Tuesday, December 18, 2007


A friend asked about how to punctuate with quotations, and since I'm pretty happy with the examples I came up with, I'm sharing them here. As always, comments and corrections are welcome. Also, as always, the OWL at Purdue has done it first and better.

We use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations—things other people (who may be published, real, historical, or imaginary) have said. In North America, we use double quotation marks to enclose quotations or speech:

"I know I'm doing a few things wrong," wrote the original poster.
Lady Winterspoon began her letter. "Dear Mr. Rumpole," she wrote. She stared at the paper. She sharpened her pen. "I hope this finds you well." In novels, heroines separated from their suitors always filled sheets of paper. She wondered how they did it.
"Of course," said Lady Winterspoon to herself, "In novels, the heroine herself is the creation of a gifted author. Of course she can write pages and pages."

We don't enclose indirect quotations—paraphrases often introduced by that—in quotation marks:
The original poster wrote that he knew he was doing a few things wrong.

Lady Winterspoon remarked to herself that the heroines of novels were often the creations of a gifted author, so it stood to reason that they would be able to fill pages, writing to their suitors.

Enclose all punctuation that belongs with the quoted material. If the quote ends with a period, comma, question mark, exclamation mark, or semi-colon, these marks go inside the quotes.
"Blast!" said Lord Vrul, "Does anyone have a spare battery?"

His subordinates shook their cephalod appendages, until the most junior member of his squad extended a pseudopod.

"Mine has a charge, your Worship," he said.

If the quotation begins mid-sentence, then you don't need to use a capital letter:
Mr. Rumpole had said that he would be gone "months, perhaps years, on a mission so secret" that he should not have even mentioned it to her.

The principle that the quotation marks enclose original the words and punctuation of the speaker or writer being quoted is pretty straightforward. Writers (like me) can get muddled when quotes are interrupted.

When the quoted sentence is interrupted, close the quotes around the interruption, but do not begin the second part with a capital letter:

"I know," continued Lady Winterspoon, "that you will not receive this letter for weeks, or perhaps even months, but I hope that, having received it, you will know that I hold you in my thoughts and heart." She stopped, again. She certainly hoped she would hold Mr. Rumpole faithfully in her heart, but she did not know when she would next see him. Much might happen in a young lady's year, especially when that year would bring her first London Season.

For quoted material inside a quotation, use single quotation marks (inverted commas) to set of the interior quoted material:
Mr. Rumpole folded the missive, regretfully. "She writes 'I will hold you in my thoughts and heart' but how can she know her heart," he mused, musingly.

I find that if I remember that quoted material interrupts a sentence, and may complete it, I can avoid most of the perils of mispunctuation.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Were it Indeed a Subjunctive ...

Claudette Reed-Upton's Notes on the Practical Subjunctive is an excellent look at the use of the subjunctive—the verb form that "expresses what you might call wishful thinking"—and I recommend it highly.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Language of Oppression, Language of Respect, and the Etiquette of Written Prose

Part of an ongoing series of musings about language and oppression, and bias-free* language (or, as I prefer, affirmative language or language of respect).

At the beginning of the semester, one of the students in my Grammar for Writers and Editors class asked me whether we were going to discuss "politically correct language" in the course. I checked the outline, and replied, "I tend to prefer the term 'bias-free' language, or even 'language of respect,' and if you take a look at the outline, you'll see that we're going to cover the topic late in the term, after we've covered most of the structural grammar stuff."

Many class members rolled their eyes or laughed at my substitution of "bias-free language" or "language of respect" for her more loaded "politically correct language." So, when I introduced the topic a couple of classes ago, I started with a discussion of connotative values of words and terms, and how our word choice can betray our assumptions. I explained that I prefer the terms "bias-free language," or "language of respect" to "politically correct language," because the latter implies that we're choosing terms merely to be politic—to placate certain interest groups—rather than from any interest in actually ridding our language of terminology that reflects bias and prejudice, and choosing language that reflects a certain level of respect for everyone.

Frequently, discussions of bias-free language in the context of professional writing and editing** focus on words. We try to find words that won't offend—say "flight attendant," rather than "stewardess"; find out whether someone or some group prefer to be referred to as "black," or as "African-Canadian" or as "of African descent" (should it be necessary to mention that person's or group's race or skin-colour at all); when discussing First Nations and Aboriginal people, whenever possible refer to the specific Nation or band to which the individual belongs, and if that's not possible, because you're talking about a number of people of different First Nations or a group that contains Inuit and Métis people, check whether "Native" is okay. Be specific, be precise, and, whenever possible check with the people about whom you are writing, to make sure you're using the words by which they like to be named.

This is a good start, but I think it's only a start. Also, most of my students already knew this. So I wanted to discuss how our language reflects our attitudes, and how examining our attitudes makes it easier to avoid linguistic gaffes. I wanted to discuss how important it is to examine the assumptions that our language betrays, in full knowledge that we are all prey to some assumptions and prejudices. How, in attempting to avoid oppressive language, we need to have some awareness of how language reflects oppressive attitudes—once you recognize the attitudes, it becomes much easier to consider (or look up) less loaded, less oppressive, and more inclusive words and phrases.

So I gave some examples of gaffes in writing that might alienate a reader, and certainly betrayed prejudice on the part of the writer. Here are a few—I had more in class, covering other thoughtless ways in which people show other prejudices (I'm collecting these, so if you have any good examples, please do feel free to send them to me):

Example 1
May Adopted Children Benefit Receive Benefits From My Insurance Policy?
If you have legally adopted children, they are eligible for the same benefits as your natural children under terms of the policy.
From a FAQ on a life-insurance policy

Example 2
The panel on Industry–Community Relations included three professionals, four blue-collar workers, and two women.
Based on Amy Einsohn,The Copyeditor's Handbook, page 409 (University of California Press, 2000)

Example 3
From the day of their birth, all children long for intimacy and affection from their mother and father.
From an early draft of a chapter on sexual decision-making in a health textbook for grade 9.

Example 4
Encourage students to bring in other ethnic recipes and explore how ratios work in these recipes.
From a teacher's guide for a math textbook.

Example 5
Invite a Native seamstress from the community to discuss making Native clothes without patterns with students.

Example 6
Doctors and their wives are invited to the Christmas party.
Based on Amy Einsohn,The Copyeditor's Handbook, page 406.

In most of these examples, the individual words are more or less fine. And it's pretty clear that the authors are well-intentioned. Except for the author of first example (which is admittedly, a weird one, and not one usually found in glossaries of bias-free language), none of these authors has used words that are themselves objectionable. Yet each of these snippets shows us something about how the author sees the world, what the author defines as "normal," or who the author is including in (or excluding from) the writing.

Is adoption really "unnatural," as the juxtaposition of "adopted child" and "natural child" would suggest? What does that suggest about how the author of Example 1 views families, adoption, and adoptees?

Is it impossible for women to be professionals or to work in trades? Why does Example 2 juxtapose "professional" and "blue collar," and what contribution did the apparently unemployed women make to the panel? In other words, how are the class distinctions relevant to the topic at hand, and are women really an entirely separate class, with entirely homogeneous concerns? Did these women have no professions or trades of their own (and here the class digressed into a discussion of whether it was sexist or not to call them homemakers, until someone asked whether we knew the women were homemakers—which of course we didn't.)

Do babies really want affection only from their mothers and fathers, or will they take it from whoever offers it—biological parents (mothers, fathers, and however many of each are available), grandparents, non-parental caregivers, older siblings?

What the heck does "ethnic" mean when you apply it to a recipe, and who is ethnic, anyway? In my family, pasta is a pretty normal food, and latkes are not. Does that mean that I'm practising ethnic cookery when I make latkes? What about curry? Funnel cakes? Bannock? Is "ethnic" simply a politically-correct way of saying "not what my family does"?

In which First Nations or Inuit tradition are clothes made without patterns? All of them? Some of them? Which clothes are we discussing? Who makes these clothes—are all those who preserve this tradition of garment-making female? In order to make the point (which was about ratios and geometry), do we need to tokenize Native people thus, or can we suggest that any garment-making or textile-working will show an application of the skill? Does every community in the province in which this textbook will be adopted have Native seamstresses handy, just waiting to be invited into schools? (Seamstress, incidentally, is, indeed, an inherently gendered word that's really difficult to write around. De-gender it and you get sewer. Tailor doesn't mean the same thing. There's no graceful single word that will get you what you want, so if I have to use it in a bias-free context, I generally go very vague and use a lot more words: "garment-maker," "practitioner of textile- or fibre-arts, such as garment making, theatrical costuming, quilting, or other type of sewing." It's awkward and graceless, but in these contexts I think that's preferable to promoting certain stereotypes. But (as I often do) I digress.) The authors clearly want to include First Nations lore from the province in which the textbook will be used in their coverage of the curriculum, but are they really thinking through the implications of this sort of "inclusion," or are they simply looking for any way to get Native Stuff into the material?

The class was with me, until we came to Example 6. Oh, they cottoned immediately onto the fact that many doctors are women. They suggested that "wives" be changed to "spouses," then someone commented that, really, there was no need to specify the relationship, and suggested changing "spouses" to "partners." Someone else disagreed with "partner," because of the businesslike sound, but agreed that the doctors in question should feel free to bring someone to whom they might not be married, and suggested "guest." (Nobody suggested that the doctors might want to bring more than one guest; I wasn't going to go there.) Then someone noticed the Christmas in the Christmas party, and suggested that it be changed to "holiday party" or "year-end party."

And just like that, things went off the rails. Some of the women in the class (most of them older than me), thought that we should call a spade a spade. It's Christmas, and it's a Christmas party. So I asked whether this meant that invites should go only to employees of nominally Christian faith, or whether we should ask employees of different faiths to celebrate Christian holidays, without ever providing space to them to celebrate their own holidays. Well, we can't celebrate everyone's holidays. So should we cancel the party, or nod to the fact that not everyone celebrates the same holiday in December, and make it easier for people to feel more comfortable about attending? Or move it to February, and call it a Winter-Blahs Party?

It's weird what people consider inviolable.

From this digression, the same women proceeded to ask me if I didn't think something was lost when we all went "politically correct," especially about Christmas. They themselves don't like it when they are wished "Happy Holidays" by people in stores.

And this is where it became clear to me that my students had lost sight of the point of the class, and of the exercise. Because my class is a class on editing and writing—not a guide to bias-free speech and action (I'm really not qualified to teach such a class). I tried hard to remind them that we were discussing written language, and that my goal was not to tell them, individually, what they are or aren't permitted to say in their daily goings-on. My job was to help them learn to avoid inadvertently writing in ways that will alienate a portion of their readership, and spot and correct, or at least point out, such writing when clients or employers inadvertently commit it. If, having examined their own preferences, they want to wish people who may or may not celebrate the day a merry Christmas, that's none of my concern.

What I forgot to do, I think, was to remind them of what I'd said way back at the beginning of the term, about what we were learning in my Grammar for Editors class: the formal etiquette of written prose.*** If we are being polite, we do not wish to unwittingly alienate our readers. We may choose, for whatever reason, to intentionally alienate a portion of the readership; certain writers have made careers out of alienating people, quite deliberately. But we wish to pay attention to the connotations inherent in our word choice, and to the way our language may exclude some readers, and not assume, uncharitably, that these readers are merely being "picky," or "difficult," but instead assume the burden of ensuring that our prose is welcoming and gracious to our desired readers. In order to be truly gracious in our writing, we need not the "do's" and "don'ts" of politically-correct jargon, but a sensitivity to our readers' backgrounds and experiences, and a very real desire to respect and include those. Once you do that, the words come a great deal more easily.

* Okay, granted, it's not really bias-free. Using a group's chosen language to speak about that group does indeed betoken at least some sympathy for that group, and some respect for the group's goals, which is, in itself, a bias. Nothing's ever really bias-free. I prefer "language of respect," generally, but the trade-term seems to be bias-free.

** Such as this one, at Rainbow Associates, which is a rather decent example of the type, and contains a useful word list:
The bottom line is that some of your readers (potential customers) will be offended by certain terms, and who wants to turn off a customer? Most of us have no desire to offend anyone, but we occasionally do it unintentionally. Most important is to avoid the most offensive terms. We all know what some of these are, but other examples might involve some relearning. If you grew up – as most people did -- hearing some of these words and phrases without realizing their impact for other people, now is the time to start hearing them in a new way.

*** A term I totally ganked from Steven Pinker (The Language Instinct), who uses it, somewhat pejoratively, to describe what prescriptive grammarians and writers of grammar books examine. When we're looking at the rules of grammar for editorial work, we need to know as much about what people think is "correct" as possible. We need to know the rules for everyday use, and the rules for very formal use, and when each set of rules applies. We need to know the linguistic equivalent of when to remove your gloves, and when to eat with your fingers. (Hint: Do the former when you expect to have to do the latter). We're not, in a grammar for editors class, discussing whether we think infinitives should be split; it is enough to know that some abhore a split infinitive, and that, should we be in their company (or employ), it were best not to split the infinitives, whatever our views on the matter of infinitives, split or intact.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Outside My Window

Anyone who works from home is familiar with the perks: flexible hours, the ability to arrange one's office to one's own tastes, complete control over the soundtrack of one's working day (and no headphones!), and generally better comestibles than most publishing offices offer. Of course, all this freedom and flexibility do come at a the cost of, in my case, much less security, and an office that doubles as the cats' bathroom, but in an imperfect world, this strugging freelancer can rarely achieve perfection (though she strives for it in her work, at least).

This week, the home office has also brought me endless entertainment via my office window. My street is busier than one might expect it to be, given that it's a small, tree-lined street populated by houses, low-rise apartment buildings, a church, a stealth synogogue, and a park, but I don't generally look over bustling downtown scenes, or tableaux o mayhem and destruction. Generally, the odd car putters up the street, children play in the park, parents watch them and chat, older kids pass on their way to and from school, the odd jogger jogs by.

Friday, I awoke to screaming and yelling. Thinking it was a domestic argument among the downstairs neighbours (who sometimes have rather noisy altercations, though generally late on Saturday night rather than early Friday morning), I rolled over. Until it penetrated my consciousness that the individual outside my window had been shrieking the same phrase, over and over again, with the odd pause, for about 20 minutes.

At this point I figured it could be one of two things: a film or a crazy person.

So I dragged my naked butt out of bed and over to the casement window to peer down the street.

Then I found my glasses, which greatly facilitated the peering.

And lo, outside the side door to the church, I saw clustered a babe in a suede bikini and high-heeled furry boots; two individuals in black coats with gothy haircuts; and a fellow in green spandex tights, green and white striped tube socks, and a green cape of the "I found a rectangle of fabric and tied it around my neck" variety. I think he might also have had goggles and a swimming cap on. Of course, they were surrounded by a camera, a person with a mister-bottle full of water, a person with a boom, and other film-type personnel.

The suede-bikini'd babe brandished her spear at the goth-types, screaming "Get your hands off my spear!" then stabbed one of them. Then she did it again. And again. And .... well, you get the idea.

Since Friday, this apparently low-budget film has involved another superhero, in a costume without tube socks (maybe this is the real hero, and the other is only a LARPer?), a big, shiny robot, and two dudes in suits. They've filmed outside the church door at the front of the church in the park, and are now congregating in front of the door to the church hall. So far it's only techies and minions, but wondering which cut-rate characters are going to enact their dramas across the street is keeping me amused.

This never happened in-house.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Freelance Life, Again, and an Instructive Abomination

Alas, my time managing the editorial department at the Little Shop of Textbooks has come to an end, rather sooner than I should have preferred. When publishers want editors to do acquisitions, they should either have an established acquisitions procedure, or hire people who have done acquisitions before. At the very least, they should be prepared to tell the inexperienced editor how they'd like things to be done. Hiring a managing editor to manage your acquisitions process, when you don't have an acquisitions process, is not a recipe for a successful acqusitions programme.

And that is all I shall say about that here, at least for now.

So I'm freelancing again, and embarking on New Literary Adventures!

Among these is my latest assignment corrupting the innocent teaching at one of the local colleges' editing programmes. I'll be teaching Grammar for Editors and I'm really quite happy.

For my first class, I'm supposed to introduce the course, familiarize students with the college's policies, and then cover the topics: What is Grammar? Why is Grammar Important? and Review of Parts of Speech. The short version of this is "Why are you here?"

Rather than beginning with a paen to clarity, correctness, and grace in written language, I thought it might be both fun and instructive to start with a paragraph full of all the common errors that cause would-be grammarians to write in to publishers.

So I wrote an Abominable Paragraph. I'm going to ask students to circle every error of style, grammar, and usage, just to see which ones they notice.

Here it is. It's dreadful, I know. Anyone want to suggest any other common errors? Remember, I'm going for the kinds of errors that even fluent writers make, that editors need to know how to identify and correct.

Welcome to Grammar for Editors! The goal if this course is to enable you guys to function competently as editors. Hopefully you will find it an interesting and rewarding experience, due to both the fascinating nature of the material and your instructor’s charm and wit.

Hopefully, you will be able to come to all classes. If you cannot come to a class, due to illness or other commitments, please contact myself or a classmate to find out what you missed, and make sure that you obtain a copy of any handouts. There will be a large amount of handouts, and material from the handouts will be on the tests.

The handouts and the texts contain many exercises on grammar, usage, punctuation, and style. We will refer to them frequently, but I will only mark the tests. For the exercises which you will be asked to complete everyone will be responsible to check their own work and asking about anything that confuses you in class. If you share your questions with your classmates and I, together we can help sort things out.

I look forward very much to exploring the ins and outs of grammar with you.

My goal was to fit as many of the common errors, gremlins, and hobgoblins of grammar and usage as I could into a short paragraph, using only those errors that are generally acceptable in informal speech and writing. I'd like to get my students talking and thinking about how the etiquette of written prose is different from that of informal writing or speech.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Worse than a Waste of Time

I'm running away for the weekend, but here's a quick, drive-by post:

When James Frey's A Million Little Pieces was revealed to be a work of fiction, rather than the memoir it purported to be, readers respoded with shock and horror. Frey's name was reviled and his publisher, his promoters, Oprah Winfrey, and, well, just about everyone, was called to account for the time and empathy readers felt they had wasted reading his tale of his [protagonist's] heroic battle againt addiction and depression.

When Nouma Khouri's Honor Lost, a memoir of an honour killing in Jordan, was revealed to be wildly inaccurate, (among other things, Khouri writes that the Jordan River once flowed into the Amman, but doesn't any more, and claimed that over 2,000 honour killings take place every year, in Jordan—the BBC reported 12, in 2003) well, I don't recall any cries of outrage. Do you?

Published in the same year that the United States invaded Iraq, Norma Khouri’s memoir of a tragic honor killing in Jordan was a success. Khouri claimed to be living in “exile” in Australia, after a Muslim friend of hers was murdered by her own family in Amman for loving a Christian man. The story of Dalia had all the right ingredients: a violently paternalistic society, an idealistic heroine, a verboten desire, and a bloody, horrific climax.

The marketing was flawless. Both the American, Australian, and UK covers of the book featured a veiled woman, a staple of practically every book or story on the Middle East. The American version shows the partial image of a covered head, one dark eye framed with lush eyelashes staring out forlornly. The Australian and UK covers feature a woman in the process of removing a black face-veil (not commonly worn in Jordan, by the way); her kohl-rimmed eyes somber and defiant.

Khouri gave interviews and lectures. Khouri made a lot of money. Khouri worked on a sequel. Yet in 2004, Jordanian activists such as Rana Husseini and the Sydney Morning Herald with Malcolm Knox at the helm exposed Khouri as a fraud. Khouri, whose real name is Norma Bagain, left Jordan as a child. She grew up in the United States. She barely knew Jordan, and the errors in her narrative, of which there are close to a hundred, were a testament to her ignorance.

Her ignorance and deceit fed into readers' prejudices and politics, and painted a picture of a Muslim country that allows Western readers to feel comfortable and justified in their outrage and horror of Muslim customs—after all, the author herself is a Muslim woman, so her voice must be authentic, right? If we're reacting with shock and horror over what a realy, love Muslim woman is telling us, we're not projecting our own prejudices onto the book, or looking for expiation for guilt over a war in another Muslim country, right?

So where's the outrage over this fraud?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hey! I think I know that girl! I have no idea what her name is, though.

Heather Corinna gives a good overview of some of the challenges inherent in producing a cover that doesn't make the author want to disown the book:

Here’s the thing: your book cover has to somehow do the miraculous feat of pleasing you, the author (and if you’re not the sole author, also any co-authors), your editor, the art department, the marketing department, the publicity department and the higher-ups (my editor and I call them the Grand Poobahs) of the publishing company. And all of those people need to feel, at the end result and throughout, that yes, this cover very much IS what the book will be judged by, and it needs to create the desired verdict. Obviously, all of us don’t have the same agenda.

That, my friend, is a LOT of cooks in a kitchen not unlike the kitchen of your first apartment: the floor holds a shitload of dirt no matter how often you scrub it, there’s no counter space, and it’s the size of a coffin, with a sink whose drain is incessantly backed up, no matter what you do or don’t put in there.

Heather's in a somewhat unusual position in that she and her publisher agreed that she would have far more imput into the cover design than a lot of authors get (and good for her!). Interestingly, she ran up against some of the same issues we ran up against in choosing photos for the Dread Unit 4 (Sexuality and Sexual Decision-Making) of our Big Health Textbook:

So, I had all sorts of limits if photos or illustrations of people were going to be used: no one naked or half-naked, no one looking unhealthily thin, no couples (unless there were a LOT of photos of couples, in which case I’d want serious diversity when it came to gender, orientation, race and appearance: but ideally, no couples, since sending the message that sexuality only exists when there is another person around isn’t cool by me), no adolescent Jon-Benet’s, no status clothing or the like, no one looking ashamed or like they were making a webcam video to seduce someone with.

While the sport and exercise units of our textbook used photos of teens in the local schools (taken with their permission, and released by their parents), in our chapters on sexuality, drugs, body image, and violence, we mostly chose to use stock photos (in a couple of instances, we set up photos with kids from local schools, telling them what the photos would be used for and what the captions would be, and giving them lots of chances to veto the images or their uses). We figured that adolescence is challenging enough, without being "confused sex poster-teen" in your sibling's health textbook.

Like Heather we wanted to present an inclusive view of sexuality. We needed some couples, because some of the photos were for pages discussing communication with your partner. We certainly didn't want to pornify our textbook—we wanted to show kids who looked, for lack of a better term, "normal"—like someone our readers might go to school with. We wanted to show kids from different ethnic backgrounds, in ways that didn't resort to ethnic stereotypes.

Heather's mission:

to find two girls, one guy, and ideally, none of them would be rail-thin, the majority of them would not be white, they wouldn’t be a simple read in terms of their orientation or economic class, neither of the girls would look like they were going to a beauty pageant, and they would all look like the age of the book readership. Ideally, we were talking headshots, since that solved some of those problems full-stop.

It's not easy. We looked through hundreds of photos from at least five stock agencies, and found couples doing things I don't know the names for, teen girls wearing more makeup than I see on a Saturday night on College St. Healthy teens, who look comfortable in their bodies, just talking, or holding hands? Almost non-existant. Bi-racial couples? Ditto, and, as Heather says:

This may not be news to you — heck, it wasn’t exactly news to me, but the degree of this was a bit of a surprise — but guess what? So far as I can tell, if you are a young adult male of African descent, you may only have your photo taken in a baksetball court or in an alley — apparently you aren’t allowed inside photo studios. You must either look like the weight of the world is smashing you down, or look like a cocky bastard about to throw down or get down.

Eventually, she found a photo of a teen girl with "honky locks," who looked thin, but not underfed for her body, with an interested, engaged expression, and a few other photos. I think we found the same girl.

See here's the thing about sexuality (and many other specialist topics) and stock photography: in general, despite the myriad photos on the sites, there are only a handful of photos that will really work for any given take on a topic. If you have a book about sexuality, and you want to present sexuality in a non-pornified, non-judgmental way, then you're going to have a limited range of photos that will work for you, and everyone else publishing in that area is looking at the same photos. So you get situations where a college-level, hardcover textbook on Human Sexuality from a big textbook publisher will have a cover photo that shows an armchair with four feet sticking off the side, and the same four-feet-entwined photo will grace the cover of a small softcover book about contraception from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or where one of the photos from the inside of our textbook may also appear on the cover of a teen sexuality book.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So I'm Supposed to Tell You How Our Book Flerbelsnerps the Wobblejob?

From the curriculum document:
By the end of this course, students will
  • identify the requirements, including basic equipment standards, preparation (e.g.,warm-up and cool-down exercises, training requirements), and specific safety issues that maximize performance and participation in recreation and sport activities;

  • Somehow, I need to demonstrate, in tabular form, where our textbook enables students to do this. The only problem is that I can't parse this sentence! How the heck do requirements include issues? And how does a requirement maximize performance?

    Okay. So drawing on the skillz I employed when reading ancient Greek texts for class, I am going to isolate the main clause and identify the parts of speech:

    Main clause: Students will identify the requirements

    (So far so good. Subject: students. Main verb: will identify (third person plural, future, indicative, active). Direct object: the requirements. There must be a subordinate clause in apposition, that will modify the requirements, and tell me which requirements. Let's put a bracket around the participal phrase " including basic equipment standards, preparation (e.g.,warm-up and cool-down exercises, training requirements), and specific safety issues"—it's clearly in apposition to the direct object. So now I need a demonstrative adjective, which will tell me which requirements students will identify. Oh, look, there's a "that," followed by some a subordinate clause. We'll parse that next.)

    the requirements that maximize performance and participation.

    Yep. That's what the text says. Really. So somehow, some criteria (requirements) are running around enhancing or getting the most (maximizing) activity (performance and participation).

    Oookay. If I were reading Lucian right now, I'd be checking what the Loeb said, sure that I'd made some sort of error in my reading. But look, we have a prepositional phrase!

    "in recreation and sport activities" goes with "performance and participation" and tells us what the maximized performance and participation pertain to. What the entire subordinate clause means, however, is still kind of unclear to me.

    So, the sentence, without the annoying participial phrase, and with synonyms substituted for the unclear terminology is
    Students will discover the preconditions that make as great as possibletheir performance and participation in recreation and sports activities.

    That's what the text says.

    Now for that last appositive, modifying "requirements": We have the gerundive (I think?) "including." So the requirements that maximize performance and participation include a bunch of noun phrases. These noun phrases are basic equipment standards, preparation (e.g.,warm-up and cool-down exercises, training requirements), and specific safety issues

    In other words, it really does say that standards, preparation (for example, training requirements) and issues are types of requirement.

    I really do feel like I used to when trying to read Euripides. I have all the syntax, and all the vocab., and none of it strings together in a sensical way.


    (Yes, I can guess, if I turn off my linguist brain and turn on my editor brain. If I were editing this document, I'd write a comment, like this:
    I'm not clear on how the requirements that students need to identify can include things like "safety issues." I think that, in our desire to be complete and to use appropriate language, we have sacrificed clarity. Do we mean that students will indentify what they need, in terms of both equipment and preparation, in order to safely get the most out of their participation in recreational and sports activities? Can we say this? Please clarify.

    But I've guessed at what the curriculum team meant. That's not really what the language says. Problem is that I can demonstrate that our resource enables students to do what I wrote, and tell teachers where the exercises that demonstrate this are. Not so much with the requirement as worded.

    Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    Bad Advice

    Dear Guidance Teachers, Career Counsellors, and other Purveyors of Job-Planning Advice,

    Stop with the advice to job-seekers and career-planners to cold call random people in their desired careers to ask for information regarding how to get into that field, already!

    I receive at least one call a week from someone who thinks they want to enter the glamorous world of publishing as an editorial assistant. Do you people think I have nothing better to do with my work day?

    It's not that I am a self-centred bitch who doesn't want to help earnest job-seekers. I have spent five years as a volunteer executive member of my professional association, attending meetings and answering questions from people who want to enter the field. I have invited the people who demonstrate enough gumption to show up at meetings and ask me questions to e-mail or phone me. I speak at classes. I have written a lengthy blog post (easily found in a google search) about how to get into the field. I have volunteered to mentor people. I'm really grateful for the help people gave me, and I try to pay that around.

    But I really dislike receiving phone calls from strangers who want me to do this on their schedule, during my work day. It's not as if they couldn't find information on-line, where people have put it up for anyone to see. It's not as if industry events are a big secret, open only to insiders who know the sekkrit handshake.

    It's 2007, people! Phones are passé! They're tools of last recourse, when you're trying to gather information. Google is the job-hunter's friend!

    Seriously. You people have jobs, right? The people to whom you're giving your crappy advice may not, but you do, right? And your jobs, presumably, give you lots to do. Of course, since you're career counsellors and their ilk, maybe it's normal for you to spend your days dispensing career advice to strangers. That may well be part of your job description. Let me explain something to you: it's not part of mine. So stop telling people it's a good idea to phone random strangers up and ask them about their jobs. It's not. It interrupts my day, and pisses me off.

    Instead, tell them to do what every successful job hunter I know has done: read everything possible about the industry in which they are interested, on-line, and, if possible in printed industry publications. Find out if there's an industry association (have I mentioned yet that Google is a very useful tool for job-hunters career researchers?). E-mail the representative of the industry association who is in charge of outreach, and ask that person if they have time to answer your questions, or if they can point you to someone who can. Attend open industry meetings, where people who answer such questions often congregate and are prepared to do just that. If someone invites the job- or information-seeker to phone, only then should they phone.

    But for the love of the letter M, stop telling people that it's a good idea to interrupt people's workdays! It's not. It's especially not when information is more readily available other ways.

    A Harrassed Professional

    P.S., If you must give this outdated advice, or if information is not readily available through any other means (because the industry in question is mired in the nineteenth century, or perhaps because your job-seekers cannot read or use a computer, or live in remotest Alert, far from any professional association gatherings, please instruct your clients in correct telephone manners! "Hi, it's Fred," is not a good way to introduce yourself to a stranger on the telephone. She may know other people named Fred, and become confused. She may know nobody named Fred and suffer a brief panic attack, wondering whom she met and forgot and if she should have remembered him, knowing all the while that she doesn't imbibe, and therefore has no reason to have forgotten this contact. Continuing the conversation with "I'm wondering about opportunities for someone with my skills and background in your industry," merely leaves the persion wondering what your skills and background might be, at the very least.

    A better introductory gambit would be "Hi, my name is Fred, and I'm a student at August Institution [or I'm a pipe fitter, but I'm contemplating a career change]. I'm looking to get into publishing and was wondering if you or someone at your company could spare me a few moments for an information interview." This way the person on the other end of the line a) knows that she doesn't need to remember who Fred is because she's never met him, b) understands that he seeks information rather than immediate employment, and c) has the opportunity to gracefully inform Fred that now is perhaps not the best time, or she is perhaps not the best person. In this way Fred demonstrates some respect for the possibility that this random professional he has interrupted might just have things other than his career on her mind right now.