When DIY gets down and dirty

I’ve said before that I work in magazines. I’m currently on a home and garden title that doesn’t really get much in the way of reader complaints about dirty language, seeing as how stories on how to hang wallpaper and lay (gasp!) paving don’t really get people hot and bothered.

The gardening on the other hand can get pretty smutty and the DIY offers endless sniggering to those of a juvenile mindset, what with all the screwing and drilling that goes on. But still, we don’t get outraged emails. Until this week, that is, when we were accused of lewd and rude behaviour on an epic scale.

A reader took offence at a caption in a story about fish tanks as a design element. That’s right. Fish tanks. Here are the highlights of her letter:

I was highly incensed at the inappropriate use of a profane slang word that has been slipped into your magazine. Obviously missed by spell check, (although I don’t know how), or missed by the proof reader who thought it was funny or too young to know better. Either way they should be held accountable, it is offensive … the use of the word CUM is offensive instead of the appropriate word COME.

Let’s skip over the bit where the staff are accused of either negligence, ignorance or having the sense of humour of a porn-addled teenage boy and get right to the root of the matter (sorry, that pun was begging to be used).

The fact of the matter is, the reader is wrong. When we captioned the picture with the words ‘an aquarium-cum-coffee table’ we were completely right. Cum is a preposition. And it also means ‘in combination’. It doesn’t mean what people think it means when they use it in sex texts.

It’s not the first time we’ve used it either. As the Chief subeditor said when she saw the letter, ‘What! That’s my favourite thing. I do it all the time’. And she does cum, a lot. We all do. Whether it’s a sofa-cum-guest bed or a study-cum-spare room or a garage-cum-workshop we can’t get through a month without one of us inserting cum somewhere in the magazine.

And just in case you don’t believe me, check out this screen grab from the Macquarie Dictionary.

Screen grab of a Macquarie Dictionary definition for the word cum.

Breaking news: Cum is not a dirty word! Please adjust your sexting spelling accordingly. You’re welcome.


The art of compromise

Sometimes I can’t bear to listen to the radio because of all the wrong crap people say. And I’m talking about the hosts, not the callers. It’s also why I can’t read menus, as apparently a lot of restaurants aren’t open Monday’s but from Tuesday’s to Sunday’s. They are possessive apostrophes people, not word decorations.

It’s not longetivity, okay? It’s longevity. And you really do pronounce it mid-whiffery when you say the word midwifery. I promise. While we’re at it, they are The Real Housewives with a soft not hard ‘s’ in house. Are you with me? And there is no such word as rooves, the plural of roof is roofs.

I’ve already talked about SUPPOSABLY. I can’t go there again. And now FIRSTABLE has become a thing. They mean first of all.

One of the dumbest things I heard was on cable TV some years ago. It was on an entertainment spot, you know the kind they run over and over between shows until you just want to scream? A ‘reporter’ was doing a piece on Hugh Grant. With a huge mindless grin on her face she said like it was the best joke in the world, ‘Hugh Grant has been caught in another uncompromising position’.

Um, the term is ‘compromising position’. It basically means that you have been busted. Which Mr Grant famously was with Divine Brown all those years ago. But this segment wasn’t about anything like that, it was to do with a film or something. They were trying to be funny by relating back to that long ago incident. They failed.

I’ll leave you with this last piece of advice: IRREGARDLESS is not a word. You don’t go around saying RESPONSIBLELESS do you?

Welcome to my world.

Welcome to my world.

Vanity fair

I read. A lot. In fact, I consider life an interruption of my reading. So it will come as no surprise that I own a Kindle. Okay, okay I own two. And the newer one calls itself, very snarkily I might add, my ‘2nd Kindle’. It has an attitude because its predecessor committed suicide due to overwork. RIP my first Kindle, RIP. I’ll never forget you.

I mostly own a Kindle (or two) because I ran out of bookshelves and walls to put them on. But making the transition from paper to ebooks wasn’t easy. At first it was terribly exciting being able to download the classics for free and look up any author I could think of. Then I strayed into the badlands. Otherwise known as self-published works.

There are lots of people out there who refer to themselves as ‘indie authors’ and they are the self-publishers of a new generation of bad writers. In the old days, if you couldn’t get published you’d have to pay a Vanity Press to print your book so you could flog it to the public. But now that anyone with a computer can sell an ebook it’s a whole new ballgame. A game that’s mostly being played by people with no natural talent or skill, and absolutely no training.

The best thing about the printing press is that everyone and their dog couldn't just foist a book on the world.

The best thing about the printing press was that everyone and their dog couldn’t just foist a book on the world.

Just this morning I read the following in the sample of a book called Switch (New World Series) by Janelle Stalder that I downloaded from Amazon:

‘A shiver ran down her spine at the cold, calculated expression on his face, the power he exuberated with just the way he held himself.’

Exuberated isn’t even a word. So it comes up on spell check. I know, right? A little further on I came across this gem:

‘When she glanced up at him for a second, she saw his eyes sweeping back up, unhurriedly, as if he’d been pursuing her body from head to toe.’

Alrighty then!

Now before you think I am an indie-author hater, let me clarify that I am a fan of several, including Linsday Buroker and JL Bryan. I happily pay for their books. What I refuse to spend money on are badly written, poorly edited, self-published travesties. Everyone may have a book in them but most people need a ghostwriter to get it down in a readable format.

If this self-publishing lark continues unchecked we will be left with a generation that won’t ever have read a real novel. It’s the equivalent of never having heard a real singer because you’ve only ever been exposed to karaoke. I’m talking drunken, off-key karaoke where none of the lyrics are sung correctly. Which is pretty much the only way I know how to do it. You don’t even want to know about the one and only time I got my hands on Band Hero. Let’s just say I’ve never been allowed near one again.

This cover of a Penguin edition of Vanity Fair by William Thackeray perfectly illustrates the state of self-publishing today.

This cover of a Penguin edition of Vanity Fair by William Thackeray could be illustrating the free-for-all that is self-publishing today.

Big sisters, who needs ’em?

In my quest to make the world a less error-ridden place, linguistically speaking (pun intended), I am routinely opposed by my eldest sister.

She says things to me like, ‘Don’t correct people when they are speaking it is so annoying’. Only she often uses much less printable language.

For years I ignored her, and corrected as I saw fit. ‘I think you actually meant to say you are WARY of dogs. If you were WEARY of them they’d be making you tired.’ And, ‘I think you have it on your CONSCIENCE not your CONSCIOUS’. That sort of thing.

One day, big sis had been at me so much that I was uncharacteristically, albeit only temporarily, taking a break from correcting people.

So that’s how I found myself standing frozen in the bottle shop with one leg raised and an arm outstretched to step towards a woman and tell her, probably while shaking her by the shoulders, that if you’re going to butcher a spoken language at least make sure it’s your own.

Woman in bottle shop to her friend who was attempting to suggest which wine to buy, ‘Oh, so you think you’re an AFISHONDO now’.

I’ve always regretted not setting her right. Because this sort of things spreads from person to person and generation to generation. In 10 years Sydney-siders everywhere will not know that the word is actually AFICIONADO.

Think I’m exaggerating? Think again. On an episode of Friends one of the girls has to tell Joey that  SUPPOSABLY is not a word. Which it isn’t because it is SUPPOSEDLY.

Still think I’m panicking, and that was just a character making a funny word crime on a sitcom? How about this, I am almost 100% certain that one day when I was innocently watching the Bold and the Beautiful I heard Dr Taylor Hayes nee Hamilton and sometimes called Forrester, who is a psychiatrist of some repute and an articulate individual, use SUPPOSABLY in a sentence. The actress fumbling her line? A dumbass in the scriptwriting room? We don’t know but either way it is a crime and must be stopped.

Taylor Hayes, perpetrator of the word crime 'supposably'. Even doctors mispronounce stuff.

Taylor Hayes, alleged perpetrator of the word crime ‘supposably’. Yes, even doctors do it.

And here’s a little message to my dear sister, a librarian in a school and follower of this blog:

For the last time the word is CLICHED. There is no such word as CLICHEISH! And if you don’t stop using it I am going to post a pic up here of you in your 80s Madonna-lookalike glory days and send the link to the computer in the staffroom. Or teacher’s lounge for our American followers.

Am I fighting dirty? Hell yes, the War On Error must be won at all costs.

Blondes don’t have more fun

I am currently a blonde. And it turns out that gentleman don’t really prefer them, nor do blondes actually have more fun. I’ll tell you what blondes do have: high hairdressing bills. I am in that salon every three weeks like clockwork. They have me on a rotation of dyeing techniques and tricks so I don’t walk around with a black-rooted mess of yellowing straw on my head.

And we all know what they have in the hairdresser’s. Lots of magazines. Now I work in magazines but apart from checking out the direct competition I really only read them in the hairdresser’s. Well you don’t expect a chef to cook the weeknight dinner do you? Busman’s holiday, much?

I get my fill of gossip and girlie mags while I’m waiting for the bleach to cook or the treatment to work or for that blasted heat contraption to do its thing.

And the other day I was rewarded with one of the best typos I have seen in awhile. It came from one of Australia’s oldest and most revered weekly women’s mags and it was a doozy. A perfect example of two words that sound the same but have completely different meanings. And because the word that was incorrectly used is a real word, no amount of spell checking will  detect the error.

Check out the paragraph in bold font below and see if you can spot it. Answer is in the caption.

Cypress is a type of tree. Cyprus is where moguls and models go sailing.

Cypress is a type of tree. Cyprus is where moguls and models go sailing.

Office cake rage

I’m sure everyone is familiar with that Seinfeld episode where Elaine is raging about office cake. You know the one, Elaine can’t stand having to celebrate and eat cake at the drop of hat. Or rather at the drop of a birthday, promotion, pregnancy, the fact it’s Tuesday etc etc.

She doesn’t care for it, is very vocal about it then does terrible things once she renounces it only to fall prey to mid-afternoon sugar withdrawals.

Well I, too, get Office Cake Rage. But not because we have cake too often. My team is pretty good about cake and we limit it to birthdays and leaving dos. The amount of chocolate consumed when we’re on deadline is another matter entirely.

Nor does my rage stem from the fact that I don’t actually like cake. Not the fancy kind anyway. There is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned sponge cake. You can keep all of those tortes and tarts and anything else with a silly name. I eat sponge. My team knows it and while I wouldn’t say they respect it, allowances are made. At birthday time they pass around the red velvet, flour-less chocolate, triple cheesecake or whatever it is they eat and I enjoy a $4 sponge from the local Coles. And don’t think that I’m the only one eating that sponge either.

So why the Office Cake Rage? It’s all to do with how people indicate the size of their slice. I worked with one gentleman who would very properly ask for ‘a lady’s finger’. That means a small slice. I’ll tell you what doesn’t mean a small slice, the word SLITHER.

Snakes slither. And that’s pretty much all the dictionary has to say about the word. When someone asks you how big a slice of cake you want, DO NOT SAY ‘slither’. If you only want a little piece, ask for a SLIVER.

Office Cake Rage is a growing problem in our work places and has the potential to be more damaging than Road Rage because blood sugar is involved. Do your bit and sliver don’t slither.

This may not be a sliver of cake but it's definitely not a slither of anything.

This may not be a sliver of cake as it’s too big but it sure as heck is definitely not a slither of anything.

What is a subeditor?

A friend recently sent me an article about the top 10 jobs parents don’t understand.

It was, unsurprisingly, called 10 Jobs That Are Impossible To Explain To Your Parents.

Being a subeditor was number five. Only they called it a ‘Sub Editor’.

It’s really not such a mystery. Here’s what the dictionary on my computer has to say:

Dictionary definition of term 'sub edit'

The dictionary definition of ‘sub edit’ from my Mac.

A subeditor, sub editor or sub-editor is there to make sure that what goes to print is grammatical, true to house style, in line with the voice of the publication, accurate, factual, well written, comprehensible, spelled correctly, matches the pictures, has the correct page number and footer plus picture credits and byline.

Oh, and most of those snappy headlines and suck-you-in-to-the-story intros and helpful captions. They write those too.

So, not a lot of work then. God knows why those grammar nazis complain, they’re just human spell checkers right?

Wrong, a subeditor has to be a writer, researcher, fact checker, grammarian and diplomat all rolled into one.

Plus they have to have a lot of general knowledge and common sense. There’s no point in making sure a sentence is free of typos if it says something that is complete nonsense.

Like the time I let the words ‘300 cups of milk’ in a recipe go to print. Hey I was tired, it was late and the last recipe in a booklet stuck onto the cover at the last minute. The problem? Seeing 300 on its own doesn’t raise any flags. It’s a real number plus it shows up in recipes all the time with ml or grams after it. See how easy it is to slip up? That’s why we need subeditors.

And the diplomacy part? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most people who get paid to do so can’t write. Also, they are in denial about it. But even the good writers need smoothing down sometimes when their stuff gets chopped, changed or canned.