Tag Archives: Editors Canada

But is it art?

Originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada

Is writing art?

And if it is, what is editing?

If we say writing is “artful,” or “artistic,” or “an art,” we mean that we appreciate it aesthetically and admire it for the skill it evinces. But if we say not “writing is an art” but “writing is art” – or “this text is a work of art” – we connect it to an identity that is simultaneously nebulous and overloaded.

Everything has an aesthetic aspect. Though we don’t always focus on it, we do care how our car, toaster, toothbrush, and computer look. But in our culture we have decided, thanks to romanticist and classist ideas, that whatever art is or isn’t (and we argue about it a lot), an artwork must be aesthetic nobility, not working-class. If something serves an ordinary function, many people won’t accept it as art, whatever its aesthetic qualities may be. A bit over a century ago, Marcel Duchamp made the point by displaying items such as a bottle rack and a urinal in a gallery, and – in some eyes – Cinderellaed them into artworks by changing them from implements to conversation pieces.

Our romanticist ideas also construct the artist as a lone genius, producing a work of art through individual inspiration and effort: the painter paints alone; the sculptor chisels alone until the statue has been revealed from the marble; the solitary writer types out a work of perfect genius. This is actually a load of hooey – artists have always had workshops and assistants and patrons with opinions, and have typically made preparatory sketches and multiple versions… and of course writers are edited. But the ideals exist, and they push against any editorial role: if a book is a work of art, then it is not up to anyone but the author to shape it!

Most writing, of course, is overtly functional. But, like everything else, all writing has aesthetic effects. The choice of words and phrasing sets a tone. For some purposes (a parking ticket, perhaps) it can’t be too pretty or people won’t take it seriously; for others (a fancy invitation?), if it’s not pretty it’s disappointing.

Authors ought to be well-attuned to the aesthetically influential aspects of their words – smoothness, roughness, crispness, relative rarity (preciousness!), associations with certain contexts, resonances of other words. Some are better at it than others, but even those who are good at it can benefit from an audience who can assess how well they’re achieving their desired effects. And that is an important part of an editor’s function.

All writing is communication, and communication is always for effect: you want the readers to feel the right way about what you’re saying. The right editor can help the author achieve the right structure and aesthetic effect, whether in a novel or an annual report. Even something no one reads for pleasure can be a pleasure to read, and often it requires only small adjustments to sharpen the sound, rhythm, flow, and imageries. I’m not suggesting we replace “PARKING TICKET” with “VEHICULAR MISLOCATION MULCT CITATION,” but we can sometimes nudge “It is desirable that all document aspect functions exceed expectations” towards, say, “We would like all aspects of the text to work splendidly.”

We are not here to make art, whatever that may be. But we are here to help writing be as appropriately artful as possible.

Words we love irrationally much

This article was originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada.

I asked people on Twitter about words they love irrationally much. I got quite a few responses. Actually, I got so many that when I tried to retweet them all, Twitter finally told me I had reached my daily tweet limit. And did again the next day.

The words that people love irrationally much are many and varied. But a few words came up again and again, and it’s interesting to see what they have in common. Continue reading

Novel medical treatments

To go with my presentation “Translating medicalese into everyday English,” here’s the article that I wrote for The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada.

People with serious health problems are often subject to novel treatments. But that shouldn’t mean being treated like they’re in a novel. Continue reading

Rime of the Ancient Editor

Marie-Lynn Hammond (a luminary in the world of Canadian folk music and also a professional editor) was asked to write a song to celebrate the 40th birthday of Editors Canada (also known as the Editors’ Association of Canada), and she asked me to join in writing the words. She wasn’t able to be at the conference in Halifax, so I led those present at the opening reception in singing it. Here’s a cellphone video of it.

And here are the words:

I am an ancient editor (well, OK, not that old);
I do to words what’s right and true and also what I’m told.
I mostly work alone and yet I’m not alone at all,
for editing lures many with its nerdy siren call!

CHORUS:
Hey ho! Haul up the manuscriptand brave the waves of prose,
and on the storm of muddy words some order we’ll impose.
Hey ho! Fix up the manuscript by sunlight and by moon!
We’ll steer a course to clarity for deadline’s coming soon!

I sail through books and articles, and sometimes even verse;
I try to make them better or at least not make them worse.
I move, delete, and query, tracking changes all the while,
And though hands and eyes may weary, still I do it all with style.

I toil in anonymity, I serve the author’s voice;
It’s grammar over glamour—but when freelance, I rejoice!
For I can work from coffee shops, or home if I decide,
In my housecoat and pyjamas with my cats all by my side.

And when the writing’s so banal I fear I’ll fall asleep,
[I must] beware the dangling modifiers lurking in the deep!
And if the structure’s full of holes and threatening to sink,
I pray I’ll be forgiven should I end up in the drink!

Our crew’s been here for forty years, and we’re still going strong;
They said that we’d be obsolete, but oh! we proved them wrong.
As long as words are in the world, they’ll need a steady hand,
And that’s why we are editors, and oh! my friends, it’s grand!

Digital enhancement for numbers (Go figures!)

This article was originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada

At the ACES conference in Providence, Rhode Island, in late March, the Associated Press announced changes to their recommendations for handling numbers and debated some others.

About sixty percent of those present gasped when one of the recommendations was made – in fact, it might have been 70 percent. No, I’m going with 80% of those in attendance. But it made perfect sense to me. Continue reading

Yeet citationality: yippie-ki-yay!

This article was originally published on The Editors’ Weekly, the blog of Editors Canada

The voting is in, and the American Dialect Society’s Slang Word of the Year is… yeet.

Yeet is not so well known to oldsters, but it is in vogue among the youth. Its popularity demonstrates a central fact of how vocabulary spreads. It also leads us to Bugs Bunny, Clark Gable, and Judith Butler. Continue reading

Do you want to use a Germanic feature, or do you prefer using a Celtic one?

Originally published in The Editors’ Weekly, the official blog of Canada’s national editorial association

Learning other languages is fun. And to learn another language is to learn more about your own language – especially when it takes on the aspect of learning more about your family tree.

You’ve probably had the experience of meeting new relatives or learning about ancestors and thinking, “Oh, that explains something.” Well, consider this: English was brought to Britain by invaders from what is now northern Germany and was learned by the resident Celts; then Scandinavians invaded and had a significant influence on the language; then the French invaded and had a major influence; then the English started invading other places and stealing their words. So discovering these other languages is discovering English – to get to know them is to get to know our own weird tongue. Such as why we can use either a gerund – learning, discovering – or an infinitive – to learn, to discover – as the subject or object of a sentence.

In French, you learn that this function is served by the infinitive. If you want to say “Seeing is believing,” you say Voir c’est croire, using the infinitives: “To see is to believe.” German has it the same way – Sehen heisst glauben – and so does Norwegian: Å se er å tro. These languages also have in common that they don’t use a present progressive tense as we do: “I am walking” translates to Je marche, Ich laufe, Jeg går – “I walk.”

On the other hand, when you learn Irish or Scots Gaelic you find they have a thing called a verbal noun. “I am walking” in Irish is Táim ag siúl, “I am at walking.” Irish uses the present progressive much as English does, and it uses its verbal nouns where English would use gerunds. (Irish happens to have its own idiomatic phrase for “Seeing is believing”: Is é a chreidiúint, “It’s believing.”) The Celtic inhabitants of southeastern Britain when the Angles and Saxons arrived from Germany weren’t Irish, of course; the language displaced by English was the ancestor of modern Breton, which is still spoken by descendants of Britons who fled to northern France (Brittany). It has the same verbal noun feature, worn down a bit by the centuries and the influence of French.

English, given a choice of two influences, chose to keep both of them. Typical.

English isn’t the only Germanic language that normally uses a present progressive, by the way, as you will discover if you learn Icelandic. Icelandic’s version uses the preposition plus the infinitive, but in the same way as Irish uses its verbal nouns: “I am walking” is Ég er að ganga. Oh, and it just happens that early Icelanders brought over a lot of Irish and Scottish people to, um, help around the house. Nearly two-thirds of the maternal gene pool and about a quarter of the paternal gene pool in Iceland is of Irish or Scottish descent.

So there you have it. In languages as in families, to learn is to discover, and seeing is believing.