House style… just a waste of time?

In America, they are called copy editors. In South Africa, they are called sub-editors. They form a vanishingly small percentage of the world population, and yet they are somewhat powerful. Because much of the text disseminated by the world’s media passes before their eyes and gets fixed, or changed, or mutilated, or left alone. They correct grammar and spelling, they rewrite clumsy phrases, they cut copy to fit an allocated space and in most publications they write headlines. So far, so familiar – most people who read newspapers or news websites or magazines are aware that such people exist and have a vague idea of what they do.
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A sock draw? Surely not

In a week of processing copy, I spotted this in a Daily Mail story:

‘Then there were other non-essential tasks such as watering plants and
sorting out the sock draw which suddenly became urgent priorities
ahead of the essential task they really should be concentrating on.’

Thing is, you reorganise your sock drawER, not your sock draw.
Looked at in context, it’s possible that the mistake was contained in
the original statement from the source of the story, and somehow
slipped past the usually excellent Mail subbing system.

Moral of the story: just because it’s in an email from someone else,
doesn’t mean it’s right.

* First published on Grubstreet

Time to think about apostrophes

Time for the apostrophe
Recently, on Cape Talk radio (, afternoon host John Maytham read out a communication from a listener about a sign seen at the Mining Indaba where the apostrophe reared its small and annoying head. The sign said something like “Worlds’ Mines. How many worlds do the people at the Mining Indaba think there are?
Now this is one of the great dividers between the general population and Sticklers for English Usage (such as myself). In spoken English the apostrophe is irrelevant; in signs in shops that say Stickers and Tattoo’s (the Cape Science Centre, Feb 9) it doesn’t essentially matter: communication has been achieved and the shoppers know where to find the tattoos. Continue reading

No buts

But: such a little word, such a lot of confusion.
You can go mad looking at grammar rules to find out when the use of But is appropriate – although it seems that a lot of people are not aware they need to think about it at all. Continue reading