The find-and-replA/Ce menA/Ce continues…

AC buses
Another find-and-replA/Ce menA/Ce

I talked about it already (here). Without doubt, the find-and-replace option is a handy tool for a copy editor. Here is an example of another instance when the tool was used thoughtlessly. Long live copyediting!


An approach to “approach to”

Editing is interesting.

Sometimes the discussions around an edit become much more interesting.

And there is always a duel between editors who want to think language can be kept simple and editors who think otherwise.

Many a times, there is no result.

Recently there was a discussion on the phrase following the word “approach.” One of the editors was unsure about editing the phrase “approach to relieving pain.” She initially thought the verb following the infinitive marker should be in the base form, thus inclined to edit the phrase as “approach to relieve pain.” However, the conscious copy editor in her whispered in her ears to check with someone. So she did. After much deliberation, the phrase was left unedited. Rightly so.
There is a belief, perhaps seen more among the learners of English as a second language, that whenever a verb follows the word “to,” the latter is an infinitive marker. Not always the case, because “to” has other functions as a preposition and as an adverb (yes, as an adverb). While it is true that the “to” before a verb form is an infinitive marker, sometimes it functions as a preposition. When “to” functions as a preposition, what follows need not be a verb but a noun (or a gerund). The tricky part is that sometimes identifying the function of “to” is an intricate task.

Let’s focus on the phrase in hand – “approach to.”

The phrase “approach to” is shown in boldface as “approach to (sth)” in my Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (8th edition). A phrase in boldface here indicates that it is a standard phrase in English; “sth” is an abbreviation for “something,” which can be understood as “substitute here a noun or its equivalent.”

(There are two other usage points with the structure “approach to” as in “an approximation to something” or “denoting a road, sea passage, or other way leading to a place.” Even though in these cases a noun follows the structure, our discussion centers around the meaning “a way of dealing with a situation or problem.”)

Let’s consider three examples:

  1. We need a whole new approach to the job.
  2. The following gives an example of the WHO approach to treating chronic pain with medications.
  3. The researchers describe a new approach to promote regeneration of heart tissue.

 The cake walk

The first example – “We need a whole new approach to the job” – meets all the criteria for being a perfect candidate for “approach to (sth)” syntax: a standard phrase with defined meaning,”to” as preposition, and “the job” as the object of the preposition. No problems for the editor here.

 Walking down the catwalk

The second example – “The following gives an example of the WHO approach to treating chronic pain with medications” – is like walking down the catwalk. The author of this sentence clearly understands the structure and substituted the gerund form as the object of the preposition. All the copy editor needs to have is an eye for such constructions and be grateful to the author – and English language in general – by not editing the gerund form to its infinitive form. The situation, or problem, here is “treating chronic pain with medications,” not “treat chronic pain with medications.” So, the construction is “approach to treating chronic pain with medications.” Perfect. Dear copy editor, don’t fiddle with this sentence.

Walking on egg shells

The third example – “The researchers describe a new approach to promote regeneration of heart tissue” – is tricky. By the standard construction, it is tempting to edit the phrase “approach to promote” as “approach to promoting,” changing the verb to its gerund form, making it the object of the preposition. Another possibility is to see the phrase “to promote sth” denoting purpose, with “to” as the infinitive; perhaps unanswering the question “approach to what?” This can be checked by juxtaposing the phrase as

To promote regeneration of heart tissue, the researches describe a new approach.”

Such juxtaposition may not work with sentence like

The approach to relieve back pain is a combination of medications and physical exercise.

The sentence doesn’t look standard, so you edit as

The approach to relieving back pain is a combination of medications and physical exercise.

Now what?

Now that the copy editor knows about the confusion in deciding whether the phrase is the object of the preposition or an infinitive phrase, what should they do?

When what is written originally is a gerund, there should not be any problem. The author knew what they had written.

When what follows is an infinitive phrase, the copy editor can try and juxtapose the phrase as introductory and check if it still makes sense. If yes, leave it; otherwise, be wise.

Oh No, Mr Venn, Not Again

We copy editors are always on the lookout for information. Not as aggressive as Google, which accesses and stores every bit of information that comes its way (quite literally), copy editors look out for information that they need. It could be the spelling or usage of a word, checking facts, certain styles specific to the task at hand, or getting the copyright for previously published material. Like a seasoned detective who intuitively knows where to fix his proverbial lens, a veteran in copyediting knows where to look for the information.

Whereas the source of information for the Zillion needs of the copy editor are as big as the size of the needs, l would limit myself in this post to the very basic sources – style sheets, house styles, and style guides.

Style guides are comprehensive — really comprehensive. They detail every element related to typesetting. Style guides do not dictate styles; they provide various ways of styling. They compare and contrast the different styles and let us make informed decisions. They are like the holy religious books that tell us about the various things in life. They may not provide you readymade solutions to the specific problem at hand, but will certainly prepare us to find a solution. (Like the religious gurus that help us get clarity on a specific problem, there are editing gurus associated with these house styles offering editing advice.)

Interesting to note is the fact that many of styles guides were not created with the intention of creating a style guide. What started as an in-house style sheet, with regular addition of information, became what they are today.

Worthy of mention are Chicago Manual of Style, Oxford Guide to Style, ACS style Guide by the American Chemical Society, and Associated Press Style Guide.

Style sheets are the closest to any project. Be it a journal, a book, or a magazine, styles sheet talk about the minutest details of the work. They may tell you which spelling to follow, the punctuation style, how a particular query to the author or editor is worded. They specify the layout. They explain how tables are formatted, aligned, and placed on a page. Style sheets even dictate the page length of certain article types. In cases of journal publishing and book series, the style sheets are provided by the publisher. Book editing almost always expects the copy editor to create a style sheet for the book under editing. These copy editor-created style sheets are usually preserved and used when future revised editions are published.

House styles were born out of the necessity of publishers to have a comprehensive style guide for themselves but not as comprehensive as the style guides while not being too specific.

Going back to our initial discussion on seeking information, the copy editor is always inundated with various authentic sources of information. Of course the Internet brings in a pack of self-styled editing gurus whose advice should normally be thrown into the dustbin.

Mr Venn's wisdom on the three significant sources of reference
Mr Venn’s wisdom on the three significant sources of reference

Specifically, when the copy editor is confronted with a need to refer for a style advice, what should they do? This is where Mr Venn appears from thin air and shares with us his wisdom about choosing a relevant work of reference. The three choices in front of us present themselves as perfect subsets as shown in the figure. Information should be sought inside out in this construction. Because style sheets are the closest to the work at hand, the copy editor’s first point of reference is normally the style sheet. If the information sought is not available there, they move on to search the house style. If the information is still not available, then it’s time to turn to the style guides. Rarely do we encounter a situation when none of the three works offer a solution to us, in which case the best is to write to the editor at the publishing house, who can and will provide advice.

A (repeated) note of warning: Referring to the Internet in general and taking whatever advice that comes across is injurious to the copy editor’s health.

Happy referring.

Endashes reach out to hyphens…

I confess – I learnt endashes and emdashes only after I became a copy editor. In my previous post, “I have wondered what difference will it make when a reader sees an en dash.” For a very long I doubted if there is any reader – OK, when I say any, I meant any reader who has not published yet (and hence has not come across dashes) – who distinguishes hyphens, endashes, and emdashes. While they may not know these dashes, they intuitively understand the usage of the dashes. They  have seen them as two- or three-hyphens use from the typewriter era.

[For the uninitiated, endash equals the width of an uppercase N; you now know an em dash.]

Endahses and emdashes primarily function as parenthetical dashes. There are many other uses for them, which I’m not going to enumerate here. This post is focussed on endashes coming in to the aid of hyphens in compound adjectives. Hyphens are used to connect compound adjectives such as

a small-truck driver

with the implied meaning that the truck is small. Imagine if the hyphen is not missing:

a small truck driver

The driver may be small, not the truck. Now, you got the point. Consider

acid-synthesizing step

We can spice it up by replacing acid with amino acid, an open compound noun.

amino acid synthesizing step

The term “amino acid synthesizing” is the compound adjective, with “amino acid” modifying “synthesizing”. One way is to use hyphens everywhere as “amino-acid-synthesizing”. However, the custom says that we can leave well-known open compounds without hyphens, as in

amino acid-synthesizing step

It is here the endashes come into play. They replace hyphens here:

amino acid–synthesizing step

So, the use of endashes with open compounds in compound adjectives implies the following:

1. what is to the left of the endash is an open compound noun (so should be read as a unit)

2. that there is an invisible (invincible) hyphen that connects the (here) two words

With less-known open compounds, you may use either adjectives for all or endash as we just saw. Some prefer to call the hyphens in the former “stacked hyphens”.

Try this exercise on “however” and “though”

One of my blog posts that bring in several new visitors is “however vs. though“. So I thought I should share some example sentences with you all. You may try to find out whether the sentences are correct and punctuate accordingly. More precisely, use “however”, not “though” to mean “however”; use “though” when “although” is warranted.

  1. The Indian cricket team has not played like a champion side, however the team qualified for the finals, eventually winning the cup.
  2. However the hard you practice, the more skilled you become.
  3. The boy said he was interested in her; she knew that it was only a lip service, though.
  4. Though the boy said he was interested in her, she knew that it was only a lip service.
  5. However differently you look at the crime, you cannot think of an alternative motive.
  6. The summer brings with it scorching sun. The children however never mind and play all day.
  7. The performers played their hearts out; the audience however seem to be less admiring.

I’m not planning to publish the answers or  comments to this post. Ask, and you shall receive them.

Adjectives: Beware of suffixes -ical and -ic

One of the ways to form an adjective is to add the suffix ~ic or ~ical. There is no clear rule about when to use which. As a rule of thumb, many of the older nouns have the ~ical adjective, while most of the newer ones have ~ic suffix.
The suffix ~ic or ~ical means “connected with” in adjectives and nouns or refers to “that performs the action mentioned” in adjectives. Especially, nouns that end with “logy” takes “logical” as the suffix when becoming an adjective. The suffix is derived from French ~ique (or Latin ~icus or Greek ~ikos).

OK, while I say that older forms are ~ical and newer words take ~ic, there are so many words that take both forms. This post aims to shed light into the pair of words that have different meaning with ~ic and ~ical.

Classic vs Classical

Classic refers to a conventional or traditional style. Anything classic is famous.
Classical relates to the ancient Greek and Roman world and especially to its literature, art, architecture, or ideals. It also is concerned with or giving instruction in the humanities, the fine arts, and the broad aspects of science. Classical music is serious music.

Comic vs comical
Comic usually denotes artistic comedy and comical means funny. The latter is a rather old-fashioned word.

Economic vs Economical
Economic broadly refers to the study of economics or the economy of a country. Economical is the prudent use of resources. It means not wasting money.

Electric vs Electrical
With more general words, we use electrical; with specific machines that run on electricity, we use electric. To refer to something fully excited, we use electric, not electrical.

Historic vs Historical
Historic is used to denote something historically important and achievements of highest degree, the moments that create history. Historical is connected with the study of history or really existing in history.

(Compare with economic which is used to refer to the study of economics, while historical, not historic, is connected with the study of history. There is no logic here, I tell you.)

Lyric vs lyrical
Lyric refers to poetry and lyrical is poetic.

Magic vs magical
Magic is a more common word and is used in general expression. Magical may sometimes substitute magic; however, magical is used in metaphorical senses to mean mysterious, wonderful, exciting.

Politic vs political
Politic is shrewdly tactful and is characterized by shrewdness in managing, contriving, or dealing. Political is connected with politics.
(Now, you have “political and historical” vs “economic”.)

1.    Practical English Usage by Michael Swan.
2.    Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.

British vs. American spelling

Ensuring consistency in spelling is one of the housekeeping kind of editing tasks for a copy editor. Even though Microsoft Word provides a large array of English options, the global publishing world is divided between – or should I say, united by – two variations of English spelling: British spelling and the American spelling.

In fact, a copy editor who is bound to serve publishers that prefer not either of them alone should clearly understand and know the differences between the two. When I edit, I always ensure that setting the manuscript to a consistent spelling, as desired by the publisher or the author, is one of my first tasks. (Preparing the style sheet, when not available, is my foremost priority.) In my experience, I’ve realized that slips in spelling is a big no-no for the authors and publishers.

When it comes to ensuring consistency in spelling, one should clearly know the variations in spelling. The following variations are more common:

“-our vs. -or”, “-re vs. -er”, “-ce vs. -se”, “-xion vs. -ction” for English words with roots in Latin

“-ise vs. -ize” (-isation vs. -ization), “-yse vs. -yze”, “-ogue vs. -og”, ae and oe for English words with Greek roots

However, one should not be deceived by this seemingly simple list of variations. There are so many other, such as doubling or not of consonants and difference in past tenses of verbs. There are variations to standard phrases too: for example, “in the light of” vs “in light of”, “outside” vs “outside of”.

Wikipedia’s page on “American and British English Spelling Differences” seems to be a good place to start. Dictionaries are the authentic place.