Persuade other people to carry out their tasks in a way that makes your working life easier and you’ll raise your rating as a subeditor, says Humphrey Evans.

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Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and was for a long time one of the teachers on the National Union of Journalists' Getting Started as a Freelance course.
 His Kindle ebook  Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays offers numerous tips on how to handle the world of freelance journalism. Way to Go devotes itself specifically to travel writing.


If you're starting out in subediting or copyediting, another of his Kindle ebooks,
Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Subcould be the one for you. The material in Subedit comes from courses in subediting and writing that he has taught over the years.


Most of the pieces on subediting featured on this website were written for the Chief Sub column in the NUJ's Journalist magazine and are collected, if you want the convenience, in two Kindle ebooks, Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors and More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors.


If you enjoy reading the pieces here, do please think about buying one (or more) of my Kindle titles. 

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Here, by way of digression, is a small item from Humphrey Evans's Kindle ebook Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts, a foretaste, if you like.


Badass in Paddington
A meal at the Frontline restaurant in London's Paddington brought us up against a Picpoul de Pinet, a fresh white wine from a Languedoc vineyard once owned by the Baron de Badassière, rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Louis XV. Not, presumably, with a name like that, someone to cross. When I commented to the waitress that I was intrigued by the name she told me that she was French and it intrigued her, too, although I imagine for different reasons. I ordered a pint of Adnams lager for myself, together with a glass of ice cubes - I like adding ice cubes to the lager to keep it cold. I don't think she'd seen that before but, just as I ran out of ice cubes, she re-appeared unbidden with another glassful. That is one of the wonders of being waited on by someone from France - they really keep an eye out for things that will make your meal go well.

Off with his head - or hers
Jellybaby manufacturers report that nine out of 10 jellybaby eaters (fetophages?) begin by biting off the head. For calculating types, a typical jellybaby clocks in at 22kcal, equivalent to one quarter of a small glass of red wine.

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All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.


Topics on this page:

Subedit: get them on your side

Recognise your need to know

When copyright goes wrong

Bad pixies need fairy dust

Read the right words 

Abbreviate! Abbreviate!

Connect and control

Modes of address

English usage studies

 

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Get them on your side

Subs work best in congenial surroundings. Sometimes this just means making sure you have a suitable chair, a well-set-up computer system and freshly squeezed orange juice to hand. Less obviously, it involves persuading people whose work affects yours to do it in the most appropriate fashion.


Talk to your reporters. Talk to your writers (or at least send them emails). Talk to your commissioning editors. Let them know what you need in order to help you present their work in the best possible way.


Ask the reporters to do all the things they should be doing anyway - like typing (correct) in brackets like this after esoteric names whose spelling they may have gone to some lengths to establish. You can even ask them to pass through any printed material they've latched on to at a press launch so you can double-check things that have yet to make it into reference books and style guides.


Tell your writers that if they get the piece in on time, within striking distance of the right length and covering all the things they were asked to cover in the brief, there's a much greater chance that they'll like what they see appearing in the publication.


Small things help. Ask them to put the subject of the article in any computer filename or email heading. Remember those one-word catchlines? They had a use. Some writers casually submit work headed "Article for X". That's fine for them as individuals, but less satisfactory when you are processing dozens of articles for X.


You can put together a sheet of "Guidance for Writers" which will save you saying the same thing over and over again. Many of your contributors will be quite eager to comply with what you tell them.


Ask your commissioning editors to ask for everything that makes your life easier. If feature articles in your publication carry a 20-word contributor's biography, get the writers to write them themselves as part of the commission, rather than scrabbling through reference books at the end of the process.


You can even influence your editor more than you might think. You'll never beat the hierarchy with a blank contradiction along the lines of "My way is the right way." But you can shift attitudes by presenting yourself as the readers' representative. Asking "What will the readers make of this?" can cause even the most bull-headed editor to rethink.


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n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


Some bits of London are there to be seen, even if little known. Others are more akin to experiences, shared only in the telling. Humphrey Evans offers a guide to a number of aspects of London that may help you see it in a different light.
The 14 short pieces in Humphrey Evans's Kindle ebook London: 14 Random Observations, and the 14 more in More London, could while away a journey or pass a few unobligated moments.
 


All material on this website is 
copyright © Humphrey Evans.


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials. If you're starting out in subediting or copyediting, this could be the one for you. 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn From the World of Work 
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers
Odd Jobs: 15 Involvements with a Range of Occupations
Extra Odd Jobs: 19 More Insights into Unusual Occupations
Britain: 16 Journeyings, Encounters, Experiences

Find out more at Humphrey's Kindle list

 

Product Details  If you want to use a photograph taken with a subeditor's sensibilities, go to www.alamy.com  and put prettygoodpics into the search box. To go straight to this one, put BE30YW into the search box. You're looking at a rural scene near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire taken so long ago that those might just be elm trees in magnificent silhouette.

 

Recognise your need to know

People make mistakes when writing. The only way for subs to catch these is to have a wide awareness of things that can be known, says Humphrey Evans.

 


One reviewer praising the film No Country for Old Men said that it boasted "three leading male performances with all the spectacular virility of Texan steers". Unfortunately for him, steers denote male oxen that have had their testicles removed - where do you think prairie oysters come from? Big and beefy they may be; virile, hardly.


A sub with the kind of general knowledge that encompasses cattle-related jargon could have saved that reviewer from himself.


Staying with films, a commentator lambasting the quality of the latest Baftas entries assured us that "you only have to watch a DVD of Friday Night, Saturday Morning to see gritty British brilliance at its best". A percipient reader in next week's edition wondered if that was the prequel to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning featuring grittily brilliant Albert Finney. Again, an attentive sub could have made a difference.


Actually you have to watch the readers too. Let alone the possibility that libel is lurking in their comments, they can make errors of their own. Going back to No Country for Old Men, one reader-reviewer told us that the central character "takes the money and runs but unleashes hell in the form of murderous pageboy Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem)". Pageboy? What he's obviously trying to get at is a reference to the hair-do. So subeditors need to know about both films and haircuts.


And finally you have to watch yourself. The London Evening Standard ran a photo of Kylie Minogue duetting with Sir Paul McCartney. The sub-written caption read: "Minogue accompanies Sir Paul McCartney as he plays a banjo." A banjo? Billy Connolly plays a banjo. The thing in the picture is a mandolin, which has totally other connotations. Captain Corelli's Banjo would have been a very different book.


You even have to brush up your dirty words. Deep in the recesses of English Literature, Robert Browning ran a short riff into his poem Pippa Passes: "Owls and bats / Cowls and twats / Monks and nuns." He seems to have thought the t-word described some kind of nunly headgear. Generations of embarrassed English teachers would have been happier if some outspoken sub had called him to account: "You wimple."


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub
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When copyright goes wrong

Copyright infringement can get a publication into trouble. Make sure you know what to look for to avoid wrongly exploiting material, says Humphrey Evans.

 


Subs need to keep an eye out for the kind of thing that can land their editor in jail or cost their publication serious money. Contempt of court and libel are the obvious dangers, but copyright infringement can be a hidden killer.


Watch out for the sociologist who starts a piece about modern mores with a couple of lines by some copyright conscious singer-songwriter. Or the feature writer who thinks an extensive selection from D H Lawrence will enliven an article on emotional relations. Or, most problematical, the reporter under pressure who lifts wholesale from the internet and other publications without acknowledgement.


There is a provision in copyright law called "fair dealing", which allows reasonable quotation from a copyrighted work to illustrate or make a point, and there is plenty you can do with such material without running into trouble. However, Carla Wilson, copyright specialist with the NUJ's solicitors, Thompsons, warns: "The only firm rules on fair dealing and copyright are that there are no firm rules. It's a matter of degree - you can't just do it on a fixed number of words being safe. You have to judge what's allowable based on what's in front of you."


As a sub, you can let through blatant lifts of material in news reports so long as a full attribution is given - although whether the editor will be happy to have it revealed that the reporting is basically coming from another publication is another matter. You can allow through quoted chunks in reviews and criticism, because the Copyright Act allows it. But be aware that those same chunks quoted in a feature following up the review might give problems.


Once you're away from news reporting and reviews, the test is whether the quoted material forms a substantial part of the original - and a couple of lines from a pop song could easily be all that is substantial about it.


As a sub, you may not be able to just cross things out. But, as with contempt of court and libel, you do need to make sure the chief sub or editor is aware of a potential copyright infringement. Can anyone track down the rights holder and clear permission? Will the editor take the risk of publishing while hoping that no one with the clout to sue will actually notice? Or is the editor going to tell you to delete the lot of it?


Maybe the decision isn't yours, but the responsibility for initiating the process that leads to a decision is.

 


n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception. Get in touch with him at topwrite@hotmail.com

 



All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub adds extra materials 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts

Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn From The World Of Work

Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers

Find out more at Humphrey's Kindle list


 

Bad Pixies need fairy dust

Headlines and trails written for websites need to tell the readers exactly what is going on, says Humphrey Evans.

 


Headlines on websites have to work fast. One commentator suggests you have just two hot words at the beginning of a headline which are all that readers take in when scanning for information that interests them.


Think of this as a useful discipline for headline writers of all kinds: stick two info-laden words right up front so readers know what's going on.


Find out more at www.useit.com where the commentator and researcher Jakob Nielsen outlines his findings on website usability.


Pixies are what the Guardian website calls its picture trails or come-ons, presumably because they're little pics. They're important in getting readers to click through to the stories, something significant for everybody working on websites.


Every pixie has two headlines, you could call them decks, of a single line each that can have a maximum of 16 characters, including spaces.


Line 1, which they refer to as the trail strap, sets the general topic. Line 2, the link text, conveys something more specific.


A roll-over caption, which shows up only when the cursor hovers over the picture, can run to 55 characters or so and wavers between adding extra headline-style information and acting as a standfirst.


One typical pixie features a photo of Johnny Depp in full Pirates of the Caribbean mode under the double headline Piracy/Zut Alors! Unrevealingly elusive, n'est-ce pas?


The roll-over text reads: "Sarkozy backs new policy to tackle French downloaders". This shows what is wrong with the headlines - no mention of computers, no direct reference to France.


"Piracy" and "Zut alors!" do now make some sort of sense to us because we know what the story is about. But that is the wrong way round.


People writing headlines, and particularly people writing headlines for websites, must continually remind themselves that potential readers have absolutely no idea of what is about to hit them. The subject should be laid out for them, rather than alluded to. In this case you could think about "Internet piracy" and "France cracks down".


Remember, too, that print usually provides a lot of context. This article in the print version of the Guardian, for example, would have been in the Technology section, labelling it as relevant to computer buffs. Material on websites has to stand alone.


Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn from the World of Work
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n Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 

All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans. 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors.
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub adds extra materials 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts

Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn From The World Of Work

Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers

Find out more at Humphrey's Kindle list

 

 

Read the right words

Everyone who works with words needs to get used to using the spellchecker, but don't assume you can rely on it. Check every word yourself, says Humphrey Evans.

 


My life is so sad that I am aware that the label on the back of a bottle of JHB bitter ale describes the three and a half foot tall Sir Jeffrey Hudson, after whom the beer is named, as an "adventurer, courtier and dualist".



The same slip appears in the magazine Showreel, in an article about Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai: "Other techniques include slow motion to add emphasis to the expert killing blow that one samurai inflicts on another during a dual."


Does it matter? We all know what is meant. But it does matter, because it looks slipshod to those readers who spell well and can really bamboozle the 20 per cent or so who have difficulty with letters.


If you can't guess at duellist and duel - and poor spellers can't - you're thrown back to looking at the dictionary. A keen reader with English as a second language backed up by a reasonably extensive dictionary is quite likely to end up believing that Sir Jeffrey held to the doctrine that mind and matter exist as independent entities, a state perhaps related to the intake of beer but hardly conveying the cut and thrust of swordplay.


The point is that these kinds of differences don't register with computerised spell checkers. You have to pick them out by eye and know enough about the background of words to determine what should actually appear.


The Independent on Sunday didn't mean to print a sentence about politicians and their policies not coming to the voters roar, an altogether different concept to the intended raw. Nor did the Guardian want to identify Huw Thomas as the compare of the world premiere of Frank Zappa's musical Thing-Fish.


There's a difference between the similar sounding acolyte and aconite that requires a knowledge of their meaning if you're going to sort them out when a writer has mixed them up. There's a difference between galleons and galleys which made nonsense of one writer's recommendation of a suitably relevant punishment for drunken, holidaying louts arrested on Greek islands.


So the message must be: run the spell checker, but make sure you're reading the stuff as well. Unless, of course, you're happy to connive in such delights as that memorable small ad in the Yorkshire Post where a successful businessman, a widower, aged 44, sought an affectionate, understanding female to shave the enjoyable things in life.


I sent a copy of this piece to the firm behind JHB, in a spirit of goodwill towards brewers and noticed later that they had changed the dualist spelling, to duelist, which is something, although I think of this as the American spelling; British English prefers the double l of duellist.

 


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub
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Abbreviate! Abbreviate!

Abbreviations do a useful job so long as you keep them under control. So be aware of what you can do when things turn acronymious, says Humphrey Evans.

 


Abbreviations satisfy our urge for speed and brevity: in Britain, we all say TUC and BBC and even NUJ. But subs need to think about what the readers will recognise. So TUC and BBC are fine for British publications but require annotation for something international, while NUJ ought to go in full just about everywhere except the Journalist.


Just to spell it out, these are the Trades Union Congress, the British public service broadcaster and the National Union of Journalists for which this article was written.


Introduce abbreviations your readers may not yet be aware of so as to cut down repetitions of a longish phrase. Assisted reproductive technology, for instance, can become ART in later mentions. Putting it in brackets after the first, full out, appearance of the phrase helps readers spot what is going on. Interestingly, quite a few publications seem to have decided that IVF can appear without explanation.


I like the fact that abbreviations, like jargon, take you into other people's worlds. Nursing Times, for instance, will happily use D&V: nurses know all about diarrhoea and vomiting.


Don't, however, always feel bound to inflict upon your readers abbreviations used by practitioners. There's a US Congress subcommittee with an abbreviated title that is 32 capital letters long; it's better referred to as the print and paper procurement committee. Nasdaq becomes the hi-tech stocks exchange rather than whatever the letters actually stand for.


Some abbreviations do, fortuitously, encapsulate the message, as with MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or USAid, the US Agency for International Development, although there are many out there that seem more tortured.


Where they turn into pronounceable words, or acronyms, treat them as such. No one even thinks of laser and radar as acronyms. If they are titles, give them initial capital letters, as with Nato and Unicef - but check if your style guide is still wanting UNICEF capped up throughout.


Do look out for interesting ones, as well. Researchers sometimes invent abbreviations just to get a handle on what might be happening out there - and these could be worth an article in themselves. A couple around at the moment are ORI, obsessive relational intrusion, which lies somewhere between stalking and social incompetence, and FAF, fresh air factor, which is held to make the difference between sheets hung out on a clothes line and tumble dried.

 


Connect and control

Put a little dash in your copy by spotting when hyphens are a good idea to connect words together and when it might be better to leave them out, says Humphrey Evans.

 

Potatoes roasted in goose fat are about as tasty as they get and should be described like that. Don't get tempted by the apparently more succinct goose fat-roasted potatoes (which I once came across in a cookery piece) as, from the readers' point of view, the goose doesn't link with the fat leaving the hyphen to connect a couple of incomplete segments rather than establishing a whole.


Goose-fat-roasted potatoes is hardly better as readers encounter far too many problems disentangling the hyphens while goose fat roasted potatoes leaves them still constructing the concept long after they have finished reading the words. You might get away with it in speech, because you've got intonations and micro-pauses to play with. Forget about it in print.


What you're looking at is the realisation that hyphens can't rescue an over-ambitious attempt to shoehorn meaning into an assemblage of words. Get the words right first, and then use hyphens to help the readers see as quickly as possible which words belong with which.


I'd happily put a hyphen in well-tended garden; I'd accept a reference to a retired army major and his good-works-obsessed wife; and it amuses me from time to time to play with building up a really lengthy string of hyphenations that produces, almost effortlessly, a new super-concept.


What bothers me is situations where hyphens interfere with understanding.


My own particular bête noire is people writing New York-based writer. Our eyes jump along the line as we read - the technical term, if you want to know it, being saccades. That hyphen seems to mark a landing point for the next jump so our eyes see York-based almost before we have registered New. As a result, I'm inclined to leave the hyphen out.


And then, of course, there is the need, as any sub soon realises, to keep an eye on what the H&J program is up to. You don't want Michael Foot turning into a leg- end, or the upsetting the- rapist or hor- semen, or even the frivolity of garden statuary appearing as fig- urine.


Lastly, subeditors should perhaps reject the hyphen that dictionaries sometimes put in the title. Treat it as a back formation from the hyphenless activity of subbing or subediting rather than as emphasising the underling status implied by sub-. Or think of it as being a stand-in for the editor, a substitute.


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Modes of address

Blueblood social circles may appear unfamiliar territory, but, nonetheless, subs need to know the conventions, says Humphrey Evans.

 

A friend's house clearance turned up a 1931 dictionary, Daily Herald edition, which among the several featured separate sections included one on "Correct Ceremonious Address" based on information furnished through the Office of Garter King of Arms.


Here is a swift guide to ambassadors (His Excellency), the daughters of dukes (the title of Lady is prefixed to her Christian name), Lord Mayors (the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor), Marquesses (the formal style of Marquess is "Most Noble and Potent Prince"): everything, in fact, that Daily Herald readers might have needed in going about their daily lives. Marvellous and totally irrelevant stuff, you might think, and yet, as a sub, you might have to think again.


When the Independent started up, its antipathy to the acres of reportage devoted to the doings of the Royal Family and the offspring of the most minor of minor aristocracy was reflected in the shortness of its style guide entry on such matters.


The Queen is the Queen it said, laying down that the "the" must be used even in headlines. It could usefully have added that she is "Her Majesty" and not "Her Royal Highness", which is what sometimes slips through and has to be apologised for, if only to prevent the editor being carted off to the Tower. (The Telegraph went into meltdown when it managed to use HRH in a headline on the front page.) A bit more along these lines, saying you could look things up in Debrett's Correct Form, and that was about that.


Within a matter of weeks, however, the Independent had to bring out a four-page supplement, A Short Guide to the Peerage, because it had found how inextricably woven into the fabric of reportable society this kind of thing remained.


At first mention of a peer, perhaps performing some political function, it laid down, give the full title as listed in Vacher's Parliamentary Companion. Some include a place name, which should be given, others do not.


Life peers, it pointed out, tend to be better known by the name under which they operated before acquiring their title, but it advised against the formulation "Lord Such-and-such, formerly So-and-so" on the grounds that the peer's name still is So-and-so. Better, it thought, was something more informative, along the lines of "Lord Such-and-such, who, as So-and-so, did this and that". Some papers use the concertinaed form Lord (So-and-so) Such-and-such to get everything in.


Going back to the Daily Herald dictionary, however, it did provide definitions for lickspittle and flummery.

 


n
Humphrey Evans teaches subediting
and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception. Get in touch with him at topwrite@hotmail.com 

 

All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans. 

Humphrey Evans has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors.
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers

Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts

Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels

Find out more at Humphrey's Kindle list

If you want to look through a list of books about freelancing as a journalist go to: www.redconceptual.com/freelance/it?page=1 


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Entering into holy orders

Church-goers quite possibly feel at ease with the variety of canonical designations but subs need a bit of guidance, says Humphrey Evans.

 

Clergy come in all shapes and sizes and in a wild mix of denominations and hierarchies that means it is always a good idea to establish individually how each one wants to be referred to. However, there are some general rules.


In the Church of England, the bulk of the clergy are referred to as the Rev, for reverend. This style must always be used with the person's Christian name and surname, and with the "the". So, someone might appear as the Rev So-and-So Whatever, but not as the Rev Whatever and never, ever as Rev Whatever.


This matters. The Times style guide, which is on the web at www.timesonline.co.uk, says that it would be among the worst solecisms for The Times to commit. Indeed, one casual sub, who did allow a missing "the" to go through, found herself being ushered from the building at the end of her shift with the intimation that her name would not be re-appearing on the rota. Let alone the style guide, the then editor, she learned, was the son of a clergyman.


Higher offices within the church attract more orotund designations. An archbishop is the Most Rev; a bishop, the Right Rev; an archdeacon, the Ven (for venerable); a cathedral dean, the Very Rev (rural deans are just revs).


Sister churches within the Anglican communion include the Church in Wales (note that "in"), the Church of Ireland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the US Episcopal Church which has elected (not appointed) a woman as its presiding bishop, equivalent to an archbishop but still designated Right (or Rt) Rev.


Note that the Queen should not be referred to as the head of the Church of England, but she is its Supreme Governor.


For the Roman Catholic Church, use Roman Catholic at first mention in a British setting, but Catholic is more than enough in most overseas contexts. An archbishop is the Most Rev; a bishop, the Right Rev. Parish priests are Father Whatever, rather than the Rev - many publications reject the abbreviation Fr as too ugly. Use the titles of Cardinal and Monsignor (abbreviated to Mgr) where appropriate.


If you want to track it down, there is an interesting reference book out there - How to be a perfect stranger: A guide to etiquette in other people's religious ceremonies edited by Arthur Magida and Stuart Matlias.

 


 

English usage studies

So you've become comfortable with commas as a result of following the advice in Lynne Truss's gently amusing mega-seller Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Humphrey Evans suggests some further reading.

 


A good place to start any exploration of English usage is David Crystal's Rediscover Grammar. David Crystal has been both a professor of linguistics and a freelance writer so knows how to explain the various functions of nouns and verbs, concord and phrase structures. He can even play with oddities such as adrift, ablaze and aware. They're not quite adjectives and they're not quite adverbs: all you can say is that they begin with the letter a. David Crystal has brought out a companion volume, Making Sense of Grammar, which is well worth looking at, too.


Wynford Hicks, with English for Journalists, moves over into writing, with advice on style and handling reported speech as well as grammar and spelling. A review quoted on the back cover sums up the appeal: It's short. It's accessible. It's cheap. And it tells you what you want to know.


Essential English, by newly knighted Harold Evans, much-praised editor of The Sunday Times, started life as Newsman's English, which shows how American oriented he was even before going to the States and how unisex British journalistic English has become in the meantime. Journalistic English does aim to be clear and straightforward which makes his advice generally useful.


Bill Bryson is Bill Bryson, but he was once a subeditor on The Independent and that experience shows up in Troublesome Words. He's done such a good job of looking through the older reference books that you can almost put to one side Fowler's, as it tends to be known, and Gowers' Plain Words. In setting a tone that matches his own writing, he gives you a rule for when to use like and when as, then allows you to suspend it if you wish.


Even more troublesome words show up in The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, ODWE, as it gets called. If you want to know the original definition of enormity, or that sea lion is two words, or that the Prussian Imperial family was known as the House of Hohenzollern, this is the book for you. The Economist Style Guide helps out with things like names of countries and political leaders, as with their version of Colonel Qaddafi - or should that be Gadaffi, or Gadafy, or even, as The Times English Style Guide once tried to suggest, Gadhdhafi.


Then there is a book that puts all this within one framework, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language by, once again, David Crystal. For some reason I like knowing that cucumber is one of the oldest words in the English language and I like being able to read entries such as The Structure of the Lexicon and Varieties of Discourse.


On top of that, in a feat of publishing confusion, there are two books identically titled The State of the Language, both edited by Leonard Michaels and Christopher Ricks, both with completely different content and tellable apart only by the fact that one comes in a yellow jacket and the other in red. But the content is just wonderful, article after article on things like The Voices of Business, or Radio Talk, or The Language of Sisterhood (that one contributed by Angela Carter), or Clichés (that one by Christopher Ricks himself).


I'd complete this library, though, with Stylistics by G W Turner. George Turner investigates matters such as tone and rhythm and register as well as vocabulary, thus teasing apart the different kinds of style that allowed Punch to amuse us with its reworking of Wordsworth - O cuckoo, shall I call thee bird / Or but a wandering voice? / State the alternative preferred; / Give reasons for your choice.

 
Product Details


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Humphrey Evans teaches subediting
and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.

 


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 

 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors.
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors

 


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels.
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers



Find out more at 
Humphrey's Kindle list