Archive for the ‘Word Usage’ 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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Spellcheck is useless against real words with different meanings

February 1, 2019

An example of where spellcheck is useless, and where you need human eyes to check your work before it goes out. I received a letter today from an Australia-wide company that conducts hearing checks. At the bottom of the letter was this set of boxes. I spotted two major errors straight away that spellcheck wouldn’t pick up (and no, one of them wasn’t ‘tick’ — Australians use ‘tick’ more than ‘check’ when referring to boxes, though a ‘the’ wouldn’t have gone astray in that instruction).

The errors I picked up were ‘everyday’ instead of ‘every day’, and ‘know’ instead of ‘no’. Neither instance would have been flagged by spellcheck. The message here — get someone else to check your work before it goes out to a national audience!

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There’s always a word for that: tmesis

December 23, 2018

I learned a new word a few weeks back. It’s a word that describes another word/phrase, and is ‘tmesis/ (pronounced teh-MEE-sis).

So what does it describe? Well, according to Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary, it’s a noun that describes the ‘separation of words that constitute a compound or construction by the insertion of other elements’.

Macquarie gives these examples: kangabloodyroo or a great man and good instead of a great and good man.

Personally, I prefer the more Aussie colloquialisms like ‘abso-f***-lutely’ or ‘fan-bloody-tastic’. However, I think there’s probably a rule for its use within another word, and I think that rule might relate to the number of syllables of the surrounding word. Of all the words I’ve tried in my head, the only time tmesis really works is with a word of at least three syllables. But not all words of three or more syllables work. ‘Fan-ta-stic’ works, but ‘brill-i-ant’ doesn’t’; ‘ab-so-lute-ly’ works, but ‘gen-er-ally’ doesn’t; ‘un-be-liev-able’ works, but ‘un-us-ual-ly’ doesn’t.

According to Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia, the origin of ‘tmesis’ is Greek, meaning to cut. And its usage was first recorded in the mid 1500s, so it’s been around a while.

 

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Naming names: part 2

April 15, 2016

There’s a reason you should use quite different first and middle names for your children AND use names that are different from their parents/grandparents… Your descendants ancestors searching records for genealogical information will thank you for it!

Below is an image of the information I found in some South Australian records — I’ve confirmed the names and years of birth based on the parents’ names, but I can’t confirm dates of marriage/death etc. as there are SO many names the same, or variations of the same names! What a mess!

johann

Note the names of the parents… and then the names of the children. Note also how there are male and female variations of the same name (Johann/Johanna/Johanne and August/August), and repetitions (brothers: Johann Freidrich and Johann Friedrich William; father and son: Johann Gottlieb; mother and daughters: Johanna Caroline, Johanne Caroline, Caroline). Some of the repetitive names may have been the result of infant deaths, but it’s very hard to confirm this with so many names the same.

It’s possible that ‘Anna’ was christened ‘Johanna’ based on the pattern here. I think Maria and Hermann got off lightly.

See also:

[Links last checked April 2016]

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Don’t rely on spellcheck

November 5, 2015

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — a spellchecker won’t save you if the word you’ve typed incorrectly is a real word in its own right.

oops

See also:

[Links last checked November 2015]

 

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Plain language writing

October 29, 2015

Last week I presented a session titled Plain language writing: Tips for delivering complex messages to a general audience at the inaugural Perth Business Writers’ Conference.

The full deck of slides (but not the exercises) and the plain language alternatives handout are available on my website: http://cybertext.com.au/10490.htm

[Link last checked October 2015]

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Starting a sentence with a conjunction

October 1, 2015

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

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One of the authors asked me about starting a sentence with Because:

I was curious about a change you made. The original paragraph started with “As the trunkline fluids….” and you changed it to “Because the trunkline fluids……”

As Because the trunkline fluids will spread and weather rapidly due to wind and weather, containing/booming the fluids to the required thickness to start and maintain a controlled burn is not…

I was under the impression that you shouldn’t begin a sentence with “Because.”

Can you shed any light on this for me?

Great question!

You can start a sentence with a conjunction – and, but, because etc. Typically, that ‘rule’ about not starting with a conjunction is a hangover from early school days and teachers who had it inculcated into them in their school days, possibly back to when Latin was the lingua franca.

I changed it to because because as has so many possible meanings (24, according to [Australian] Macquarie Dictionary). Because only has four meanings in Macquarie, two of which are colloquial and irrelevant to the context, and the other two are basically the same – ‘for the reason that’.

As far as business report writing goes, starting a sentence with And or But may be too casual. However, in our reports we start sentences with However (a good substitute for But), Although, While, Since, Therefore, etc. all the time – I put Because in the same category. I always check sentences starting with As, because that word has so many possible meanings, and will substitute something more appropriate to the context if necessary.

The Australian Style Manual (which, along with Macquarie, is one of our authorities) says this (p72-73):

‘Because’ and other subordinators to start a sentence

The idea that words like because, although, since and while cannot be used at the start of a sentence seems to arise out of a mistaken assumption that, because conjunctions join phrases or clauses together, they must have words on either side of them. This does not happen at the start of a sentence, hence this odd prescription. The reality is that a subordinating conjunction goes with the subordinate clause, wherever it is placed:

We notified the secretary because he is the person responsible.

Because he is responsible, we notified the secretary.

These perfectly grammatical sentences show the subordinating conjunction at two different points in the sentence, prefacing the explanatory clause (‘he is the person responsible’). Explanatory and other subordinate clauses (such as those with if and when) can certainly be used at the front of a sentence, and the conjunction will then be the first word.

Other discussions on this:

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[Links last checked October 2015]