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Proofreaders – who needs them? Posted on 25 July 2016 by James Cowan in Proofreading

If you are writing for business or profit, then YOU do. That counts OUT people who are writing assignments, or their own diary. It also counts out many contributors to Facebook. But it definitely counts IN people who write any kind of books (particularly the self-publishers; a publisher will get your work proofread for you), articles, theses, all kinds of reports, estimates, quotes, contracts, business letters, press releases, blogs, website content ... Read more

More on Abstraction Posted on 18 September 2017 by James Cowan in General Semantics

There is more to abstraction, and this time it is in the lap of the beholder. If you, in the role of listener or reader, become aware that an abstraction is (or even may be) being used and that its parameters (i.e. that the qualities of an item which are pertinent to the discussion) have not been made clear, then it is up to you either to analyse what you are hearing or reading to try and identify them, or ... Read more

Troublesome words 7 Posted on 08 September 2017 by James Cowan in Troublesome words

There are a lot of words which end either in "-ice" or in "-ise" – for example advice and advise, device and devise – which have different meanings, and occasionally (actually, I think, only the ones already mentioned!) have a different pronunciation. There are quite a lot, too, which have different spellings due to local idiosyncrasies – "defence" does not exist in the USA, although "defensive" is used in both US and real English. However, as I am in an English-speaking ...Read more

Learning English Posted on 29 August 2017 by James Cowan in English language

I recently proofread some work created by a native speaker of a language which was not English. I am sure I could not have done as well as he did in a foreign language (least of all his – I have tried), and I found only a few errors (far fewer than I usually find in English-first-language writers' work!). But it set me to thinking about the differences between English and a number of other European languages. The main one relates ... Read more

Poor old Coventry Posted on 19 August 2017 by James Cowan in English language

I recently had the experience of trying to explain being "sent to Coventry" to my daughter, and was almost immediately out of my depth. I simply had no idea whence it came. I knew that during the Wars of the Roses, which was a to-and-fro between two major houses with pretensions to the English throne in the back half of the 1400s, culminating in the accession of the Tudors to the throne in 1485, every time Coventry was threatened or ... Read more

Troublesome words 6 Posted on 9 August 2017 by James Cowan in Troublesome words

A pair of non-interchangeable words that are sometimes in fact interchanged anyway, is "hung" and "hanged". "Hanged" is used almost exclusively to refer to a method of killing, usually following a judicial process. It is an instance of "passive voice", meaning that the process was or will be carried out on the person by someone else, generally unspecified. Thus "I sentence you to hang" or "to be hanged", and "Dick Turpin was hanged". "Hung" on the other hand, rarely involves ... Read more

Troubling phrases 2 Posted on 30 July 2017 by James Cowan in Troubling phrases

I saw the other day a magazine entitled "UFOlogy" on the same shelf as New Scientist in the local corner store. As if there really was a science devoted to "UFOs". A UFO is an Unidentified Flying Object. So the science is devoted to the unknown. Sounds terribly metaphysical. But why should any flying object be "unknown"? Does it mean "Not yet identified", in the way that a mate of mine used to say that a fish in a rock ... Read more

English grammar Posted by James Cowan on 20 July 2017 in English language; Writing

I mentioned in an earlier blog that English is not "rule-based', merely a system of conventions ("More art than science", 3 October 2016, under Proofreading). That is, there are very few ways to be entirely "wrong" in English, although there are traps that can make you look less clever in the way you write. The easy one, that a surprising number of writers fall into, is to let the form of the verb (the "doing") and the number of "actors" who are ... Read more

Abstraction Posted on 10 July 2017 by James Cowan in General Semantics

In my previous blog about General Semantics (see "Jargon 2: All in the ear of the beholder", 18 February 2017), I touched briefly on the topic of abstraction. The idea that in most cases we are only talking about certain aspects of something, not the whole thing. Thus, depending on your topic, you may want to talk about a cow as a heavy animal which damages damp pasture by walking upon it. Or as an animal which can generate ... Read more

Proofreading online versus using a local professional Posted on 30 June 2017 by James Cowan in Proofreading

Where to start? In several earlier blogs I discuss the fact that English is a language not of rules but of conventions, and that the conventions differ between regions. Thus to an American reader, saying "his clothes fitted him well" is at best weird, and at worst wrong, as American for "did fit" is the same as for "do fit", and both are "fit". And though I was born in the UK, I was brought up from the age of ... Read more

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