspect that is because the rule already is that — except in the case of ADL — plurals should not be pluraled. The justification for ADL is that readers read this initialism as A-D-L when they come to it rather than expand it mentally to activities of daily living.

Alright, the argument is a bit obtuse, scattered, trying to put a square peg in a round hole, etc., but the one question that the in-house editor and the AMA Manual have so far failed to answer is this:

If ADL is universally defined as activities [plural] of daily living, what is the universally agreed upon definition of ADLs [pluraled plural]?

This is important because when editing, we need to define acronyms/initialisms at first use and I can’t come up with a definition that I can point to that separates ADL from ADLs — unless I use the outlier, Stedman’s. Stedman’s doesn’t recognize ADL, only ADLs, and it defines ADLs as activities [plural] of daily living, which leaves ADL to mean activity [singular] of daily living.

I view the pluraling of ADL much like pluraling of common units of measure — we don’t do it and it shouldn’t be done. The abbreviation oz is used for both ounce and ounces. The same is true of other measures, like L (liter/liters), mL (milliliter/milliliters), in (inch/inches), etc. In the case of ADL (and other similar plurals), I find little logic to pluraling a plural.

What do you think? How would you defend the in-house editor’s decision?

September 6, 2013

A Video Interlude: Truly Amazing!

Filed under: A Video Interlude — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
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I don’t even know what to write about the performance below. It is one of the most amazing exhibitions of grace and strength I have seen. I cannot imagine the training that was required for these performers. Anyway, sit back, relax, and enjoy a most amazing performance.

September 4, 2013

Going Wireless

When I first began my career as a freelance editor, I realized that I needed a business telephone line. In those days, email and the Internet were still barely taking their first steps in publishing. Most of my client contact was done via postal service mail and telephone.

In addition, I had two young children who wanted to remain in contact with their friends and who had little concept of “no, you can’t use the telephone during business hours.” Thus, the need for a dedicated business line.

So, I had a second line installed at my home, a line dedicated to business.

Not long after I had that business line installed, I recognized that clients wanted to fax material to me. Sometimes the faxes would run dozens of pages. So I decided to install a second business line. This line was for both voice and faxing. I also arranged for “rollover”; if someone called one of the two business numbers and I was on the telephone, the call would rollover to the other number. It was something like an early call waiting system.

Over the years, I found that rollover to be indispensable because by ringing the alternative number, my wife could answer the phone, giving the business greeting. I began to look like a real company — multiple telephone lines and a “receptionist” to answer with “Good morning. Freelance Editorial Services. How may I help you?”

Also in those days a key to a successful business was having toll-free telephone numbers. So I indulged and got a toll-free telephone number for each of the business lines. That actually was one of the least expensive investments I had made in my quest for “perfect” telephony services. The numbers cost me $5 a month plus 3¢ a minute. A typical bill, surprisingly, was less than $10.

This served me well for a long time. Ultimately, the kids moved out and there really wasn’t a need for a “personal” telephone line. So that line got converted to a third business line, but this time dedicated to my wife’s business. A third toll-free number was added.

The combination of multiple telephone numbers and the toll-free numbers emphasized to clients that I was truly a business, a company. The image I was projecting was reinforced with every business card I handed out that displayed four of the six numbers plus a business e-mail address and website.

Right up to the early 2000s, a client could reach me by telephone using any one of six available numbers. I didn’t make any changes because the monthly cost was relatively low and although the balance had tipped — work proposals came more frequently via e-mail than by telephone — the telephone was still producing a goodly amount of business.

A change I did notice, however, was that no one was using the toll-free numbers. If they called, they used a standard phone number. I think this came about because the telephone companies had moved away from charging separately for long distance calls. Plus, increasing numbers of people were using their cell phones to make calls. So I began the first pruning and eliminated the toll-free numbers. If they weren’t being used, I saw no sense in paying for them.

So life continued on with three landline business numbers. To that two cell phone numbers were added. We didn’t give out the cell phone numbers because we rarely had the cell phones on, except when we were traveling and wanted certain clients to be able to reach us.

The next change came with the arrival of FiOS (fiber optic digital service from Verizon). When it first became available in my neighborhood, I switched my Internet service from Time Warner Cable to Verizon FiOS, hoping that FiOS would be more reliable than cable had been (and that the customer service folk would be less surly and more caring). It turned out that FiOS was a major improvement in virtually every way. I’ve had FiOS Internet service for at least 5 years now and it has nearly always been on and available, unlike the experience I had with cable.

The Internet service plus the chance to lower my monthly costs convinced me to switch our landline telephones from the copper-line service we had to FiOS digital telephone service. We made the switch and the experience was mixed. On the one hand, the telephone service was fine; on the other hand, we lost our rollover capability because it couldn’t be done with the digital service, at least not without great expense. Our monthly telephone bill decreased significantly, which was a plus, but increasingly any business inquiries were coming via e-mail, not telephone.

Unfortunately, my wife’s cell phone was dying. We were still using the cell phones we had bought nearly 10 years ago, so we had gotten our money’s worth out of them. The impetus to do something about the cell phones came with my wife’s participation in a plein air paint show in Pennsylvania. She would be gone for a week and during that week would be required to paint outdoors in an area that we had only visited once before. The thought of her traveling with a dying cell phone made me think about our telephone system yet again.

The decision was made to cancel our landline service and port two of our landline telephone numbers to new cell phones. We would take the plunge and go wireless.

It has only been a month since we went wireless, but for the most part we like our current situation. The biggest negative is that we are always tethered to business and to the Internet. The phones travel everywhere with us, which means we are accessible to clients (and to family and friends) wherever we are. A positive is that unlike the landlines, we can turn off the phones and not be bothered. (I’ve noted that we are getting fewer unwanted solicitations, which is a bonus.)

My daughter was delighted when I went wireless because I got my first smartphone. She thought she could text me to keep in touch. I put a stop to that thought immediately. My wife is happy to communicate with our children via texting — better than no communication, she says — but not me. I’m still living in the 1960s when voice-to-voice and face-to-face were the preferred communication methods. I told my daughter to call, not to text. So far, she is listening, but I know that won’t last forever.

My business has changed over the past 30 years and just as it has had to move, through fits and starts, into the 21st century, so has my telephony needs. At least for now, I’m wireless. Tomorrow may make other demands on me.

Have you gone wireless? What has been your experience?

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