Book Publishing Beds Big Data

robot_typing_smallForget the literary agent, submit your book to the AI Book Machine . . . but you’d better pick the right one: Intellogo? Inkitt? Or?

The brave new world of book publishing reads more and more like a Stephen King novel.

Big Data? Oh, Brother!

“In this digital future, using machine learning platforms can provide publishers with opportunities to get real-time information about their readers . . .”

Read on: Yes, Machine Learning Can Help Predict a Bestseller

 

What happened to the monkey?

“Imagine a world where you were guaranteed that a book would sell before it’s even published?

“Data-driven publishing is just the beginning of turning the book selection process at publishing houses into a science. Instead of going through the pitch-rejection process, data will be able to identify genre, style and subject preferences for publishing houses based on reader response.”

Perhaps, but first the book must be written. By whom? Or what?

Read on: Artificial intelligence and the art of reader-driven publishing

Posted in Editing, Publishing, Reading, Writing | 1 Comment

Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #3

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The eighth of a ten-part series.

#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, and Contusion

When you write something, you know your intent, what it is you mean to say. Your readers, however, may not. This can be particularly true when using pronouns, those shorthand words we use in place of nouns and names: I, me, he, she, him, her, it, and so on.

When your story or narrative includes multiple characters, especially of the same sex, your reader can get befuddled over a barrage of he said, he said, they said.

vaguepronouns

Profusion leads to confusion.

Too many pronouns can confuse (and maybe even amuse) your readers.

For example:

  • Profusion: Mark put his hands on the mare’s neck. The sadness he saw in her eyes tore at his heart and he wanted to do something to alleviate the hurt. “Will I see you again?”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” she said and raced across the high desert toward the ranch house.

Confusion: To whom do her and she refer? Is Mark in love with a horse? Does the horse speak to Mark? (After all, if Mr. Ed could talk . . .)

Recast: Mark put his hands on the mare’s neck. The sadness he saw in Jane’s eyes tore at his heart, and he wanted to do something to alleviate the hurt. “Will I see you again?”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” she said and raced across the high desert toward the ranch house.

(Clarification: The reader knows Jane is not the mare.)

  • Profusion: Kids at school said the lake was haunted because they covered over a cemetery when filling up the lake.

Confusion: Who are they? In this context, they refers to the subject of the sentence: Kids.

Did the kids create the lake and cover over the cemetery? No, they hadn’t even been born yet. They most likely refers to a community or government agency, but there is no reference to that agency preceding this sentence.

Recast: Kids at school said the lake was haunted because the Tennessee Valley Authority covered over a cemetery when filling up the lake.

  • Profusion: He stepped back and swung the machete again, burying the blade in the back of the man’s thick, meaty neck, but he remained upright, his eyes blinking rapidly and his mouth opening and closing like a landed fish sucking air.

Confusion: Who remained upright? The man who swung the machete or the man with the thick, meaty neck?

Recast: He stepped back and swung the machete again, burying the blade in the back of the man’s thick, meaty neck, but the man remained upright, his eyes blinking rapidly and his mouth opening and closing like a landed fish sucking air.

Pronoun Contusion: Me and Him, Her and Me

grammar-cars-i-vs-meI will spare you the use of the terms “subjective” and “objective” put forth by grammarians . . . See? You’re already nodding off.

Here’s the deal—some folks (country songwriters chief among them) write and say such things as: Me and him went fishing, or: Him and I went to the game, or: Her and me went shopping.

What’s wrong with these examples? They are considered nonstandard, subliterate, or colloquial English grammar.

Would you say: Me went to the store, or: Him went fishing, or: Her went shopping? I doubt it.

You are more likely to say: I went to the store; or: He went fishing; or: She went shopping. Adding another person to the mix does not change it: He and I went fishing, or: He and I went to the store, or: She and I went shopping.

Him and me or her and me are appropriate when the pronouns are not the subject of the sentence, but rather the object of the action (OK, me snuck in a couple of technical terms—send I a snarky email):

The professor gave him and me failing grades.

Individually it would read: The professor gave him a failing grade, or: The professor gave me a failing grade.

When writing a narrative, I recommend sticking with standard EnglishUNLESS you choose to write in dialect; examples: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. But writing a narrative in dialect should be a conscious, well-thought decision.

And, as I’ve said in previous blogs in this series, dialogue is excepted. Speech patterns are part of character development, and using nonstandard English gives the readers clues as to the degree of education and propriety of a character.

Pronouns, Schmonouns

But, you say, pronouns confuse me; they don’t make sense; the rules are arbitrary. Sorry, but that’s how the language evolved. It boils down to a matter of perception, and how you want to be perceived by your peers and your readers—and your reviewers.

If you’re going to break the rules, know the rules you’re breaking.
Do it with intent, not out of ignorance.

References & Resources:

For an explanation of me vs. myself, or you and I vs. you and me, here are some quick references for pronoun usage:

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag
#8. Word Contortion: Homophonic Trip-ups
#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room
#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present
#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash
#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash—The Separator

Still to come:

#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves

 

 

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Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #4

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The seventh of a ten-part series.

#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash—The Separator

The em dash serves an entirely different function than the hyphen and en dash, which I described in the previous blog. Where the hyphen and en dash are used to join text, the em dash is used to separate text. It can be used in place of commas (or parentheses) to enhance readability—or for emphasis—by setting off a word or phrase; it is used in pairs, unless the word or phrase being set off is at the end of a sentence.

  • Readability: Polly knew “store” meant liquor store—not the grocery store—but she recited the grocery list anyway.
  • Emphasis: Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it—a lot.
  • The em dash may be used at the end of a quotation in monologue/dialogue to indicate an abrupt stop or interruption: “Oh my god, you’re—”
  • The em dash is also used to indicate quotation attribution, as in the Grammar Girl example below.

dashes

Keyboard Conundrum

Where is the em dash on the standard keyboard? As with the en dash, it’s not there. In a draft manuscript, you may use double hyphens [ — ] to indicate an em dash (a hold-over from typewriter days), and place spaces on either side, or use the actual em dash [—], no spaces on either side. Both styles are OK in a draft manuscript (as opposed to a published work), but you should be consistent. You can replace the double hyphens with a bona fide em dash later.

Don’t put a space between an em dash and the adjacent words.

—Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl notwithstanding, newspaper style (depending on the newspaper) may call for spaces before and after the em dash. Either way, be consistent throughout your manuscript. But for heaven’s sake, DO NOT leave out a space before an em dash, while inserting a space after the dash.

  • incorrect: Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it— a lot.
  • correct, book style: Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it—a lot.
  • correct, newspaper style: Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it — a lot.

em-dash-usage-6-728

Online

When writing material for a webpage, I sometimes follow the newspaper style and put spaces before and after the em dash. That’s because it’s easier to read on low-resolution screens.

How do I insert an em dash?

I know, it’s a pain in the butt. But if you want to look like a professional, then act like a professional, stop whining and just do it. Here are three options:

  1. In MS Word: select Insert/Symbol (yes, it’s cumbersome).
  2. Insert the double hyphen as a temporary placeholder; later, use Find and Replace to find every instance of a double hyphen and replace it with the em dash symbol.
  3. Create a macro to search and replace an entire manuscript with one click.

Tip: Microsoft Word allows you to set up a series of keystrokes to create a different result, and that becomes automatic as you type. For example, I have Word set up so that when I type two hyphens in a row, Word inserts the em dash symbol for me. (See Resources below for a link to instructions on how to set this up.)

[A word of advice: Do not use MS Word to create your final document for publication. I recommend using a desktop publisher, such as InDesign or Scribus (shareware knock-off); these programs are better suited for layout and formatting for publication, and for fixing those punctuation nigglies.]

Online Outage

But, you ask, how do I style the em dash when I’m online? This creates an even greater challenge for those who want to be punctuationally correct. In many instances, the platform is dumbed down and won’t allow you to insert a true dash, so your best option is to use the double hyphen (with spaces before and after).

That’s what I do, for example, when commenting on Facebook or other social media sites—except Twitter, where, to save a character, I sometimes use a single hyphen separated by spaces on both sides (even though it grates on my nerves).

Remember, when substituting a hyphen for an em dash, the function is for separation, not joining. Therefore, use spaces before and after. Otherwise, it looks as if you are creating a new compound word. Or as my daddy used to say, “Clear as mud.” You’re creating confusion, not clarity.

If I have some control over the formatting, such as when building a webpage, I insert the HTML code, or, in a WordPress blog, I insert it as a special character, the same as with MS Word. (In WordPress, you may find that the double hyphen will be replaced with a dash, whether you want it to or not.)

Lena Dunham Let Down

Please! DO NOT do what Lena Dunham (or her assistant) did in a recent book promo:

Hello! I have made a chapbook- an essay on diary keeping and excerpts from my most absurd & secret 19 year old journal- to benefit the incredible @girlswritenow.

I have seen this styling a lot lately. Probably from the mistaken belief that (a) because this a hyphen (in this context it’s not; it’s being used as an em dash), and (2) the hyphen must be attached to the preceding character, followed by a space. Both assumptions are wrong. In fact, a hyphen is never followed by a space (other than the exception I noted in the previous blog); a hyphen used for hyphenation is followed by a line break, not a space. A hyphen is a joiner, not a separator.

I also see this styling with greater frequency:

Hello! I have made a chapbook-an essay on diary keeping and excerpts from my most absurd & secret 19 year old journal-to benefit the incredible @girlswritenow.

This always stops me, and I have to re-read the sentence to try to make sense of it. In this instance, the mark is connecting chapbook and an, and journal and to, rather than separating them. Connected words are read contiguously, without any pause; for example, rock-and-roll. In which case the connected words should be able to stand alone as chapbook-an (which is nonsense) and journal-to which might have a meaning in some other context.

At the very least the sentence should be styled with a space before and after the mark:

Hello! I have made a chapbook – an essay on diary keeping and excerpts from my most absurd & secret 19 year old journal – to benefit the incredible @girlswritenow.

It would be even better styled like this:

Hello! I have made a chapbook — an essay on diary keeping and excerpts from my most absurd & secret 19 year old journal — to benefit the incredible @girlswritenow.

Also note the missing hyphens that should have been used to join the compound modifier 19-year-old.

The upshot: In a promo piece going out to millions of people, Lena Dunham should have done it professionally:

Hello! I have made a chapbook—an essay on diary keeping and excerpts from my most absurd & secret 19-year-old journal—to benefit the incredible @girlswritenow.

Remember our goal: clarity, not confusion.

I can only hope that Lena Dunham’s chapbook explains the proper use of the hyphen and dashes.

Texter cartoonTexting

In this context, I will not comment on texting—the Wild West of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and “leet-speak” (look it up). Heaven help us.

References & Resources:

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag
#8. Word Contortion: Homophonic Trip-ups
#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room
#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present
#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash

Still to come:

#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves

 

 

Posted in Editing, Publishing, Writing | 3 Comments

Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #5

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The sixth of a ten-part series.

#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash

I must dash—but I am taking time to post the first of a two-parter on those straight-line thingies people use (and abuse) when “punchuating” their words. (Yep, these’re worth fightin’ over!) I will post the second part next week.

We have three types of punctuation marks that look enough alike to create confusion:

dashes

You see? Size does matter. (“en” and “em” indicate their respective widths)

These marks are used to either to JOIN or SEPARATE:

  • Hyphen joins syllables, words, and numbers
  • En dash joins syllables, words, and numbers
  • Em dash separates words and phrases

People often confuse the hyphen with the dash, the em dash in particular. Probably because the hyphen is the most similar character on the standard keyboard.

I often see this styling:

  • incorrect: I wanted to ask him out- but I thought he might laugh in my face.
  • correct: I wanted to ask him out—but I thought he might laugh in my face.

Hyphen and En Dash: The Joiners

 A hyphen indicates that a word has been split at the end of a line: This gargan-
tuan word is too long to fit within this line.

In addition, a hyphen may join related words or numbers.

An en dash also joins words and numbers, so the distinction can be a bit fuzzy.

The Chicago Manual of Style sees it this way: The hyphen connects two things that are closely related, such as words that work together as a single concept or a joint modifier; e.g., well-being, self-respect, toll-free call, free-range chicken, year-round, fuel-efficient vehicle, nerve-racking, hair-raising, tie-in, two-thirds).

The en dash, in an index, connects a range of pages being cited (e.g., 36–38), or years: The 1999–2000 season was the best ever.

The en dash also connects a range of things related by distance, as in the October–December issue of a magazine (the range includes November), and to connect a prefix to a “proper open compound: for example, pre–World War II—space that cannot be besmirched by hyphens because ‘World War II’ is a proper noun.” (Personally, I find that last explanation to be somewhat of an over-blown rationalization.)

I sense that the en dash is going the way of the dodo bird, because the use of the hyphen becomes a matter of expedience. You want to split hairs? Dig out your microscope.

If you know the rule and choose to break it, that’s up to you. But be consistent throughout your work. And keep in mind that the Punctuation Police may call you out and attempt to cuff you.

Either way, when a hyphen or an en dash is used to represent a span or range of numbers, dates, or time, there should be NO SPACE between it and the adjacent material (with one exception; see below). Depending on the context, the en dash reads as “to” or “through.”

The exception: For the occasional instance where you have two compound modifiers in immediate proximity to one another (e.g., ten-hour days and twelve-hour days, or music-hungry and arts-hungry), style it like this to avoid repeating the object being modified:

  • After several ten- and twelve-hour days, she looked forward to a weekend of well-earned R & R.
  • “There’s a large, music- and arts-hungry crowd in this city,” she said.

Keyboard Conundrum

How do I insert an en dash when it’s not on the keyboard? I know, it’s a pain in the butt. You can do either one of these:

  • In MS Word: select Insert/Symbol, then click on the en dash symbol (yes, it’s cumbersome).
  • Or type ALT + 0150.

I address this issue in greater depth in Part B.

References & Resources:

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag
#8. Word Contortion: Homophonic Trip-ups
#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room
#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present

Still to come:

#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash
#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves

 

Posted in Editing, Publishing, Writing | 4 Comments

Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #6

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The fifth of a ten-part series.

#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present

You and I are sitting at a bar, having a beer, and I tell you about an incident that occurred last week, while driving home from work: At a stop light, in the car next to me, I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in ten years. Then, pointing out a little irony, I add that just yesterday I had thought of him and wondered what he’s up to these days.

You frown and say, yesterday? I’m confused. I don’t see the irony if you saw him a week ago. Don’t you mean you thought about him the day before you saw him at the stoplight? I do see the irony in that.

past-present-future-tense

And I look at you as if you’re a dunce. Of course that’s what I meant.

Sounds silly, yes? It would be silly except that I see this type of thing regularly in manuscripts that I edit. When you employ present-tense terms in past-tense narrative mode—now, today, yesterday, last night, tomorrow, ago—you can confuse and stop the reader.

inTensified

If you as the author/narrator write “yesterday,” to a reader that is the day preceding today; i.e., July 11, 2016, or the day before whatever the current date happens to be. It’s the reader’s yesterday. That’s all it can mean. Otherwise, the word is meaningless.

Clarity, not confusion.

Why? Because even though your story may be set in medieval Scotland, in essence, you as the author/narrator are seated beside the reader, telling a story of events that occurred hundreds of years ago, not “yesterday.”

How do you fix this? Use “a day earlier” or “the preceding day” or “the day before.” This concept applies to the other present-tense words as well.

Examples, narrative mode:

  • incorrect: Today she felt she had more to think about than ever before.
  • correct: That day she felt she had more to think about than ever before.
  • correct: For the first time she felt she had more to think about than ever before.
  • incorrect: Sometime tonight he would be in a bed with a woman.
  • correct: Sometime that night he would be in a bed with a woman.
  • incorrect: Margaret wondered if it had anything to do with the messenger who had arrived at the house yesterday.
  • correct: Margaret wondered if it had anything to do with the messenger who had arrived at the house the day before.
  • incorrect: Tomorrow they would begin the climb into the mountains.
  • correct: The next day they would begin the climb into the mountains.

Caveat: This applies to narrative mode, not to a character speaking or a character’s internal thought. When a character speaks and says “yesterday,” that is his or her yesterday, not the reader’s. So, in that context it is appropriate to use.

  • correct: Shack looked at his partner and said, “Tomorrow we will begin the climb into the mountains.”

A past-tense narrator can’t use the word
“yesterday” unless he’s using it in dialogue.

—Sally Apokedak

Now
Beware of the use of “now”—save it for the few (if any) times it’s needed for clarity.

“Now” is a present-tense word, but I see it used in a past-tense context—“now” means the present, at this moment—not the past, in which case you would say “then” or “at that moment” or “at that point” or “at that time.” (But please do not say “at that point in time.”)

Yeah, I know now has a long history, mostly notably among historians. Do you rely on historians for history or grammar? Also, by deleting it, it’s one more way you can tighten up your writing and polish your prose—and not annoy your readers with extraneous clutter.

Don’t believe me? Check it out. See the “better” examples below. Then do a search of your manuscript for “now” and in every instance remove it to see if it makes any difference. In most cases, it won’t. Dialogue may be excepted.

  • incorrect: Blood now dripped off his chin onto the blanket.
  • correct: Blood then dripped off his chin onto the blanket.
  • correct: At that moment, blood dripped off his chin onto the blanket.
  • better (keep it simple): Blood dripped off his chin onto the blanket.
  • incorrect: Now he figured the six miles to the trailhead would take another two hours.
  • correct: Then he figured the six miles to the trailhead would take another two hours.
  • correct: At the time he figured the six miles to the trailhead would take another two hours.
  • better (keep it simple): He figured the six miles to the trailhead would take another two hours.

References & Resources:

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag
#8. Word Contortion: Homophonic Trip-ups
#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room

Still to come:

#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash
#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash
#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves

Posted in Editing, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #7

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The fourth of a ten-part series.

#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room

Ellipsis points indicate omitted text or, in dialogue, hesitation. Ellipses are also used in “three-dot journalism” (gossip columns) to give the impression of rambling thoughts.

An ellipsis comprises three points or dots. Sometimes you see four dots, but that’s when the mark is used at the end of a complete sentence—the first dot is the “period” at the end of the sentence, followed by the three dots of the ellipsis. This usage is common in academic works when the writer includes an excerpt from reference material and leaves out some of the text.

Ellipsis%20Recite_620_380

The ellipsis is separated from the text by a space before and after. None of the three dots is a period—that’s a separate punctuation mark. Think of it this way: The ellipsis is replacing a word or phrase, so treat it the same way—give it elbow room.

You can use it for omission or hesitation, but is it too annoying?
Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it—a lot.
—Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl

Examples:

  • This is a complete sentence followed by an ellipsis. . . . Note the period at the end of the sentence, followed by the three dots.
  • This sentence has . . . words left out. Note the single space preceding the ellipsis and the single space following the ellipsis.
  • While delivering his lecture, the speaker . . . uh . . . hesitated before continuing.

If you place an ellipsis at the end of an incomplete sentence to indicate a trailing off of a comment (Don’t over do it!), use the same styling described above: insert a space after the final word, followed by the three dots of the ellipsis.

Remember, none of the dots is a “period”—that’s the reason for the ellipsis. For example:

  • Joe rambled on. “As I was saying . . .”

Do It in Style

Styling an ellipsis can be problematic, especially when at the mercy of so-called “smart” technology prevalent in word processors.

When you’re in draft writing mode, insert three dots with a space between each one: dot-space-dot-space-dot. However, this can leave you with bad breaks at the end of a line.

To keep all of the dots together, use a non-breaking space between the dots: Hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys as you press the Spacebar. Yes, this is a pain the ass.

I get around this by using two (and sometimes three) methods:

  1. I program MS Word to do it for me. (See the Tip below.)
  2. I create a macro that does a Search and Replace of the entire manuscript to find all of the ellipses with normal spaces and replace them with an ellipsis styled with non-breaking spaces. One mouse click and I’m done.
  3. If the word processor automatically inserts preprogrammed ellipses, I create a macro to replace them, as described in method #2.

TIP: Microsoft Word allows you to set up a series of keystrokes to create a different result, and that becomes automatic as you type. (See the link to instructions in Resources below.) For example, when I type three dots in a row, it inserts an ellipsis styled as three dots separated by non-breaking spaces; i.e., if the ellipsis is at the end of a line of text, it forces a line break and the entire sequence is wrapped to the next line, rather than breaking the dots apart.

Yes, I am well aware that the geniuses at Microsoft have programmed an ellipsis for you. However, as you should know by now, Microsoft does not always insert punctuation marks correctly, or play well with others. (I will address this again in the blog about apostrophes.) The MS ellipsis is too small and compact for my eye, AND, when imported into a desktop-publishing or typesetting program, it might not be recognized and produce that annoying little square box in its stead.

References & Resources:

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag
#8. Word Contortion: Homophonic Trip-ups

Still to come:

#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present
#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash
#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash
#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves

Posted in Editing, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #8

 From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The third of a ten-part series.

#8. Word Contortion: Homophones Can Trip (if not amuse) the Reader

Some folks confuse similar-sounding words and use them in an inappropriate context. These are the homophones I encounter most often, in published works as well as unpolished drafts.

Yeah, yeah, I know more and more people are using voice recognition software to dictate their work and this type of error may creep in. Even more reason to remain alert—and not rely on spell check. It may be an innocent mistake, but readers are unlikely to see it that way.

homophones list

Then vs. Than

This one surprised me, because I could not understand how these two words could be confused. That said, I have a sister who interchanges them, and I have seen it in manuscripts; other editors have assured me this is a legitimate concern.

  • Then = relates to time, to indicate what has happened or what will happen next.

Beer was a lot cheaper back then.
We’ll go for a hike, then grab a beer.

  • Than = conveys a comparison, to indicate a difference of some kind.

The oatmeal stout tastes better than the IPA.
She is taller than her husband,

 

Past vs. Passed

This surprised me as well, although not as much as the previous example.

  • Past = refers to a period of time before the present (in days past) or a distance. It can be a noun, preposition, adjective, or adverb, but never a verb.

Noun: The team played well in the past, but not this season.
Preposition: Meet me at half past
Adjective: It’s past time for you leave.
Adverb: On the road again, he drove past intriguing rock formations.

  • Passed = the past tense of the verb to pass.

She passed the test.
The quarterback passed the ball to a wide receiver.
As the days passed, she became lonely.
On the road again, he passed through a number of small towns.

 

Conscious vs. Conscience

I see this frequently.

  • Conscious =  being awake, knowing what’s going on around you.

He remained conscious during the ride to the hospital.

  • Conscience =  an awareness of being either morally right or wrong.

I didn’t want a dead dog on my conscience.
Thus, conscience does make cowards of us all.

 

Course vs. Coarse

Of course, I expected to encounter this off-course confusion in coarse grammar.

  • Course = a line of direction or school classes.

The boat drifted off course.
She enrolled in a difficult course.

  • Coarse = refers to something having a rough, unfinished surface or, in the case of describing a person, an unrefined or unpolished demeanor.

Sandpaper has a coarse surface.
She spoke to him in a coarse manner.

 

Decent vs. Descent

  • Decent = being polite, moral, and honest, or showing kindness.
  • Descent = an inclination downward, or a step downward in a scale of gradation, as in genealogy.
  • incorrect: He is a kind, descent human being.
  • incorrect: In mountain climbing, the decent may be more difficult that the climb.
  • correct: He is a kind, decent human being.
  • correct: In mountain climbing, the descent may be more difficult that the climb.

 

Are vs. Our

I see this occasionally but include it here because I saw this in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, written by an academic or a politician; either way, he should have known better. I wondered how anyone could miss this; then I wondered if this is sign of things to come.

  • Are = a verb; present tense of to be.
  • Our = a pronoun, refers to sense possession, of belonging to us.
  • incorrect:  The coming storm may postpone are weekend plans.
  • correct:  The coming storm may postpone our weekend plans.

Hint: Pronounce our as ow-er (as in hour), rather ar.

 

Plaintiff vs. Plaintive; Judicial vs. Judicious

I include these two examples just so you don’t think I’m only singling out self-published authors. I lumped them together because I found both of them in a novel by best-selling mystery writer Sue Grafton.

He’d get paid whether the jury found for the plaintive or not. If the plaintive prevailed.

 The plaintiff may have been plaintive when cross-examined, but I hardly believe the jury would find for a tone of voice. (Mind you, stranger things have happened.)

I would have dismissed this as an unfortunate oversight, but it showed up again fifty pages later:

The next document was a divorce decree in which Evelyn Chastain Dace was named as the plaintive . . .

I can’t imagine Grafton making this error, which leaves me to conclude that an editor changed Grafton’s original text. Horrors!

Poor Judgment

. . . which meant that by judicial placement among similar cans, the Boggarts could have their trash picked up on a regular basis . . .

Seriously? A judge ruled on the placement of trash cans? Well, I suppose that could happen in a hoity-toity neighborhood, but in a homeless encampment? Again, I can’t imagine Grafton making this mistake; she generally exhibits a judicious choice of words.

homophones-bear-bare

Bare vs. Bear

  • Bare = adjective: someone or something not having a covering, such as clothing, shoes, or a hat, or not covered by leaves or grass.
  • Bear = verb: to carry or support.
  • incorrect: I don’t know how she could bare laying there all day.
  • correct: I don’t know how she could bear lying there all day.

Note: I address the “laying” vs. “lying” issue in #10.

 

Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique

  •  Peek = verb: to look at someone or something secretly or briefly.
  • Peak = noun: a mountain with a pointed or narrow top, or in reference to highest point of an event or career.
  • Pique = as a noun, it refers to a sudden feeling of annoyance or anger; as a verb, it refers to something that causes curiosity or interest.

Incorrect:

  • He stood looking at her as if he had been caught peaking in a window.
  • Ward shouted at Sally in a fit of peak.
  • The unusual rock formation peaked his interest in geology.

Correct:

  • He stood looking at her as if he had been caught peeking in a window.
  • Mt. Everest is the tallest peak in the world.
  • She had her peak performance during the Olympic Games.
  • Ward shouted at Sally in a fit of pique.
  • The unusual rock formation piqued his interest in geology.

 

Lightning vs. Lightening

  • Lightning = noun: a sudden electrostatic discharge from a cloud.
  • Lightening = verb: to make light or clear, to illuminate, to grow lighter or brighten.
  • incorrect: The lightening struck a tree.
  • correct: The lightning struck a tree, lightening the dark sky.

 

homophones

 

Principal vs. Principle

  • Principal = most important, consequential, or influential; a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position; financial: the amount of money borrowed and must be paid back.
  • Principle = a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions;

I like the irony in this example:

  • incorrect: It’s against Dad’s principal to lend money.
  • correct: It’s against Dad’s principles to lend money.
  • correct: When Dad collected on his loan to the school principal, he demanded interest in addition to the principal.

 

Capital vs. Capitol

  • Capital = adjective: punishable by death, chief in importance or influence relating to or being assets that add to the long-term net worth of a corporation or entity.
  • Capitol = the building or city in which a state, provincial, or federal government meets or is located.
  • incorrect: The loan gave him the capitol he needed to start a new business.
  • correct: The loan gave him the capital he needed to start a new business.
  • incorrect: Washington, DC, is the capital of the United States of America.
  • correct: Washington, DC, is the capitol of the United States of America.

 

Advice vs. Advise

This example—along the with final one—did not surprise me; I frequently see these two words interchanged.

  • Advice = noun, an opinion or suggestion given by one person to another.
  • Advise = verb and describes the action of giving one’s opinion or recommendation to another.
    • incorrect: I gave advise to my brother-in-law regarding his financial predicament.
    • correct: I gave advice to my brother-in-law regarding his financial predicament.
    • correct: I advised my brother-in-law regarding his financial predicament.

 

Affect vs. Effect

This is the most abused pair of words in the English language (excepting, perhaps, #1 in this series). Generally, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. However, there are instances where their roles are reversed.

  • Affect = as a verb it refers to making or causing a change.

The coming storm may affect our weekend plans.

  • Effect = as a noun it refers to achieving a result or having an influence.

The coming storm may have an effect on our weekend plans.

Role reversal

  • Affect = as a noun it refers to emotion.

The psychologist said she had a depressed affect.

  • Effect = as a verb it refers to causing or influencing something.

By protesting the proposed development, the activists hoped to effect change.

 

References:

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag

Still to come:

#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room
#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present
#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash
#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash
#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves

 

 

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