Archive for the ‘Grammar & Punctuation’ Category

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Should you use capitals for job titles?

July 23, 2019

Back in May 2019, I attended the biennial IPEd Conference for Australian and New Zealand editors. One of the things I took away was a snippet about capitalising job titles from Penny Modra’s plenary on Day 2 (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2019/05/12/iped-conference-2019-day-2/) and how that can represent (consciously or subconsciously) hierarchies of greater and lesser jobs.

For example, if you cap Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, or Senior Geologist, do you also cap Cleaner, Plumber, Sewage Truck Driver? If not, why not? Why should some job titles get capped and others not? What’s the implied social stratification here?

I’ve kept that in mind when working on the corporate reports I deal with, and today I queried an author who had used ‘truck operator’ when referring to a particular occupation, yet in the same sentence had used ‘Production Coordinator’ and ‘Site Supervisor’ when referring to other occupations in the same company.

My opinion: If you capitalise some job titles, then for consistency you need to cap them all, so a cleaner or truck operator needs to have the same recognition for their job as a production coordinator, otherwise you’re implying a hierarchy of ‘good’ or prestigious jobs over those that are less well-paid or recognised (less ‘worthy’). Either cap them all, or cap none of them (my preference). This may seem a trivial thing, but every time someone sees their job diminished by no caps when other positions are capped, it just further affirms (perhaps only subconsciously) that their job is less important. Yet if you took away all the sanitation workers, society would soon realise the importance of these jobs and the people who do them, and not give two hoots about any of the managing directors until the waste was sorted out.

Most style guides will have a section on when to capitalise occupational titles when referring to an individual (e.g. Doctor Sally Jones) or to a generic position (Sally Jones, a doctor). Just keep in mind that capitalising ‘Principal’ or ‘Doctor’ doesn’t make that job any more important than the uncapped ‘teacher’ or ‘nurse’—and ask yourself why you are giving some job titles more prominence than others.

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Children suck

January 6, 2015

Or at least, that’s what this sign says. Spotted in my local medical surgery near the children’s play area.

children_suck

I think they meant to tell parents to put any toys into the bin that their children have put into their mouths or that they have dirtied.

It might have been better to avoid ‘dirty’ and ‘suck’ (especially the unfortunately worded ‘children suck’) and instead used wording similar to this: ‘For used play area toys. Please put play area toys used by your children into this bin.’

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Plural vs possessive – it’s not hard

November 24, 2014

<sigh> Another example of a professionally created sign that gets it wrong. PLURALS DON’T HAVE APOSTROPHES (in the main). It’s not hard.

There were at least three levels of human error here — the person who commissioned the sign and/or sent the copy to the signwriter, the signwriter, and the person who OK’d the finished sign as suitable for going up in the Albuquerque Airport. ATMs… not ATM’s.

P1010269

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Yep, punctuation matters

September 19, 2014

Seen in my Twitter feed yesterday — an announcement from the company hosting a conference that a session is underway:

punctuation_mattersUnfortunately, without quote marks or other identifying embellishments such as bold or italics, the message is not to get stuck in the localization Bermuda Triangle with Susie Winn! I’m sure she’s very nice, but I’m also sure that isn’t the message they intended.

Yes, punctuation matters. Why? Because it removes ambiguity and prevents misinterpretation.

See also:

[Link last checked September 2014]

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Plurals don’t take apostrophes — it’s not that hard

August 21, 2014

<sigh>

I was wandering in a Target store the other day and spotted some egregious apostrophe errors in the paid-for-and-no-doubt-very-expensive signage. Here’s one:

target

They had no apostrophes in ‘Books’ or ‘Paperbacks’ (which is correct as they are plural forms), but somehow had thought it was necessary to add apostrophes to CDs and DVDs, which are also plurals. The error was bad enough, but the inconsistency was just as annoying.

Further along in the store they had ‘Womens’ and ‘Mens’ as well as ‘Women’s Clothing’. ‘Women’s Clothing’ is correct — the clothing belonging to or for the women, but ‘Womens’ and ‘Mens’ is NEVER correct — you can’t pluralize (if that’s a word!) a plural. The plural of ‘woman’ is ‘women’ and of ‘man’ is ‘men’, so you can only ever have ‘Women’s’ and ‘Men’s’ when they are adjectives (or perhaps implied adjectives as in ‘Women’s Clothing’); otherwise it has to be ‘Women’ or ‘Men’. Never ‘Womens’ or ‘Mens’.

Basic rules:

  • Plural form — add an -s or an -ies as appropriate; NO apostrophe
  • Possessive form — add an ‘s (or just an apostrophe in the case of words already ending in s)

Yes, there are some minor exceptions to these basic rules, but for most cases, these rules apply.

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Apostrophe abuse

July 27, 2014

Seen at my local shopping centre…

There’s ONE apostrophe on this sticker — there should be three — and it’s not even in the right place! How can they get it SO wrong?

apostrophes_car

(And if you’re not sure where all the apostrophes all go, it should read: “This is not my boyfriend’s car… it’s my Dad’s”. Also, instead of abbreviating “boyfriend” to “b’friend” to save space it would have been better to abbreviate “is not’ to “isn’t”, but I guess they didn’t know where to put the apostrophe!)

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Dealing with spans of numbers and symbols related to numbers

July 22, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…

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Below is a scanned image of a page from the Australian Style Manual, detailing how to deal with spans of numbers and other numbering conventions (click on it to view it larger).

spans_numerals02

Some of the terms used on this page maybe unfamiliar to you, so here’s an explanation of those terms (plus some others), along with the Microsoft Word (for Windows) keyboard commands to insert them, where available.

Please note: Keyboard numerals and other keys with an asterisk (*) can ONLY be used on the numeric keypad, NOT the numbers across the top of the keyboard, and if there’s an Alt prefix, you must hold down the Alt key while pressing the numbers in sequence.

 

Term Looks like How to get it (menu) How to get it (keyboard) Notes
Hyphen, dash, subtraction (standard keys) (standard keys) Use a hyphen for separating hyphenated words, such as compound adjectives, e.g. five-year plan
En rule (also known as [aka] ‘en dash’), minus Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Alt+0150 * or Ctrl+- * or type two hyphens immediately after a word (no spaces) followed by the next word Slightly longer than a hyphen; use for spans of numerals or words, e.g. 100–150 m, north–south orientation
Em rule (aka ‘em dash’) Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Alt+0151 * or Ctrl+Alt+- *or type three hyphens immediately after a word (no spaces) followed by the next word Longer than an en dash; use instead of parentheses or commas for inserting extra information in a sentence; e.g. … The main vessels—the LMN and ABC—are considered…
Non-breaking space ° Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Ctrl+Shift+<spacebar> Can only be seen if show formatting is turned on; looks like a degree symbol, but does NOT print; forces a value and its unit of measure to stay together even when a line wrap might normally separate them. Always use between values and their units of measure; e.g. 50 km.
Multiplication sign × Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 3rd bottom row of (normal text) list Alt+0215 * You can use a lower or upper case ‘x’, but ‘x’ is not a true multiplication sign.
Division sign ÷ Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: bottom row of (normal text) list Alt+0247 * You can use a / to indicate division, but / can be used for other purposes, so use the division sign instead.
Plus/minus sign ± Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list Alt+0177 * You can use +/- instead, though it’s not as neat as ±.
Superscript number m3 Home > Font > Superscript check box Ctrl+Shift+= Select the text to superscript, then apply the formatting. If you grab extra characters, either turn off the superscripting the same way, or press Ctrl+<spacebar> to return that text to its default.
Subscript number CO2 Home > Font > Subscript check box Ctrl+= As for superscripting (above)
Degree symbol ° Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list (Word 2007 and 2010 at least) Alt+0176 * Be careful you don’t choose the symbol on the 10th row of the symbol list—the correct degree symbol is on the 9th row next to the ± sign.
Greater than or equal to (see instructions below this table) (see instructions below this table) Don’t use >=.
Less than or equal to (see instructions below this table) (see instructions below this table) Don’t use <=.
Micron/mu µ Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list Alt+0181 * Don’t use ‘u’.

For mathematical symbols such as ‘greater than or equal to’ (≥), there’s a setting you can turn on in Word that will convert characters such as >= to the correct symbol (i.e. ≥). It’s not turned on by default—you have to turn it on.

  1. Click the File tab (top left of the Word window).
  2. Click Options (near the bottom of the list on the left).
  3. Select Proofing on the left.
  4. Click the AutoCorrect Options button (top right).
  5. Select the Math AutoCorrect tab.
  6. Check the box to Use Math AutoCorrect rules outside of math regions. If you scroll down the list you can see what will be automatically converted—the ones for the ‘greater than or equal to’ example above are at the very end of the list.
  7. Click OK twice to exit Word Options.

(Note: These Word Options settings don’t carry across to Outlook or other Office programs, but you can turn this Math AutoCorrect setting on in Outlook the same way using Outlook’s Editor Options.)

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Hyphenation

July 21, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…

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Bottom line: Hyphen ‘rules’ are all over the place. So check first!

I use the online (Australian) Macquarie Dictionary all the time to check words while I’m editing. I check hyphenation far more often than spelling.

The ‘rules’ about when to use a hyphen or not are all over the place in the dictionary, the Australian Style Manual, etc. Before applying these ‘rules’, you need to know which words in the phrase are nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc., and who has time to remember all that (assuming you were taught it at school in the first place)?

Now there’s a ‘cheat sheet’ for you (if you can call a 10-page table a ‘cheat sheet’!), put out by the Chicago Manual of Style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/images/ch07_tab01.pdf (if this link doesn’t work for you, go to http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org, search for ‘hyphenation’, then click the link for the PDF of the Hyphenation Table)

While this ‘cheat sheet’ is US-based, most of the ‘rules’ in this table also apply to the Australian situation; the Australian Style Manual and Macquarie Dictionary align with nearly all of them. However, there are some exceptions:

  • The Australian Style Manual says that compass points/directions are hyphenated (e.g. south-east).
  • Macquarie Dictionary and the Australian Style Manual have most ‘non’ words hyphenated.
  • ‘e’ words like ‘email’ are still slipping and sliding between being hyphenated or closed, with the recent trend to closed.

There are a few other minor differences in the examples given, such as ‘percent’ vs ‘per cent’ (Australian Style Manual preference), and ‘p.m.’ vs ‘pm’ (Australian Style Manual preference), and the reference to Webster’s Dictionary, whereas our [project’s] dictionary of choice is Macquarie. But in the main, this ‘cheat sheet’ should cover almost all situations that we come across in our documents.

References:

  •  Snooks & Co. 2002. Style manual for authors, editors and printers. 6th ed. John Wiley and Sons/Commonwealth of Australia. (ISBN 0 7016 3648 3)
  • Macquarie Dictionary: www.macquariedictionary.com.au

[Links last checked July 2014]

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Superscript note identifiers: Inside or outside punctuation?

June 12, 2014

Alexa asked about the placement of superscripted footnote indicators in relation to punctuation:

Example A: Mackerel are pelagic;10 living near the surface… OR  Mackerel are pelagic10; living near the surface… (i.e. does the ’10’ come after or before the the semicolon?)

Example B:  …vertical magenta stripes on the body.9, 11, 13 OR …vertical magenta stripes on the body9, 11, 13. (i.e. do the note identifiers come before or after the period/full stop?)

As Alexa is in Australia and is writing for an Australian audience, I consulted the Australian Style Manual (6th edition) for guidance.

The Australian Style Manual says this (p209):

Place superscript note identifiers:

  • At the end of a sentence or clause, rather than immediately after the words to which they relate
  • Before all punctuation marks save the end-of-sentence ones
  • Wherever possible, immediately after direct quotations.

Avoid using superscript note identifiers in headings.

My interpretation:

Bullet 2 of the Style Manual‘s guidance is the most relevant one to these examples. Following that guidance, in Example A you’d place the note identifier BEFORE the semicolon (i.e. …pelagic10; …) and in Example B, you’d place the note identifier after the full stop (i.e. …the body.9, 11, 13 ).

I also looked up other style guides. Some of the American style guides give similar advice; others differ.

So my advice to Alexa was to go with the Australian Style Manual’s guidance in this instance as her audience is Australian.

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Should you hyphenate words with prefixes?

June 4, 2014

Based on a recent Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues: Should you hyphenate words with prefixes or not?

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As with other forms of hyphenation, the application of any ‘rules’ varies greatly and there are NO firm guidelines. Even in the same dictionary and for the same prefix, you can see every variation from two words separated by a space, to hyphenated, to closed (i.e. where the two words have become one).

Below is a table of some prefixes I checked in The Macquarie Dictionary (Australian). This is not a comprehensive list, and I would advise that you consult the dictionary for usage for a specific word.

How The Macquarie Dictionary deals with prefixed words

Prefix Hyphenated No hyphen My summary of Macquarie’s treatment
Bi bi-fold, bi-racial bilateral, biweekly, bimonthly, biannual, bilinear Very few have a hyphen; most are closed words
Bio bio-assay bioengineering, biohazard, biosafety, bioaccumulate, biochemical, biodiversity Very few have a hyphen; most are closed words
Macro macro-economic macrocosm, macronutrient, macrobiotic, macroclimate, macrofauna Very few have a hyphen; most are closed words
Micro micro-economic, micro-meteorology microorganism, microcosm, microgram, microcomputer, microanalysis, microfauna Very few have a hyphen; most are closed words
Multi multi-tasking, multi-user multigrain, multiskilling, multicellular, multifaceted Very few have a hyphen; most are closed words
Non non-resident, non-essential, non-government nonlethal, nonferrous Most are hyphenated, but check dictionary as no definite pattern
Re re-create, re-assess recreate, reprint, reroute ALWAYS check these as meaning can change with/without hyphen (e.g. re-create/recreate, re-petition/repetition, re-present/represent)
Self selfaccusation (n), selfrepresentation (n) self-accusatory (adj), self-stabilising (adj), self-funded (n)/self-funding (adj), self-examination (n) Most nouns are closed, most adjectives are hyphenated, but check dictionary as there’s much variation
Semi semi-absorbent, semi-arid, semi-formal, semi-government semifinal, semitropical, semiannual, semipermanent Very few have a hyphen; most are closed words

 

What the Australian Style Manual says

The Australian Style Manual (Snooks 2002) has this to say (p88-90; my emphasis):

‘There are few firm rules regarding hyphens, and dictionaries are often in disagreement. In general, British dictionaries are more inclined to hyphenate words than their American counterparts; the Macquarie and Australian Oxford dictionaries lie somewhere between the two. This divergence in practice means there are no simple rights or wrongs in this aspect of word punctuation. … the main concern should be to retain consistency throughout a document … choose one dictionary and stick to its hyphenation practices…

‘Hyphens can be an important device to avoid ambiguity, but [don’t] overuse them. …[Decide] whether or not to use a hyphen…based on the context in which the words appear.’

Grammar Girl’s opinion

See also

Some of my blog posts on the hyphenation issue from a few years ago:

[Links last checked June 2014]