Tag Archives: writers

What Do Those Marks Mean?

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

Quotation marks and apostrophes: what do they mean? It may seem absolutely clear to you, but it’s obvious that a lot of society is losing the concepts. In fact, in the general population, things seem to be spiraling out of control.

Quotation marks seem to be popping up with stunning and usually inappropriate frequency these days. They’re for quotations: for setting off words that were said or written by other people. Or, if you’re writing dialogue, they set off words said by characters. They are not meant to simply add emphasis.

Of course, as with most things, it’s a little more complicated than that. Instead of quoting a specific speaker, you may be quoting a vague and undefined entity—popular opinion or common usage. But the idea is that you’re relating what someone else has said or written, in contrast to what you are writing.

This second form of usage can create irony or sarcasm—you’re quoting an unnamed source to show that you are not willing to take credit for something. For example, when speaking of the “cream” served with coffee, you might use quotation marks to note that you don’t think it’s real cream, and may even know for certain that it’s not real, but someone has identified it as such. There, the quotation marks are saying, “someone said it’s cream, but I’m not saying it.” The quotation marks alert people to the fact that it’s not your idea or it’s not something you’re saying is true, and actually suggests pretty strongly that you think it’s not true.

However, in recent years, I’ve seen an explosion of signs, menus, magazine ads, product packaging, and other writing for public consumption, where the use of quotation marks borders on the incomprehensible. It has actually become difficult to find a menu that doesn’t have masses of inappropriate quotation mark usage—though generally, the fancier the restaurant and the higher the price tag, the crazier the usage of quotation marks. What is one to make of a menu that lists something like this: “Fresh” Vegetables in “Butter” Sauce “French” style. Or one might come across a packaged food that claims to contain “real” cheese. So what are they really using, if it’s not real? Or who is claiming it’s cheese?

On the whole, only words being quoted get quotation marks. However, there are a few other places they can be used and not be goofy. Among the few other correct uses of quotation marks is when you are defining a word, because you are in essence showing what the word says. For example: extol means “praise highly.”

Apostrophes are suffering a similarly misguided fate. I think most of us have seen the school buses with the signs that say “Driver’s Wanted”? I think most editors will recognize right away that the sign has made “driver” possessive, while it meant to make it plural. However, obviously someone doesn’t get it—and this is not the only way one can go wrong with apostrophes.

The apostrophe has two basic uses: making things possessive and showing where things have been left out.

I think most people get the idea about ‘s to make a noun (but never a pronoun) possessive. Singular nouns get ‘s: the teacher’s, the dog’s, James’s, Mr. Jones’s. Note that a singular noun ending in “s” still gets an ‘s. A plural noun that does not end in an s also gets an ‘s: women’s, children’s, geese’s. Plurals that end with an “s” just get the apostrophe: girls’, footballs’, churches’. About the only exceptions are some ancient names: Isis’, Moses’, Jesus’. These have traditionally been made possessive without the additional “s.”

The only exceptions to the rule about never using an apostrophe for a plural is when single letters are made plural that might look like words without an apostrophe. So if you’re talking about X, the plural is Xs, but if you’re talking about A or I, you’d put A’s or I’s, because As and Is are words, and would therefore be confusing.

Pronouns are never made possessive by means of an apostrophe. You just add the “s”: hers, ours, yours, its. If it’s a pronoun and there is an apostrophe, it’s a contraction.

As for replacing things that are left out, again, I think a lot of folks get the general concept, but there is one recurring error that makes it clear that the concept is a bit vague for some, and that is the reduction of and to n. It’s ‘n’—not ‘n or n’. The apostrophe replaces what is missing, and with and, since both the a and d are gone, you need an apostrophe on both ends.

For dates, if you’re leaving off the century, an apostrophe is used: ’01 or the ‘90s. With ‘tis, the initial i of “it is” is replaces, while in it’s, it’s the central i. (And remember —no pronoun is made possessive with an apostrophe, so its is the possessive, and it’s is the contraction of it is.) An apostrophe can represent more than one missing character— nat’l for national, for example.

An important application of using apostrophes to notify readers of missing characters is in dialogue. It is virtually impossible to reproduce colloquial speech without a solid understanding of where the apostrophes go. So this isn’t just information for newspaper reporters or sign painters.

So watch those marks. The way you use them may be saying more than you think they are.

BIO: Contributor Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer, food historian, and traveler. She loves history, geography, culture, literature, and language—and the place where all of these intersect. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative, Waltzing Australia, and keeps two blogs, http://www.theworldsfare.org and http://www.waltzingaustralia.com.

About Writing Deadlines

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

While I could sum this up in one simple piece of advice (don’t miss a deadline–ever!), I’m not here to talk about if you should or should not make your deadlines as a writer. I’m talking about timing here…

Sometimes life hands you lemonade. You’ll get five great clients at once. They are all well-paying gigs and the work is more than you’ve had in six months. So what’s the problem?

They all want their work done at the same time.

This happens more often than you might think. Deadline drama is something that every freelancer dreads–but it’s also part of the game. If you can’t avoid this issue, then you simply must cope with it. How you do that depends on your comfort zone with tackling the work. Here are some choices:

  • Do one project at a time until they are all done. Depending on the deadline date(s), this may or may not be feasible. Still, some people work best this way, completing one task at a time…even if they have to work extra hours.
  • Stagger the workload. Say you have five projects. Do a day for each during the week, and clean up loose ends on the weekend. This way there is variety, yet you are still keeping everything in motion.
  • Load the weekend. Not an ideal plan, but if need be you can tackle a chunk of each on the weekend days. Sometimes you just have to suck it up.
  • Draft, proof, polish. In this method you will just blurt out all the rough drafts first. Then, proofread each for obvious errors, such as spelling or usage problems and formatting. Then, polish. This way you have everything done, and you can really work on making it shine if you have time left over. If not, well, at least it’s all done.

How do you handle multiple deadlines? Got any tips to share?

Individual Work Habits

by Catherine L. Tully

Catherine L. TullyEach one of us is different, therefore it would make sense that every one of us has their own unique habits when it comes to writing. Now I’m not talking about how you prefer to construct a sentence or what your favorite catch phrase is–I’m talking about work habits.

Work habits are just as tailored to the individual’s taste as writing habits are. For example, most writers have a beverage of choice that they sip on throughout the day–or turn to for a little extra pep. I’ m a La Croix (sparkling water w/ a little flavor) gal, and sometimes I’ll do a coffee too.

Where you work is also one of those “work habit” things. I spend a lot of time writing on the leather couch with my pup at my side. Occasionally I will sit at my desk, and if it’s really nice out–I’ll go to the park for a while, just to get some fresh air. I admit to a fondness for working at Panera, and a general dislike for working at the library.

But that’s me.

What else? How about how long you like to work? I do best in long clumps of time with big chunks off in-between. For example, I’ll work for 4 hours straight, then do something else for 2 or 3. This continues over the weekend as well.

Interviews will bring other work habits to light. I still use a pen and paper for mine (unless I conduct them via e-mail), and although I’d love to put the person on speakerphone, it seems to slow me down.

Others? When I get blocked, physical exercise seems to push the ideas through, and when I’m tired, I simply have to nap–or I’ll fall asleep at the keys.

My techniques, I guarantee, won’t work for everyone. I’m sure there are writers out there who can slam a Red Bull and wake up–or that take a nap and wake up with all kinds of fresh ideas. We’re all different.

What do your work habits consist of? Anything stand out as quirky or unusual? We’d love to hear from you!

Continental Confusion

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

Most good writers know that writing is a bit livelier if they use a variety of words, rather than just repeating the same word over and over. This is probably truest for verbs, but also applies to nouns. For example, Windy City or Big Apple might stand in for Chicago or New York. However this substituting really only works when the substitute truly parallels that which is being replaced. Problems arise when a term, name, or phrase is not completely understood.

The situation where I see this most commonly occur is in discussions of Latin America. I find that a lot of writers, and probably most of the general public, are usually a little vague on definitions when talking or writing about Latin America.

As both an editor and a general reader, I’ve seen numerous instances where the term Latin America is used interchangeably with South America. However, they’re not interchangeable. Not all of South America is Latin America, and Latin America is considerably larger than just South America.

Broadly defined, Latin America is those parts of the North and South American continents where they speak a Latin-based language. Again, that brings in another element of potential confusion. It’s not just Spanish, but also includes Portuguese and French. So one should not use “Spanish-speaking countries” in lieu of “Latin America,” because Portuguese (official language of Brazil) and French are part of the mix.

Latin America includes Mexico, which is a substantial part of North America. It also includes parts of the Caribbean, but certainly not all of it: for example, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti are part of Latin America, but English-speaking Jamaica, Nassau, or Barbados are not.

Latin America also includes most of Central America, which is not actually a separate entity; it’s just the tail end of North America. Belize, however, though it’s part of Central America, is not part of Latin America. It’s part of the British Commonwealth.

Most of South America is Latin America, but don’t use Latin America to mean South America, and don’t assume all of South America is part of Latin America. The official language of Suriname is Dutch. In Guyana, the population is of East Indian, African, Amerindian, and mixed origin, and they speak English, Guyanese Creole, or Amerindian languages. So neither is part of Latin America. French Guiana is a department of France. Like Haiti, they speak French, so they are part of Latin America, but not Hispanic America.

Actually, Hispanic is occasionally another part of the confusion. It doesn’t just mean Spanish, it means Spanish and Portuguese people, speech, and culture. So, again, “Spanish-speaking countries” would not be a good substitute for Latin America.

So when writing, regardless of the outlet, make sure you use the term Latin America correctly. It is not Spanish America. It is not South America. Lots of folks are unclear on this, but as writers, we can help clear up the confusion.

BIO: Contributor Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer, food historian, and traveler. She loves history, geography, culture, literature, and language—and the place where all of these intersect. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative, Waltzing Australia, and keeps two blogs, http://www.theworldsfare.org and http://www.waltzingaustralia.com.

Words and Reason: Eating Our Words

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

The importance of food is in many ways reflected in our language. In fact, food permeates our conversation in ways we don’t usually contemplate.

Salt is a good example. We speak of people not worth their salt, take things with a grain of salt, or say someone is the salt of the earth. We may not be thinking of food when we say these things, but we at least recognize the word salt. What about your salary? The word salary is anchored in the Latin salarium, which was the salt ration given to Roman soldiers. It comes from salis, which means “salt.” Actually, salad is related, being anchored in the Latin for “salted vegetables.”

Many of these phrases and words reflect the value that salt has had, both historically and still in some countries today. Salt is life in hot, dry lands. It has been money during much of history. Both “worth their salt” and “salt of the earth” reflect this idea of value. Taking things with a grain of salt comes from the Roman believe that salt was an antidote to poison.

Salt is not the only consumable used as currency. If you are discussing things pecuniary, you may think you’re speaking of money, but it is anchored in a time when cattle were a primary way of calculating wealth. Pecus was the Latin word for cattle.

Swine have given us a wide range of phrases, names, and words, both directly and indirectly. One can eat like a pig, bring home the bacon, or live high on the hog. (While the first two may be obvious, “high on the hog” refers to where the most tender and costly cuts of meat are found.)

Less obvious is Wall Street—but then, that’s one of the indirect connections. In the 1600s, semi-wild pigs (pigs introduced to the New World by colonists, but then allowed to run free) were wreaking havoc in the grain fields and gardens of colonial New York. So a long wall was built on the northern edge of the colony on Manhattan Island, to control the roaming herds. The road that ran along the inside of the wall became, of course, Wall Street.

One food that became part of the language, but later fell out of use, helps explain a popular American song: macaroni. In the 1700s, a group of well-traveled young Englishmen became known as macaronis. These young men were very impressed with themselves, adopting French and Italian styles, eating exotic foods they discovered on the continent, such as macaroni, a dish with which they were sufficiently delighted to think it would be a good name for their club. These men were not merely travelers; they were fops—over-dressed and self-impressed. However, they were still admired by some as being terribly fashionable. Therefore, when the British wished to mock the more rough-hewn American colonials, they sang of a rustic dandy who stuck a feather in his cap and thought that made him one of the macaronis. While the song was originally derisive, the Americans adopted it and sang it until the British couldn’t stand it any more.

BIO: Contributor Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer, food historian, and traveler. She loves history, geography, culture, literature, and language—and the place where all of these intersect. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative, Waltzing Australia, and keeps two blogs, http://www.theworldsfare.org and http://www.waltzingaustralia.com.

A Closer Look: The Publishing Pros

At the end of last year I was reaching out to potential advertisers for Freelance-Zone.com and one of the groups I came across was The Publishing Pros (formerly RMPPG). When I checked the group out as we were discussing ad space on the site, I thought readers might be interested in learning more about them–they are an active, well-established group that I think is a great resource for the freelance writing community–and a valued advertiser on Freelance-Zone.com.

Here’s a closer look.                  – Catherine

Web-ad-for-Freelance-Zone1. How did The Publishing Pros (RMPPG) get started?

Founded in 1991 to promote and enhance the professional skills of its members, the organization increases dialogue among colleagues and clients through meetings and social events and fosters effective, ethical business practices. Its members are editors, indexers, proofreaders, designers, writers, researchers, and others who offer a range of skills and specialties.

2. Who makes up the organization?

The Publishing Pros is composed of a professional network of publishing specialists, with most of our members based in the Rocky Mountain region, including experienced writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, graphic designers, desktop publishing experts, researchers, fact-checkers, trainers, writing coaches, translators, and other publishing specialists.

3. Who should consider becoming a member of the group?

If you’re an experienced editor, proofreader, graphic designer, desktop publishing expert, indexer, writer, fact-checker, writing or editing coach, or other publishing professional, we invite you to join The Publishing Pros (RMPPG). We offer some great networking opportunities; further, when prospective clients contact the organization looking for a specialist we post their requests on our active ListServ.

4. What services are offered by The Publishing Pros?

Members of The Publishing Pros (RMPPG) serve a variety of clients in publishing, business, research, education and academic institutions, and nonprofit and governmental organizations. Prospective clients can access the services of our members by easily searching the website directory for a particular subject area and/or publishing service needed. Clients can also arrange for The Publishing Pros to post job requests on our ListServ. Members can develop the look, sound, and feel of any print or electronic/online publication or project, including manuscript editing, copywriting, website development, novel critiquing and evaluation, book design and typesetting, e-publication conversion, indexing, logo and brand development, and much more. With the multi-varied talents of The Publishing Pros membership, clients can tap into one of the country’s greatest networks of freelance publishing experts.

5. What is unique about The Publishing Pros?

We know of no other site that contains members whose expertise ranges through all areas of publication, from cover to index. Many of our members have deep roots in Rocky Mountain publishing and can be a great resource for newer members who are learning the trade. Our newly revamped website gives members a chance to list their specialties on the directory, enabling potential clients to find them, and clients can post to our site when they have a position to fill or a job to be accomplished.

For more information on membership or services visit The Publishing Pros.