I was reading an article recently about Donald Trump that basically said the explanation for the way he behaves is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Wikipedia describes the Dunning-Kruger effect as “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is” – which basically means that he’s so stupid, he can’t recognise his own stupidity.
Now, I’m not a fan of Donald Trump pre- or post-election but I’m also not a fan of name-calling. I didn’t finish reading the article. But I was fascinated by the idea of the Dunning-Kruger effect and the article contained a link to another article in the Pacific Standard by David Dunning of Dunning-Kruger effect fame called “We Are All Confident Idiots”.
It’s a long article but it was a terribly interesting read, basically saying that we – all of us – are so afraid of appearing stupid in relation to things we aren’t knowledgeable about that instead of admitting our ignorance, we play along and hope nobody realises we have no idea what we’re talking about. Everybody’s ignorance is about something different and even traditionally smart people can suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect – after all, nobody can know everything. Those with academic smarts often lack street smarts. Those with an aptitude for writing can struggle with mathematical concepts. The right side and the left side of the brain control different abilities and most people favour one over the other. As Dunning puts it, “Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all.”Continue reading
Noah Webster has a lot to answer for. A prolific American writer and editor, he was also dedicated to the reformation of English spelling. He compiled several dictionaries over his lifetime, including spellings that more closely matched how the words were pronounced instead of the traditional compositions. In most cases, he didn’t originate these revised spellings but he was responsible for popularising them and many of the “reformed” spellings gradually became standard throughout the United States, the reason we now have significant differences between British English and American English.
Without any academic study to back it up, I have often thought that Americans frequently do things simply to be different from the British and in reading up about Webster, I discovered this to be true in relation to his spelling changes. Yet again, we discover the US is the source of a bloody annoying and unnecessary set of circumstances.
Some of his revised spellings didn’t catch on. If they had, I beleev wimmin (and men) would be spewing forth a steddy and hainous korus of grotesk syllables from their tungs, creating a nightmar for the masheen I’m now typing on. (The Spell Checker is going to have a field day with that sentence.)
As much as I would clearly like to, we’re not going to be able to wind back the changes that did catch on. But what we writers and editors should do is make sure that when we edit, we pick one variation of English and stick to it. This will largely be guided by the location of the primary audience.
There are lots of differences between British English and American English, far too many to go into here. But here are a few highlights to help begin the process and ensure consistency.Continue reading
As the heading suggests, English is a complex language. There are many, many instances of exactly the same or similar words meaning very, very different things – after all, writers want readers to get them (in the sense of understanding) but they very rarely want readers to get them (in the sense of being attacked). A blog I recently read on Hubspot about twenty-five common grammatical errors contained a comment from someone calling himself (or herself) BJ that “as long as you don’t do anything egregious you can bend and break the rules as much as you want. The only thing that matters is whether or not the reader understands, accepts and appreciates how you communicate with them.” BJ promptly earned himself (or herself) a grand verbal spanking from everybody else reading the article. In fact, I couldn’t find a single comment supporting that view. Perhaps because anyone who was inclined to read a post on that topic wasn’t likely to understand, accept and appreciate BJ’s views.
The fact is that more people get annoyed by writers bending and breaking the rules than support “creative” but incorrect approaches so it’s generally in your best interests to try to get it right. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a misspelling, a misuse or a typo, the effect is the same – it’s wrong. In fact, you can run the Spelling & Grammar Check as many times as you want but the problem with Microsoft Word is that if a word is spelled correctly, regardless of whether it’s appropriate for the context, it won’t be highlighted as an error by the program. I once accidentally typed “whale dongs” as two of my characters discussed a potential soundtrack for meditation. Of course, I meant “whale songs” but it could have been highly embarrassing if I hadn’t picked it up. And it could be much worse, especially if you confuse your onus with your anus.
There are some obvious homonyms like “here” and “hear” and “none” and “nun” that I hope don’t need explanation but here are a few to be on the lookout for.Continue reading
As a writer, I understand very well the concept of writing for free. I do it every day. I write my novels with no expectation of ever being paid for my writing labour. (I hope but I don’t expect.) I write my blog posts and publish them on a freely available blog to educate and entertain people about writing and its offshoots. I sometimes write articles about employment and post them on LinkedIn to support my job title, which lists me as a “Freelance Blogger, Writer and Editor”. I write ads for family members with their own businesses without charging for it. I write blurbs and introductions for other people’s books without receiving a single cent.
I also understand the concept of reading for free – how could I not when I post all that writing mentioned above so people can read it without charge? Plus I read a lot of news websites, particularly The Age online, news.com.au, the New York Times online, the Washington Post online, ABC (Australia) News online, BBC News online, CBC News online and sometimes the Miami Herald online, the LA Times online and the Chicago Tribune online. When I run out of free articles to read each month on the sites that charge for subscriptions, I content myself with browsing headlines and public news websites. (I’d like to be able to afford to subscribe but I’m just a poor writer at the moment.)
But where I draw the line is at free editing. Everybody learns to read and write at school (or at least has the opportunity to) but editing the writing of others is a very specific skill and many, if not most, editors train further in order to do it properly and professionally. Certainly to apply for professional membership of the Institute of Professional Editors here in Australia, you need an eligible qualification. And with the Federal Government trying to restrict fee support for courses less than three years in length and with many educational institutions abolishing their writing and editing courses (including Holmesglen Institute of TAFE where I studied and graduated with an Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing), those qualifications are becoming harder and harder to come by. So why would anyone ask for or expect an editing service to be provided for free?Continue reading
In my book Project December, I recommended using a style guide or style sheet to note formatting, spelling, capitalisation and stylistic choices for easy reference instead of having to leaf or scroll through the manuscript to constantly remind yourself. This is the style guide I put together for Project December itself and I thought I’d share it so you know exactly what I was talking about.Continue reading
For over a year now, I’ve had the words “The Apostrophe Hall of Shame” on my blog post ideas board. So why haven’t I written the post until now? Not for a lack of incorrect uses of apostrophes, that’s for sure.
Actually, it’s the opposite. An abundance of not only apostrophe abuse but also poor spelling and terrible grammar consistently inflicted on the content consuming public. I’ve been so overwhelmed by bad examples that I haven’t known where to even start.
The media are particularly bad examples. Journalism was once the bastion of making sure content was written and spoken correctly. At least if the journalists weren’t getting it right, there were editors to correct their mistakes before the content went public.
Not anymore. And as Fairfax Media announces another 120 jobs to be axed in Sydney and Melbourne and their staff go on strike, I’d be concerned for the editors that remained, if I actually thought there were any.Continue reading
Here’s a few more tips, tricks and suggestions on spelling, punctuation and grammar. You won’t find the following in this lecture because I addressed them in my previous lecture:
*There, they’re and their
*You’re and your
*It’s and its
*Definite, definate and defanite
*Separate and seperate
*Focusing and focussing
*The “Do not check spelling and grammar” box in the Language dialogue box on the Review tab
But if you can master everything in the previous lecture and everything that follows, you’ll be well on your way to not pissing off an editor every time you hand over a piece of writing.Continue reading