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My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

BSL 101: British as a Second Language

A book had been lurking on my schedule for months. Author told me about it last fall and sent me a draft in November to begin working on it. A few weeks later came a replacement chapter, then another. Thankfully I hadn’t begun working on the original yet, but I requested that when the entire manuscript was set, that’s when I should receive a complete new version. Author agreed.

Then the author said, I believe, one of the other chapters was undergoing heavy revision, or there was a new chapter or something, so everything’s on hold. OK.

Revised manuscript comes in February, followed by an email that some of the documentation needs to be reworked, and here’s what needs to be done. I wrote back and said, again, when you have a complete, finished manuscript, please send it to me. My point was not to be a jerk, and I explained that to the author. I’m not the one closest to the material. I’m not the subject expert. It’s not up to me to make substantive decisions about what’s in or not in the books.

About five hours later, the author sends me the completed manuscript, which I’ve now returned to the author, edited and tidied up. Great book, author is very pleasant. All’s good, although I do have one concern. Author said that the publisher’s deadline for the manuscript is August. I have a feeling the copyedited manuscript will not reside unmolested until then; rather, I fear that the author is going, by way of fact checking, to show this manuscript to a bunch of potential buyers of the book and tweak it for the next five months.

So, of course, down the line, some poor sap of a proofreader might be seeing When Versions Collide.

Oh. That would be me. Happy days.

The author is publishing the book with a UK press, so when the original manuscript came in last November, I had Colleen (dba interngirl) go through their 20-page style sheet and try to highlight all the differences from Chicago and any weirdness that didn’t look Amerkun. She marked plenty.

All her work was mostly for naught as I needed to refresh myself on all of it five months later anyway (formatting, a lot of things), but the press’s style sheet did spell out for me some things about British English that had baffled me. I’m not sure it does any less now.

Full point after abbreviation only where last letter of word omitted: Dr, Mr but etc., Prof., but not after contractions or in acronyms: Dr, St, Mr, BBC, UNESCO, USA. Note especially: ed. / eds, vol. / vols, Ch. / Chs, but the exception: no. nos.

Let that roll around in your head for a minute.

I’d always wondered why I would see “ed.” but “eds” in bibliographies when dealing with British works. Now I know. I probably miscorrected it in some volumes years ago. Live and learn. But to me, that’s too much to think about. Just put a damn full stop at the end of the abbreviation.

Include ‘e’ in forms such as: ageing, judgement, likeable.
> Use –ize and –ization; recognize, criticize; but use analyse, paralyse, electrolyse. Note that a number of verbs have no alternative to the ‘ise’ spelling, including: advertise, advise, circumcise, compromise, despise, devise, enterprise, exercise, franchise, improvise, revise, surmise, supervise, televise.

What the British taketh away in punctuation, they add back in unnecessary letters. I’ve never liked “judgement,” and of course. “acknowledgements” is the bane of editors and proofreaders everywhere in the United States. I don’t know what’s up with Use –ize and –ization. Nor do I understand the -lyse exception, which they don’t identify as such. In the book, I ran across other -lyse words. Do they fall under this rule? Could be argued either way.

Ellipses: … No space between points; space after only if leading to new sentence, no extra point if at end of sentence.

OK, class. Think about this one. Not only are the butt-ugly “points” (wait, here they’re not full points?) set tight, but no space around them, unless the following bit of copy is a sentence. Let me demonstrate:

The umpire was hot...and tired.

The umpire was hot, tired... He threw the manager out of the game for dropping the M-bomb.

I actually grew to like this style in the course of copyediting the book. Not saying I’d want to change to it, but it is efficient.

The ellipses, that is. Not the umpiring.

Round brackets should be used within round brackets where necessary. Square brackets should normally be confined to editorial comment.

By this point, I’m enraged. It’s like, “What the hell have you people done to our language?” I want to go into a Sam Kinison rant, “Have you ever heard the word ‘parentheses,’ people? What the hell is a ‘round bracket’?” So, in this book we have some parenthetical — I guess that would be round-bracketal — in-text citations that read “(blah blah blah (Smith and Jones 2000)).” Joyous.

Use minimum numbers for number spans except in ‘teens’, e.g. 25–8, 136–42, 150–1, but 12–16.



En Rules (and Em Rules)
> An en rule is longer than a hyphen and is used to replace ‘to’ in number spans, e.g. ‘24–8’. As there is no en rule key on the standard keyboard you should indicate en rules between numbers using the normal short hyphen.
> The en rule is also used to link two items of equal weight, e.g. ‘Nazi–Soviet pact’. To indicate words which should be linked with en rules (rather than normal hyphens) type a double hyphen, e.g. Nazi--Soviet pact.
> Spaced en rules are used as parenthetical dashes or pauses. Type a single hyphen with a space before and after to indicate a dash.
> Only use em (—) rules to indicate a deliberately obscured word.

So, em dashes don’t appear. An em dash is for their purposes an en dash with spaces around it. In the bibliography, instead of the 3-em dash for a repeated author, they use an en dash.

And what everyone wants to know:

> If following UK style, always use single quotation marks for dialogue and quoted material in the text. Reserve the use of double quotation marks for quotes within quotes, e.g. ‘Edward found the trappings of “royalty” hung heavily.’
> In UK style the full stop only falls inside the quotation mark if the material quoted is a complete sentence, e.g. He called it “my house”, even though it belonged to Clara.

Now, I think I get it. But why oh why did they use double quotes in the last example, and why did they refer to a “full stop” when a comma appears? Is a comma also a “full stop”?

I’m going to have to relearn all this stuff again at some point. I think I’ll see this book again even before it goes to the publisher. Just a guess.


moi said...

Round brackets? ROUND effin' BRACKETS?!? I'm laughing so hard, I can't breathe.

That single quote schiesse is slipping into the English language as well. I don't know why. I hate it and it must die. As should ellipses with no spaces and that whole don't put the punctuation mark inside the quote mark unless it's a full sentence blather. Sweet Jesus, it even LOOKS dumb.

czar said...

The British do have a great sense of humo(u)r, Moi. Just never expected it to manifest itself unintentionally here.

czar said...

PS: really? You're starting to see US authors use single quotes?

There are some fields in which it's accepted: philosophy has certain applications for it.

But common usage, I really hope not.

moi said...

Yes. I've had a few writers over the years submit to me using single quotes. I see it on occasion in press releases I receive as well. No idea why.

You know what I will admit a penchant for, however? Grey over gray.

czar said...


"I've had a few writers over the years submit to me using single quotes." Oh, those pesky writers. They just don't know any better. That's why we're here, Moi.

Speaking of other languages, what freaked me out was seeing "grey" or "greige" in the context of textiles. The first time or two, I was sure something was wrong.

I'm not sure what the point is in the difference between "gray" and "grey" for the color. I can't think of any parallels. Is Boy George gey? Again, "ghey" don't count, and I'm not even sure how that's supposed to be snarky.

I'll tell you a word I like, regardless of spelling: rhubarb. That's a good word. I don't care for the taste, I don't think, but it's a good word.

Another good word: nepenthe. Where is it when you need it?

Anonymous said...

I had the occasion, last year, to translate one of my books into American. It amuses me to note that I encountered equal bewilderment on the same aspects, but in reverse. Certain style studies show differences in opinion, though. One needs to make one's own decisions and then remain consistent. My current rule for ellipses is to leave spaces before and after, unless they are there to indicate an incomplete word. I do not add other punctuation to them other than to close quotation marks. This is done without a space.

czar said...

@Colonialist: Thanks for dropping by and reminding us that the US isn't the center of the universe. There's about 200 million of my fellow citizens I wish would get on board with you.

Ellipses set tight don't bother me as much as the auto-character that Word turns them into. I know the reason for it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I love the way you said, "My current rule . . ." My preferences for treating numbers, capitals, and certain punctuation shift every so often. No style manual is perfect, especially when they evolve as well.

Please stop by again. Sounds like we have some things in common.

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