**Most of these work in any version of Excel; the instructions are specific to Excel 2007.
Ever wanted to know how to count the characters in a cell, or combine the text in two cells in Excel? What about how to identify duplicates in Excel? Whether for a content creation project or planning a holiday, Excel is my best friend. Even when you’re working with words, ways of measuring the details can be very helpful in ensuring a set of content is exact. Here are the formulas and shortcuts I regularly use and find useful (produced in an Excel spreadsheet, of course):
*The cell references such as “B3” refer to the cell you want to analyse and should be changed accordingly.
**Most of these work in any version of Excel; the instructions are specific to Excel 2007.
"Quick! Bring them in before the neighbours see and think I actually want to read them!" That's what I said as my friend delivered to my house three grey paperbacks, which she was, incidentally, glad to be rid of. I wasn't embarrassed about the pornographic content. Oh no. It's the reputation for bad writing that precedes them, and what effect that might have on my reputation!
That night, I steeled myself, ready to dive in. Nervously I approached the book, attaching my book light carefully and turning over to make myself comfortable.
“What you doing?!”
“You pulled the covers off me, I was nice and warm!”
Ah well, this isn’t quite going to go as I expected. However, I’ve got such a low opinion of this book already, perhaps it’ll actually be good? I read the first paragraph tentatively, dispelling all preconceptions. Maybe I can enjoy this after all?
OK, it’s shit.
There’s no denying this author, E L James, is a genius. She’s just not very good at writing. The first few pages of the book are full of clichés; pseudo-insightfulness in leaps and bounds. Ugh. Can I bear it enough to read on and write a review of the book? After all, there are plenty of authors out there who write about sex and can actually string a sentence together (and aren’t trading success off the back of Twilight).
Bad writing aside, one issue I have with this book is the female protagonist (that’s the main character to you and I). She’s totally and utterly pathetic. Wishy washy and feeble. Dull as dishwater. Ultimately, E L James just wanted to write about sex (sex sells) and the characters and plot came second to this. After reading the first two books in the trilogy (yes, I got that far!) I was left quite blasé and frankly bored with sex, a bit like I imagine adult industry film reviewers must be – it’s sex for the sake of it, with a two-dimensional storyline. Not a good set of books to settle down to and enjoy while feeling intellectually challenged. But then I don’t think the author ever set out for them to be intellectually challenging, so I can’t justify criticizing them in that way. I can't let such badly written drivel go by without commenting though, especially when such a book has become so popular with modern women.
The advent of the Fifty Shades trilogy means suddenly it’s okay for women to be sexual beings and talk more openly about sex. That’s if my social media feeds are anything to go by. How ironic that such a sexist scenario has prompted this, a reinforcement of the Disney-princess fantasy we are sold as young children. Ana, the female character, is obliged to give her lover, Christian, 100 per cent trust but he’s insanely jealous and possessive, irrationally jealous of any male friends. And it doesn't stop there. The relationship is incredibly imbalanced, with him controlling her every move, even in her workplace. All this is portrayed as acceptable, even desirable.
Christian Grey fulfils every little girl’s dream of meeting a powerful, rich, unreachable, conventionally good-looking prince who happens to be messed up. But that’s okay, because Ana knows she can change him and that’s her role, to look after him and nurture him until they live happily ever after. After all, he’s good-looking and everyone who meets him swoons, so he must be a catch, right?
How is society ever going to move on if women freely accept and embrace this role rather than pushing for equality? I was told by an intelligent friend that the second book is supposed to be interesting as you get an insight into Christian’s vulnerable side and how damaged he is. Isn't this again playing to that sexist cliché that women want to save someone and see the good in them, or at least find excuses for why they put up with the bad behaviour in a relationship?
And yet, and yet; the first book left me wanting more. I was sucked in and ready to start straight away on the second book. Then it began to really get boring. I mean, seriously. The second book is just one big argument in their relationship punctuated by make-up sex. I got bored. Very bored. A friend lent me another book to read that she recommended. I opened it, read the first sentence and was so relieved. Welcome back to good writing. What a difference. I was freed from my Fifty Shades of entrapment and ditched the series. I will never know if they have a child. I will never know if Anastasia Steele manages to rescue Christian Grey from his messed up past and they live happily ever after. And do you know what? I don’t care!
A new report from PsychCentral declares that "informal speech can be interpreted as rising from the brain’s bias toward efficiency", so why oh why does the UK seem to be moving to pronouncing the letter H as 'haitch'? This development takes more effort so makes no sense to me. I am fully aware that this kind of prescriptive thinking clashes deeply with my fundamental belief that language evolves and no one way of communicating is better than another, so long as the message is achieved successfully (see my earlier blog on this). But if I take off my linguist’s cap, there are some things I just can’t let pass.
Here’s the situation. The letter H is listed in the dictionary as:
aitch /eıt∫/ n. The name of the letter H.
There is, as yet, no alternative spelling of haitch listed, and, if you flick forward to words beginning with H, there is no listing for haitch. According to the OED, this word does not exist.
We know differently – in fact, in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the standard pronunciation for the letter H is haitch. Not so in England or Wales, though (nor in the US, incidentally). The standard pronunciation is aitch and always has been. In Northern Ireland and some other English-speaking areas, pronunciation of the letter H can denote your religion and historically the pronunciation has been a cause for conflict. Generally (and particularly historically), Catholics say haitch and Protestants aitch.
A study by linguist John Wells showed that 16% of people in the UK say haitch, while the rest say aitch. Those who do say haitch tend to be younger, which implies that haitch is on the increase. (I don’t think Wells surveyed call centre staff, as in my experience, having a postcode containing the letter H, 100% of them not only don’t say aitch, but don’t understand me if I say aitch. I’ve adjusted and use the NATO phonetic alphabet hotel to avoid any misunderstanding (or annoyance on my part).)
So why the shift from effortless aitch to unwieldy haitch? Some say haitch is more logical. After all, it does start with the letter it represents. This is unlikely to be true though, otherwise we’d also be saying sess for S, lell for L and xex for X. It’s more likely to have originated through a process called hypercorrection. Since we had a class system in the UK and accents link to class, this is the action of lower classes “correcting” their speech in an attempt to sound posher. So, for example, in the past, Cockneys who dropped their aitches in words like house and said instead ‘ouse would then hypercorrect other words and say, for example, happle for apple. This hypercorrection theory for the origination of the haitch pronunciation is further backed up by the fact that in America, no one says haitch, and they’ve never had a class system over there.
Whatever the reason, it looks like haitch might be here to stay, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it listed in the next edition of the OED, along with neologisms like chillax (which is what I need to do the next time a call centre employee says haitch to me).
Update: interestingly, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say NHS or PhD with a haitch not aitch in the middle. Some acronyms don't escape this treatment though, as a friend pointed out.
Copyright New Yorker, J. C. Duffy
In the supermarket the other day I had to restrain myself from correcting their “10 items or less” sign, but fortunately my family were spared embarrassment as I didn’t have access to a black marker. Funny I’ve never noticed this before, but then it’s rare that I have fewer than 10 items. It seems it’s old news, if this Telegraph article is anything to go by.
What are the rules for knowing when to use fewer or less in a sentence, since effectively they mean the same thing? If I’m ever stuck, I think of it in terms of milk and cows. You can have “fewer cows” but not “fewer milk”, and “less milk” but not “less cows”. That’s because fewer refers to quanties that can be strictly counted (such as cows) and less grammatically refers to unknown or uncountable quantities (such as milk), though in everyday speech it tends to be used for both countable and uncountable quantities. And, just to confuse us, less is nearly always used for time, money and distance, even though they have countable units.
The fact that you can count the items in your supermarket basket (like cows) means you can join the “10 items or fewer” queue, but to save space I guess most supermarkets use the grammatically incorrect term less instead. I will avert my eyes on any future supermarket trips, or I may not be responsible for my actions...
I’m going off topic to talk about the images on this site, since a few people have asked about them. The majority were taken by my brother, not using a fancy camera but with his iPhone (and a few were taken using a digital SLR camera). Some photos we brainstormed and created especially for the pages on this site, many were taken by Alan while out and about on average days at work or play.
The blue and orange banner images, like this one are variations on a paper bag next to a glass window at his civil service workplace. The bag was used to stop the sun coming through, in the absence of blinds. With different light behind them and different sections of the bag, interesting textures and effects are created (contrast this image with the home page image mentioned above). Blue and orange is a classic colour combination (they’re opposites on the colour wheel) that works really well – the cool blue against hot orange makes for a bold contrast.
A curtain of beads with the colours inverted (they were actually brown and the background black) was chosen for the fact-checking page. That shot was taken at the entrance to a temple in China. The translation image I created by combining a photo of a painting my daughter did with part of the main image found on my blog.
The blog image is one of my favourites. It’s a shot of an old bin at the end of Saltburn pier (in the news recently for its guerrilla knitting attack). The copywriting image shows different colours of bubbles in a Champagne glass turned on its side.
We had fun creating the eBooks image and the network page cabbage shot is one of my favourites selected from my brother’s ‘library’ – an example of the Fibonacci sequence in nature. Thanks bro!
© 2010 by LOLteez
The what now? Generic singular pronoun. That means, generic (to refer to either a woman or a man), singular (so usually referring to one person only), pronoun (a word that replaces a noun, e.g. she instead of Jenny). Got it?
Let’s look at an example:
“Every member of staff has his own badge.”
“Every member of staff has their own badge.”
And another one:
“If anyone in the WI has a failsafe recipe for strawberry jam, he can share it with the group.”
“If anyone in the WI has a failsafe recipe for strawberry jam, they can share it with the group.”
All examples are ‘correct’ usage in English. In both we’re not sure if the people in question are male or female, or whether they number one or more. But language purists often criticize the use of generic they, them and their in place of the generic pronoun he (and him/his). Critical attitudes to language are all around us, and prescriptivists believe that this use of they is evidence of falling standards that are destroying the English language.
Is it possible to destroy a language? Or is it actually the value judgements (i.e. opinions) that people have about language that are being threatened? The basic, communicative role of language will always prevail. And for those who want to use historical longevity as a basis for accepting the use of a term, they has been in use as a generic singular pronoun since the 16th century!
During my first degree I had a heated discussion with a French lecturer concerning this very subject. The class had completed a mock exam and I had translated ‘chaque Français a sa voiture’ as ‘every French person has their car’. The lecturer told me what I had written would be marked incorrect and it should be ‘every Frenchman has his car’. Despite my informing her that their is not plural when used as a generic singular pronoun and is a separate word entirely to plural they (a homonym, in fact) she wasn’t interested. In the end we had to agree to disagree as I could not change her opinion and she could not offer me any valid argument except that my usage was incorrect, despite the fact that it is regularly used in speech and writing. In order to do well in exams I would have to forgo my principles.
There are several suggestions for alternatives to generic he, which is seen by some as sexist. And even to those not sensitive to such issues, the use of he/him in some sentences can sound downright weird. Alternatives to he are the use of he/she, s/he, he or she, or they. Let’s not use he to refer to someone who could be a woman or a man, or where we don’t know how many people a phrase refers to. Keep it simple, inclusive and inoffensive and use the perfectly valid, generic pronoun they.
To read more on generic they, see http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/s-pinker.html.
Here’s a handy list of key differences between UK English, US English and Australian English. Over the years I’ve built up my own dictionary of differences for localization purposes, and this is an excerpt. Useful not only for localizing text but also if you’re planning a trip to any of these locations — now you’ll know to turn up in footwear not underwear when an Aussie requests you wear thongs to the beach.
In any content creation project, the process for achieving perfection is not just a case of writing content and delivering it – there are many editorial stages before the content can be deemed good enough to publish.
First comes brainstorming for ideas that fit the spec. Then writing can begin. During the copywriting stage, finding reliable, solid sources is a must. These can then be used as an aid for the next step – the fact-checking. Whether trivia questions or a book manuscript, it’s essential to check that all the facts are accurate and that there’s nothing libellous in the copy. Fact-checking isn’t just about looking at the obvious facts in a statement, but also the bigger picture. For example, if the text states that Demi Moore was born in 1962 in Roswell, New Mexico, we not only need to check various sources to ensure the date and place are correct, but also that the spelling of Demi’s names and of the place names are correct. We should also verify that Roswell is in New Mexico. Oh, and as much as Wikipedia might be a good starting place for trivia, it’s not a concrete source and needs to be backed up by a reputable website (not a fan site) or book.
At this point it would be wise to communicate with the client and check that the content meets their spec and is what they had in mind. Any revisions can then be done before the text is copy-edited.
Once fact-checking is complete, it’s time for copy-editing to begin. A professional copy editor will identify subjective errors in a text, as well as any objective errors that weren’t caught by the fact-checker. They will also check formatting, spelling and grammar as they perform their copy-edit, and ensure that style is consistent throughout a piece of text. This is often done by following a style guide that is decided on at the outset. A decision on language variables (such as -ize or -ise endings) will be implemented and adhered to by the copy-editor throughout the text and they’ll make sure that the wording flows well and suits the target audience.
Following the copy-editing stage comes proofing. This is the final stage and the proofer is probably the last set of eyes to review the whole text before it goes to print. Some editorial workflows don’t proof before sending text to layout, but particularly in larger projects it’s essential to weed out any final typos or other errors and minimize costly changes once text has gone to layout. The proofer will scrutinize the text looking for objective errors including typos, grammatical errors and formatting. At this stage, we would expect the text to be fairly clean and to flow well, so the proofer is able to concentrate on identifying these objective errors without the distraction of other issues.
Once this first proofing stage is complete, the text can go to layout. Then, before printing takes place there is another proofing check (or, if the client prefers, the only proofing check) where the proofreader checks the text in its final, mocked-up layout format against the original source (whether it be a manuscript, Excel file or Word document, for example). This check is essential as the layout of a book, a website or a board game’s trivia questions can introduce unforeseen formatting errors such as missing text, special characters not appearing correctly or text that is wrapped in the wrong place.
Et voilà, that’s the content creation process in a nutshell.
I find people comment to say they’re surprised that I use American -ize endings in my writing (given I'm a British editor). I explain that it’s the UK system I’m using.
I was taught to write using the Oxford rules -ize ending at school and besides, I have a biased reason for liking the letter Z because of my name (Zoë)! Not only that, but the -ize spelling is closer to the way we say such words. Lately though, the -ise ending (from French) has become more popular; in the last few decades, since I’ve been either studying or working with language, I’ve slowly had to change my use of the suffix for the majority of UK clients (and for those elsewhere wanting to localize for the UK). It is perhaps seen as a more “British” way of writing than the older -ize (from Greek via Latin), which can be mistaken for an Americanism.
Even the Wiki article on this subject begins by writing that UK English -ize is the same as US -ize. There are three systems in English for the use of the suffix -ize or -ise. In UK English, we have two valid systems: -ize or -ise in words such as realize/realise and standardize/standardise. In US English it’s -ize only. For all three systems, any words that are not from Greek always use -ise, such as exercise, advise and surprise. There is one real difference: in the use of -yse and -yze endings. Words with Greek roots that end in -yse are never spelt -yze in UK English, such as analyse and paralyse. However, US English uses the suffix -yze in words from Greek, such as analyze and paralyze.
So, perhaps using -ise is an easier way for Brits to do it, as we don’t have to remember the exceptions to the rule? Use the right system for your target audience and, so long as you stick to that system consistently in one piece of writing, it’s “correct” (I use that term carefully with regard to language, see Why is Language so Important?).
Whichever system is used, none is wrong. I do find, however, that if I’m localizing US text to UK English, the client (from anywhere in the world) requires the -ise system to be implemented. Or, if not specified at the outset, they would view the localization as below par due to my keeping in the “American” -ize spellings. As a result, I always check with the client before starting a project. On the other hand, if a global English is desired, I would recommend using the UK -ize endings since they suit both UK and US spellings in the majority of cases, and it is these two varieties of English that have spread across the world.
English has become so widespread that it is now considered a world language. It can be seen in advertising campaigns around the world, television interviews with politicians from Spain to Singapore are conducted with ease in English, and the BBC closed its German service after 60 years because its German listeners prefer the English version.
When English is taught as a foreign language, the same grammar, phonology and vocabulary are used globally (those of standard UK, or sometimes US, English). But across the world, the majority of teaching is done by non-native speakers to non-native speakers in a different cultural situation, who are often unlikely ever to come across a native speaker. So the appropriateness of standard UK/US English has to be considered and the possibility of a global standard English raised.
Dictionaries and phrasebooks can give the impression that there is one, fixed variety of English. While standard UK/US English exists to an extent, there are many varieties. Although creating a global standard English may be a good idea in theory, the problem is that since global English is so diverse, certain set norms would still have to be chosen for a standard language and it would be difficult to justify these new norms as being any “better” than those of UK/US English or any other English variety for that matter. Finding a totally neutral variety is almost impossible.
Here’s a summary of the three systems:
History: the -ize suffix has been used in the UK since the time of Shakespeare in the 16th century and derives from Greek roots.
History: the suffix -ise came into UK English in the 19th century, a few hundred years after -ize, from the French influence at that time (which, ironically, came from the Latin suffix -izare).
History: in the early 19th century Noah Webster established the -ize style in the US as he wanted words to be spelt closely resembling the way that they sound.
“Imagine that you are watching a nature documentary … the song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors, and monkeys’ cries have been in a state of chaos and degeneration for hundreds of years.”
There's no doubt about it, we're fascinated by language. Hence the widespread sharing of images on social media, like this comic strip about an allergy to grammatical errors:
(NB: I too suffer from this allergy, and it’s not seasonal)
and discussions in the news, such as this BBC article about text-speak.
Perhaps the title of this blog post ought to be Why do we Find Discussing Language so Fascinating?, because it’s clear that we will never bore of discussing language issues.
At the moment, my bedside reading is a linguistics textbook by David Crystal, which is taking me back to my roots and reminding me why I love language and everything to do with it. (I feel a strong urge to temper this with the revelation that I don’t normally read textbooks in bed, not since my student days, anyway. I much prefer to induce sweet dreams by reading fiction about solving a grisly murder, instead.)
Whether humans or animals it’s to our advantage that we can communicate, and as humans we’re unique in being able to do that via language. Since communication is fundamental to language, as long as we get our message across, why does it matter how we do it and whether the grammar is correct?
Each language has its own rules that enable us to communicate – we agree on these rules therefore we understand each other*. If those rules are broken extensively then we might be unable to understand the message a person is trying to communicate. There are many prescriptivists who take this to the extreme and delight in admonishing other people’s “errors”, or cringe in dismay at things such as grocers’ apostrophes. In many ways, and especially in my guise as editor, I am one of these people (and yes I thought long and hard about where to put that apostrophe in grocers’).
Critical attitudes to language are all around us, but, as the quote (above) from Steven Pinker demonstrates, they are often nothing but unjustified value judgements. At my core is a descriptivist trying to get out. What does it matter how we say or write something if it can be understood? When talking about language, we need to differentiate between the contexts in which language occurs. Formal, written language such as a newspaper article is very different to written text speak, for example. If I type a tweet or text message I’ll use every abbreviation I know to make it as short as possible, but not at the expense of comprehension, I hope. However, if writing a newspaper article, or even a more informal blog post, I’d have to be strong-armed into typing ur for “your”.
I doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t understand the message of the character in green in the cartoon above. So what does it matter that grammatical and spelling errors are used? If I try really hard, the editor in me can read it without dying inside too much, but it’s the final use of pacific (for “specific”) that is the sucker punch. As much as I understand the sentence, I can’t get past the error so it distracts from the message. And in writing, if we don’t adhere to the same system, the deviations will become so extreme that we no longer understand one another.
Let’s not forget though, that an inherent property of language is that it constantly evolves. If it didn’t, we’d still be speaking and writing like Chaucer in the UK. We can’t stop this evolution but we can try to keep it on track by using the right grammar and spelling to suit the context. As an editor, I don’t know everything about the grammar of English. But my mantra is “if in doubt, always look it up”. Being a good copy editor is about knowing when to question something, not knowing everything.
*In fact, as children, we have an innate ability to acquire a language system, without being explicitly told the rules, hence my four-year-old comes out with words like sheeps, because subconsciously she's learnt that the suffix -s makes a word plural – she has of course never heard an adult say sheeps and copied them.
I’m a linguaholic; I’m obsessed with language and linguistics. I love working with words and producing perfection. My other passions are cooking, kickboxing and my family, so you may see them appear in one form or another here.
Photo © Alan Wildsmith